Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Look I'm Normal Too! (And I'm a Mormon)


Stories are one of my treasures, so I naturally love the I’m a Mormon PR campaign. At first I thought it was the beautiful narratives from people’s lives that appealed to me; however, underneath, the real draw of this campaign is the message: I can be normal and Mormon.

As a group, we want the world to accept us as normal. However, often trying to be normal sends out red flags and makes others question what we’re hiding under our cover of normalcy. The trying then causes a distance and insincerity that is difficult to overcome and marks individuals and groups as a bit odd. Interestingly this craving for the perception of normalcy may be a mark of Mormon culture. 

I just finished reading Jay Bookman’s article: A different take on Romney and his Mormon heritage. He explained Romney’s tendency to appear too eager to please and to seem like he’s trying too hard may be associated with his Mormon pioneer roots.

As a group Mormons have paid heavily for their religious freedoms and the perception that they are different and odd. Bookman reviewed the history of persecution and noted, “A history like that marks a people. It marks a family. It creates a profound cultural memory and it changes how you perceive the world and how you interact with it.” Our history of being separated and punished for being different has changed how we interact with people outside our Mormon culture.

He elaborated that many social groups that have been “marked” by persecution develop group defense mechanisms. Bookman concludes that for Mormons, our cultural group defense includes, “an over-eagerness to be perceived as normal, wholesome and accommodating as possible. Being seen as different has cost them dearly.”


A few weeks ago, Mr. Chappell and I went to a delightful chocolate tasting at Cocova featuring Rob Anderson’s Fresco Chocolate. We were happy to just savor the flavors and enjoy the ambiance; however, the chocolate maker obviously wanted to talk to everyone who came to the event. He somewhat awkwardly made small talk with the 20 something crowd, teaching them a tidbit about the art of chocolate and catching a glimpse into their lives. Internally I was somewhat dreading the encounter because I often manage to say something ridiculous or offensive (like I’m good identifying pride!) while at the same time advertising that I’m a Mormon. (Who wants to give bad PR for their faith? Not me!) 

When it was our turn to speak with Rob, I was actually surprised how easily the conversation flowed. I figured those 10 years of experience I had on the 20-somethings crowding the gallery eased the interaction. Then Rob asked if my family also loves chocolate. Of course I had to tell about my pioneer great grandmother and her adoration of Logan’s Bluebird Candy Co.

My cover was blown! He was tipped off to the fact that I might be LDS! Of course, he asked. I cheerfully responded yes and asked if he knew any other Mormons. When he declared that he was Mormon,  Relief, Joy, Acceptance filled my soul. Knowing that he wouldn’t judge my church based on this encounter and that he had the same cultural background allowed me to relax and just be myself. My husband laughed when he saw me light up and begin to chat naturally and without the forced small talk of strangers.

I find myself fretting about appearing normal to people outside the Mormon church, which puts up walls and makes me appear like Romney: stiff and trying too hard. I am somewhat relieved that this behavior is an anthropologically correct response to the treatment my family and culture received. However, I like to break the bounds of culture, especially Mormon culture.

Bookman’s conclusion gives me new perspective on what it means to be a Mormon American:

The truth is, none of us are really “normal.” We aren’t born that way, and we won’t die that way. As a racially mixed child brought up in part overseas, Barack Obama had to come to terms with his own exotic background, which may explain why he too is sometimes accused of being aloof and failing to connect. In some eyes he is too black, in others not black enough, and he admits to a period in his young life where he himself wrestled with his identity.

In the end, it may be that struggle that makes both Romney and Obama authentically American. In countries such as France, Germany and Japan, national identity is a given for most people, a stereotype to which they are pressured to conform. American identity is more fluid and personal, more experimental. It’s harder that way, but probably more rewarding as well.

I’m part of this fluid, personal American identity. My life isn’t focused on conforming to a stereo type, rather to discovery and exploration. My faith has a few quirks, but it’s part of who I am.

I’m American. I’m different. I’m Mormon.


DC said...

Me too :)

Jocelyn said...

Well, I'm in good company, then.

Meddy said...

Thank you for this. You're awsome!