“Not What I Expected”
I’ve heard this phrase frequently throughout my life. Especially at BYU.
A friend of mine confessed to me a few years ago that when she saw me move into the dorms freshman year, she purposely played rap music, thinking it would appease me to her. Little did she know, I am a Celine Dion and country music aficionado. She was embarrassed when she eventually found out my actual choice of music. We still remain good friends to this day and laugh about the story every time it’s brought up. A reminder that I was not what she expected.
Likewise, I live in a city that’s liberal and run with a crowd that’s suspicious of religion, to say the least. So when people discover I’m a Black Mormon and went to BYU, their eyes grow wide and they gasp, “I never would have guessed!” It almost makes people uncomfortable. They don’t know how to handle or respond to a piece of information they weren’t prepared for.
So often people make assumptions about who I am and what I’m like based on details of my life, without hearing the whole story or getting to know me. They go off stereotypes.
You’re black, so you must like rap and basketball with a passion. (*NB: Nothing is wrong with either rap or basketball and I enjoy both on occasion–– they’re just not my favorite, which everyone assumes are.)
You’re LDS, so you must not be a feminist and are very conservative.
I, too, am guilty of thinking of people as not what I expected. In Utah, I would meet countless people that would fit the description of devout active Mormons on the outside, only to find out they didn’t believe in the Church or had serious doubts. I’ve met a couple of people in my liberal hometown, only to discover they were actually pretty conservative.
I think of some of the people in my life and wonder about the extent to which I truly know them, if there’s something about them that’s “not what I expected.” Friends always find out something new about me and I find out something new about them the longer we stay friends. If this happens with those I know well, I can only imagine about the people I see on street or in an airport.
I think one of the ways we can refrain from making assumptions about one another is to remember that we all have our stories. Both in and out of the Church, we all have different interpretations of life, religion, friendship, family. Within the Church, though we may claim “Latter-day Saint” as our religious affiliation, we all live the Gospel so differently and interpret policy and doctrine in a way that’s not how I would expect.
In a way, this makes it worrisome for me if I ever end up teaching the Young Women. How would I teach such a vast array of young teenagers in a way that respects their differences, but also doesn’t get me called into the Bishop’s office? How does the Church expect us to do that? Yes, there are annotations in the manuals about how teachers should be sensitive to the different needs of the students, but how does that play out in real life?
How do we embrace individuality and our unique personal lives in the context of a Church that proclaims one-size-fits-all?
I suppose my lingering thought in this somewhat rambling post is, how do we make it so that when say someone is not what we expected, it becomes a cause of celebration and discussion, rather than shock and discomfort?