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A Long Story, But There Is A Point

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Most colleges and universities in America have Writing Centers, and I was lucky enough to be offered a job at mine while I was an undergrad. Our WC was different from most other WCs in two ways (not including guiding philosophies):

1) Our staff was completely undergrad--which is actually not all that unique considering that my small liberal arts school had no grad students. However, while most schools seem to rely primarily on juniors and seniors (if not grad students), we drew equally from all classes, including freshmen. Some schools also limit employment opportunities to English/Writing majors or Humanities students. At one point, we had every major, except one, represented by our staff. Part of this was because we had a huge staff. In fact, we (probably) had the biggest staff-as-a-percentage-of-student-body in the country (a little less than 5%) and (probably) had the biggest staff in sheer numbers (about 60).

2) Many WCs across the country are in danger of losing their place in academia through lack of institutional and, especially, financial support. We, however, had almost the complete blessing from the administration and a sizable amount of green. (We weren't--and still aren't--entirely sure how our Director made all the finances work. We have theories.) This allowed us to attend many Writing Center and Writing conferences. In fact, the general principle that the Director set forth was: you can attend any conference we go to, as long as you work on a presentation and keep a journal. We usually took 25-30 students to each conference.

So, of course, I took complete advantage of this. And this is how I, a boy who had spent his entire life in the west, got to see Baltimore and Minneapolis my first year away from home. Later, I added Chicago, New York, Savannah, San Antonio, Hershey (PA), and Lawrence (KS). I presented at the Midwest Writing Center Association and the National Writing Center Association. But the big conference was the 4C's (CCCC; which, for the life of me, I can't remember what it stands for--I think "conference" "composition" and "communication" are three of the C's).

The proudest I have ever been with my school was at the 2003 4C's conference in New York. [And I'm not talking about the $17 pastrami and corned beef sandwich I had at (I think) Carnegie's Deli that holds the "Best Sandwich I've Ever Eaten" award.] Now, the 4C's is the top composition conference in the country that easily clears 1000 attendees. Not many students go, and not many of those were undergrads. In New York, our estimate put the number of all students at around 60, the number of undergrads at about 35; twenty-three of those from our school.

So there was this session--I don't remember what it was about or what it was called--but it was a big one, with a panel made up of composition teachers from Big Name Schools. So Harvard is talking about teaching writing, specifically "freshman composition", and has some choice things to say about students' writing: the one that stuck out (and thus I remember) is when he described it as "soul sucking."

And there were many nods in agreement.

So, this girl from my school--a freshman--calls him on this. I can't write what she said, for this quickly became The Stuff Legends Are Made Of and, in our memories, the words have been changed accordingly. But Harvard quickly tries to back-peddle, saying things like "I didn't know there were students here" and "I didn't really mean it's all soul sucking" yadda yadda yadda.

We thought it was great. (And we weren't the only ones; a week later, some WC Director from Colorado, on the WC-Director List-SERV, said that that was the highlight of the conference for him.) The incident ended up sparking lots of conversation (at least among us) about how we as students and we as WC tutors are to interact with the academy and with the professors etc. Eventually, this topic became our presentation at the NWCA and the next CCCC.

Many things came up. One guy tried to tell us (essentially) that we shouldn't have been there--that it was a venue for instructors to get away from the students and to (essentially) let loose there frustrations. Like the teacher's lounge. Or the water cooler.

Anyway, you all are probably wondering what the point of all this is. (And if you've read this far and aren't, then may I suggest professional help?) Well, clearly, it's about the Bloggernacle.

It's like that big conference room and everyone is there. Someone gets up to speak (posts) and the rest of us listen or doze off or leave to get a drink. Occasionally there are bad jokes that we laugh at to be polite. Nothing is really earth-shattering, but most is at least interesting, even if we forget it in a week.

Occasionally someone will comment to the effect of “We should be careful what we say, we don’t know if any investigators are lurking here” and I’d give a chuckle. I’m not a Church member and, although I’d like to think that I have pretty unique take on it, the thought that someone would be discouraged from joining simply because they couldn’t understand or misunderstood the finer points of 19th century polygamy seemed a bit ridiculous. I’m probably wrong in thinking that, but whatever. But I wouldn’t really advise anyone interested in the church (spiritually, academically, etc.) to read much in the bloggernacle.

See, it’s not because I think it’s offensive, but that some of what’s written is just insulting. I imagine that most don’t realize that the way non-member views are treated here is much like how the Anti-Mormons treat LDS doctrine.

I’m all for disagreeing, but calling the morality of someone in to question and insulting their choices goes a bit far. I’ve said it before: I don’t care if you think drinking, watching R-rated movies, or having pre-marital sex is a sin—that’s your prerogative—but claiming that I (or anyone else) is not a good person because of it? Yeah: insulting. And yes, I know that you (probably) don’t mean it that way and that there is some basis of truth there. I know that reading Freshman papers for low pay year after year can make one question their life choice. But the rhetoric just isn’t cool and it doesn’t do any good. Well, maybe it increases your own sense of self worth, but other than that, no.

And this is why I spent so long explaining my story at the beginning. Maybe I, as a non-member, shouldn’t be here and that this discussion should take place independent from outside opinions. Maybe the Nacle should be a closed community of (relatively) like-minded believers. But I’m here, and this is an open forum. So consider this just a heads up in case you don’t realize how off-putting insulting non-members and their culture is. Someday you might turn someone off of the Church because of it. I can't speak for others, but I find it hard to respect and discuss your views when you don't respect mine.

