Surprisingly, my previous post on achieving excellence generated quite a bit of online buzz. A few people apparently linked to it on Facebook and for that I thank you.
Not everyone was thrilled with my opinion. Anything that’s not glowing praise is always accused of ulterior motives and ax grinding. I’m really just a concerned Dad but it makes me want to clarify a couple of points regarding mediocrity and becoming exceptional individuals.
If you didn’t read each line of the original post you might have taken offense that I was calling all Mormons mediocre achievers. That is certainly not what I was saying. I was saying that Mormonism and its accompanying culture is not universal enough to nurture or appreciate the vast variety of individuality you’ll find in humanity. Sometimes it’s detrimental rather than helpful in bringing out the best in people…if the person doesn’t fit the mold.
Again, there are plenty of careers and life paths where conformity, rule creating or rule keeping is an asset. Mormons DO tend to excel in those areas. And there is nothing at all wrong with an individual with talents in those areas from pursuing a career in law, business, medicine, politics, insurance and such. Kudos to them. But not everyone is cut out for those fields.
For individuals with an inclination for less concrete, more creative and progressive ventures, there is certainly not a lot of support or understanding. I’m not talking about doing crafts in homemaking or putting on a roadshow. I’m talking about creating something NEW, DIFFERENT and REVOLUTIONARY. There’s no overt prohibition in Mormonism from getting involved in creative ventures. I don’t have any GA quotes to share. But I do believe there’s an unspoken trend of discouragement for individuals to pursue creative lives within Mormon culture.
So let me clarify that I was speaking of the weak ability that Mormon culture has of nurturing, encouraging and admiring certain valuable character traits and skills… most especially those in the arts. I see those creative traits in my children rather than the traits that flourish within Mormonism and that’s why I am concerned.
I used the Kennedy Center Honorees as examples. This is just speculation, of course, but I’m confident that had those artists been obedient and faithful LDS they wouldn’t have achieved the greatness that they did. For example:
From his website:
Yo-Yo Ma’s multi-faceted career is testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences, and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, coming together with colleagues for chamber music or exploring cultures and musical forms outside the Western classical tradition, Mr. Ma strives to find connections that stimulate the imagination.
Is this someone who in any way would agree with or conform with Packer’s musical direction that there’s only certain ways to communicate the spirit musically? He’d pull his hair out in any LDS Sacrament Meeting on the globe.
One also wonders the impact that his leaving the music world for 2 years would have had on his art. Spending 2 years under enormous pressure to conform and convert would hardly have nurtured the curiosity and passion for exploring boundaries that characterizes his career. At 21 he was graduating from Harvard rather than returning from a proselyting mission and only ramping up to start college.
She graduated from Vassar and made her professional stage debut at 22, the age most LDS women are either on a mission, getting married or highly focused on getting married.
When asked if religion plays a part in her life in an interview in 2009, Streep replied, “I follow no doctrine. I don’t belong to a church or a temple or a synagogue or an ashram.” In fact I’d argue that it is that sort of openness that enables her to so convincingly inhabit so many diverse characters. I’d also suggest that a faithful LDS woman would hardly have even accepted the majority of roles for which she is famous, roles in R-rated movies that involve cussing, smoking and illicit sexual behavior.
Other professions and ventures
At the risk of getting into deeper doo-doo, I’m going to expand my statement to say there are other areas where exceptional individuals have excelled in the past that just simply wouldn’t have been possible or likely if they had been LDS.
Take Mother Teresa. She wasn’t a Mormon. If she had been, the church never would have let her run a church owned charity because she didn’t have the priesthood. And besides, she really should have gotten married and had lots of babies if she wanted to do some real good in the world.
Take Nelson Mandela. He couldn’t have been a leader of the Mormons. Before 1978 black people were not allowed the priesthood. When the priesthood was given to black men in 1978, a lot of Mormons in South Africa left the church because generations of church leaders had taught that black people are descendants of Ham, son of Noah, and therefore should be servants and not leaders.
Take Martin Luther King, Jr. His style of leadership and oratory skills would also have been unwelcome in the LDS church. In fact LDS leaders suspiciously accused him of being part of a communist conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. That deep, mysterious conspiracy was the civil rights movement, which LDS church leaders fearfully resisted.
Let's see... He gets up at 4:30 to make it to 5:15 early morning seminary. His parents made him become an eagle scout before he could get a car to drive to dance lessons. He refused to dance the Sunday Matinee so he didn't get the part in the local ballet company.
I’m guessing there’s a revolutionary young gay boy right now somewhere ready to take the art world by storm …or start a new movement. Do you think he’s being appreciated and nurtured right now within Mormonism? Hell no! Dustin Lance Black had to get out to accomplish what he did.
You don’t become great by taking a 2 year detour at a very crucial time in your life. It can make you an exceptional Mormon and therein lies the thrill for believers. It won’t enable your career goals in these sorts of endeavors.
You don’t become exceptional in art or social movements by learning that obedience is the first law of heaven.
Women especially don’t become movers and shakers when they believe their greatest potential is motherhood.
You don’t become exceptional by hearing and adhering to silly rules on irrelevant life issues such as dress and grooming, music and art.
Artists like the ones I mentioned above make their art a priority. It drives their lives. They often eat, drink and breathe it for years before they achieve success at it.
Neil Diamond, another 2011 Kennedy Center honoree, struggled in his early 20’s to write songs that would become popular. All he wanted to do was write music and he eventually closed himself off from the world for a while to create his own sound. This all happened at the time when Mormon young adults are pressured to marry, start families after dedicating 2 years solely to the church. This happened in the period of his life when a young LDS man would have had to keep up with his home teaching, church callings, marriage and a family.
The LDS church consumes too much of a young person’s time and resources to do what Neil Diamond did.
There is NO WAY, as a 19 year old drama student at New York University, that I would have sacrificed an artistic scholarship and two years of my life to proselyte in South America had I thought for a moment that that sort of life path could lead to having a greater impact on humanity and even the church than 2 years where the only measurable outcome was my increased devotion to the religion. I don’t believe I improved anyone’s life or mine; it did succeed in making me more Mormony. You don’t have to serve a mission to contribute meaningfully to the world. In fact I’d say that exceptional people can do more good without it.
Lives like the ones I mentioned above aren’t possible as a rule abiding obedient member in the LDS church.