How do you feel about that?
A while back, with the feedback of Exponent readers, I completed a detailed analysis of church policy and its effects on women and submitted it to my Stake President, who had agreed to pass it on to General Authorities of the LDS church.
Months later, my stake president met with me and told me that a member of the Presidency of the Seventy (He didn’t tell me his name or which Quorum of the Seventy he belonged to) said that they had shared the report in their “quorums” (Which quorums? Unknown) and told him to tell me that they appreciated all the work and thought I had put into it. My stake president felt that Mystery General Authority actually did appreciate my effort, was complimentary about the report’s quality and not at all defensive about its content. According to Mystery General Authority, they were already working on some of the policy changes I had suggested and after reading my report, were now considering some of the other suggestions that I had made that they had not thought of before (Which suggestions? I dunno).
That General Authority’s anonymous response had been vague, kind, noncommittal and nonthreatening. It wasn’t a good response, nor was it a bad one.
But when I told fellow Exponent blogger EmilyCC about what he said, her response was perfect. “April,” she said. “How do you feel about that?”
Well, I felt frustrated. This cleverly crafted response precluded any follow-up on my part as an advocate, and any accountability on the part of priesthood leaders. Even as priesthood leaders promised change, they upheld patriarchy by excluding me. But I was also relieved. Previous interactions with my stake president had been hostile and threatening, and I was glad that Mystery GA had modeled a more calm reaction and pointed out that my work had value.
It was something of a relief to me that before breaking out into either congratulations or condolences, my friend gave me space to explore how I felt about my news.
Since that time, I have noticed that “How do you feel about that?” is a kind and empathetic response to all kinds of ambiguously good or bad news:
“I’m quitting my job.”
“My in-laws are moving in.”
“I’m not pregnant.”
I wish I had thought to ask, “How do you feel about that?” when I heard the (joyful?) (devastating?) news that a friend had given birth to a child with Down’s syndrome. ( I wrote about my actual, more awkward attempt at congratulating her here.) With the help of this simple question, I feel better equipped to express empathy for my friends and family as they experience their life journeys, without imposing my own opinion about how they should feel.