Is there something positive to be sifted out of a stint in the slammer? With a regular schedule for meals, exercise, a monk-like existence, no crime, no alcoholism, and no drugs one would think to recommend looking back and focusing on keeping up with the positive side of prison existence. Or not?
Context is everything and if you are not making positive life choices completely freely and independently it doesn’t register as the good life. A stint of not doing anything bad doesn’t really help in making the tough positive life choices.
Leaving my religion, coming out at as gay man, getting divorced… were life altering modifications that all came with the advice to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
In the heat of the moment it seemed like ridiculous advice. Yes, I had a lot of positive experiences in Mormonism in my married straight-acting life. Living a pre-determined, pre-fabricated life path is simple in that forks in the road, the hard choices are already pre-determined for me. But the skills and impulses that are inherent in following such a path don’t always translate too well in the free “real world.”
It reminds me of the ironic counsel Mom used to pitch to us teenagers as we headed out for a night of fun, “Remember who you are!” Her words, indeed her accompanying glance, carried the weight of every Sunday School lesson, every Sacrament meeting talk, every Primary song I’d ever participated in. Contrary to what her catch phrase implied, it had nothing to do with me, my personality, my individuality or my destiny in life. It instead could be circumscribed into one great whole truth, “You’re nothing if not Mormon.”
Of course Mom would have denied that, but the truth is that what she was encouraging me to “remember” bore a glaring similarity to what she encouraged my brother or sister to remember. I wasn’t being asked to recall that I had a quick wit, a creative flair or a sensitive heart. I was being reminded what not to do…that Mormon kids didn’t smoke, drink, cuss, heavy pet, or hump.
I’m a Dad and so I don’t want my teenage kids doing those things either, but I hope it’s more effective to teach them to flex their muscles of freedom by exercising critical thinking skills, showing compassion, and developing healthy behaviors and habits. That’s done by teaching them HOW to choose, not WHAT to choose.
When I accepted my homosexuality, left Mormonism, and got divorced, the good things I’d learned all those years stayed with me whether or not I was married or straight or a Mormon because it was me. It took zero effort on my part to not kill my neighbor, not lie up a storm, or not steal from my employer. But the gray areas were harder to navigate…what should I eat, drink, say or do without predetermined answers? As I exercised those independent muscles, making positive, moderate and healthy choices were more rewarding as I made them myself (along with a few mistakes along the way).
Once the baby grows up and learns how to bathe herself she comes to understand that the good thing in the baby/bathwater scenario is the BABY. And YOU are the baby. You’re the good part.
The water, the soap, the shampoo can all be replaced, so why not throw it all out? You can’t replace the baby.
So, what’s my message to my kids?
“DISCOVER who you are.”