One common high level frustration we ex-Mormons often express regarding our time in the Mormon religion is the systematic violation of personal boundaries that occurred. It’s both embarrassing that we allowed ourselves to be violated in this way, and offensive that it was done so flippantly.
Of all the Post-Mormon issues one can discuss, I believe this is the one believing Mormons are least capable of understanding. I know that my Mormon self 10 years ago wouldn’t have been able to read this blog post and comprehend it fully. I was completely unaware of how I had been trained to let my guard down when it should have been up and to keep my guard up when it should have been down.
Boundaries violations are also hard to understand for the indoctrinated because they involve seemingly trivial details and only occasional heavy ones. To use an extreme example, no one, Mormons included, would argue that a leader who sexually molests a young boy or girl hasn’t violated personal boundaries.
But do they realize that a leader is also violating personal boundaries when they conduct interviews behind closed doors, when they ask personal questions about sexuality and/or masturbation? My ex-wife once agreed with me that these sorts of interviews cross boundaries, but do I believe she has done anything to restrict or monitor these “interviews” with our children? Of course not.
The flip side of the coin is that these very same people will regularly place up their own artificial boundaries at convenient times and inappropriate places in order to save face. Mormons think nothing of being handed their underwear by a temple worker as a “sacred symbol,” but will shout foul if an outsider asks them questions about the temple and work for the dead.
Recent news stories about Mitt Romney – his time as a religious leader and time as an exiting governor – made me recall how clueless Mormons can be about this detail. As a stake president Romney is reported to have regularly intruded into the women’s movement in his area – a clear boundary violation. But he was unaware of the openness that should exist for public servants when he and his staff spent significant money to hide records of his time as governor. I think those two traits are two sides of the same coin. They are evidence of a clear lack of understanding appropriate boundaries and the need for appropriate checks and balances in a system run by human beings.
I see a complete lack of knowledge regarding human nature in these details. Modern Mormon leaders, it is often believed, are incapable of leading their followers astray… So, why should there be boundaries and checks and balances? This, despite the fact that the bible, Book of Mormon and church history is ripe with examples of prophets and leaders who did just that…they made horrible choices and led others astray. David slept with his neighbor’s wife and then sent him off into battle to be killed. King Noah, a political and religious leader in the Book of Mormon had to be checked by a ground-ling for his wickedness. Joseph Smith himself flubbed up by losing the first 116 pages of the original manuscript for the Book of Mormon. So, how can it be that modern leaders would be incapable of leading the church astray?
Each person is responsible for maintaining their own boundaries. It’s a tall order, however, for people like myself who from birth were trained to disregard even the most basic boundaries. Getting back the intuitive sense of what’s appropriate can be tough. Today, just because I refuse to answer certain personal questions it doesn’t mean I am hiding anything or ashamed. It just means that I recognize a boundary.
A boundary doesn’t need to have a reason for being other than personal dignity. I don’t need to tell you about my spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof), my financial successes (or lack thereof), or intimate sexual pleasures (or lack thereof) because there’s anything wrong with any of my stances or practices. Personal dignity dictates my choice to maintain free of search and seizure.
The opposite is true for public figures and organizations. Because they are run by humans, the dignity of followers demands that certain things regarding finances, back-end deals and personal integrity be made public.
Is that so hard to understand?