‘Cause I tell ya, some of my best friends are Mormon and there are some great people in the nacle. But if the inconsiderate around here end up in the CK, then I am happy shooting for the Terrestrial.

(And, just so everyone knows, I am referring to no one in particular here, but just a general ethos that seems quite prevalent.)

9 Responses to “A Long Story, But There Is A Point”

  1. Blogger NFlanders 

    Hmmm, very interesting, Pris. It's nice to hear an outside perspective.

  2. Blogger Lager Jager 

    I agree Pris, unfortunately the alternative to the outright judging is the notion that "They just don't know any better". That attitude I really find more demeaning than just the judging, although I suppose reasonable people can disagree on that. It is a bad situation to be in where a belief system you have can't really allow for discourse about the behavior of people outside that system without judging, insulting, or demeaning them. That sort of single minded, "I'm right, so if you believe differently you are sinful or ignorant" logic just sort of comes with the territory of a really strong belief. I dont really judge my non member friends for what they do, or my member friends who act in ways not according to the gospel for that matter, but do I feel like "They just dont know better"? Maybe. Unfortunately that sort of thing also leads to the quite prideful, "well I do know better". Do you know of a way to reconcile the firm belief in the sin vs accountability system that mormons have without the judging or belief in others ignorance? I suppose if you are just willing to not judge ignorance as bad, but even then its still pretty demeaning. Ah well.

  3. Blogger Pris 

    Flanders: If I didn't think I had anything to add, I wouldn't write anything.

    Lager: I don't have that big of a problem with the "they don't know any better" attitude--assuming that they don't know any better. We all believe that our beliefs are the best, and I think we should believe that. I also believe that, if you believe your beliefs should be held by someone else (it'll make them happier) then you should tell them about it. This is why I'm all for the missionary effort (assuming, again, that that is the reason why it's done).

    However, the problem comes in when the other person has made a conscious choice; i.e. I'm not LDS and I have my (good?) reasons--so I don't like the "he doesn't know any better" argument here. Or, another example: smoking. I'm all for educating people about the dangers and risks as long as it's reasonable (I think those "Truth" people go overboard). But if one still chooses to smoke knowing all that, how can we demean that choice? "They don't know any better"? What? They do, but believe the alternative to be better.

    I don't really know how to reconcile sin vs. acccountability system without appealing to some form of relativism. "It's not my problem" is generally how I deal with it. For example, there's a M* thread right now concerning family size. My personal belief is that it is socially irresponsible to have more than 2 or 3 children--but I don't say anything because my justification doesn't have the same assumptions as theirs. And besides, if X wants to have 10 children, it's not my problem (at least not directly).

    So, I think that Church culture and (doctrine) is at fault for perpetuating the idea that it is our problem. When I get into these types of arguments, I try to simply say, "I do X for reasons A, B, and C. I think A, B, and C are good reasons." In most cases, I recognize that another may not find ABC persuasive. Fine, let's discuss THAT then, and not judge another for X or not-X.

  4. Blogger Stephen 

    Glad to find the post.

  5. Anonymous Susan M 

    I think you're totally right, Pris.

    I remember being in a RS class once where the teacher was talking about different qualities, good and bad. Things like chaste, or humble, or whatever. I can't remember what exactly she asked us to define, but it was a negative quality, maybe immodesty? My memory sucks. But one woman said that it always makes her think of tattoos. And she started going on about how horrible tattoos are.

    Personally, I think tattoos are stupid. (Even though my husband has one.) But I don't think other people are stupid or bad people (or whatever quality she was linking it to, wish I could remember) for having them. I spoke up and reminded everyone we needed to be careful about judging others based on appearance, and mentioned how I'd visited my old ward recently in a very small town, where I saw a man in Sacrament Meeting who had a wallet chain and tattoos all up and down his arms.

    And how happy it made me to see someone like that at church.

    You should speak up a little more when you see this kind of thing happening. Make people stop and think.

  6. Blogger Mike 

    Ah, blogging.

    I grew kind of tired of the m* bickering- though on the post you linked about being offensive the first comment seems to sum up my feelings.

    Julie said:

    When someone makes a comment along the lines of: "I am so disappointed by the widespread victory that the adversary is having in the church of tricking young couples to put off having children and tricking seasoned couples to only have one or two. This phenomenon is particularly conspicuous in the ward we live in now."

    . . . . they can hardly be said to be making an innocent generalization, allowing that there will be exceptions to the general rule, etc. They are clearly judging their fellow Saints and finding them wanting.

    I think it extends to more than just non-members, the non-members get more of the "they don't know better" attitude at them, but there is a whole lot of "I'm just stating my belief about what is right, and only making general statements" type of discourse that really is pretty aimed at specific people.

    I think that to some extent the M* post is right that if you know you are right you don't really need to be offended, but for slightly different reasons. I have always thought it pretty easy to not be offended when you can simply dismiss the deliverer of a comment as an idiot.

    But somehow I still get offended. Going into waffle house at 1 in the morning as some jock looking guy in a frat T-shirt there is making horribly racist comments...
    I'm offended.

    People at church are too judgemental in their statements...
    I'm offended.

    But it is a tough line.
    And does saying someone is wrong- or even that they are doing something wrong make you think they are a bad person?
    Pris- you talk about smoking in regards to some people knowing better but chosing differently. You know better but you chose differently. Guess what? I think you make the wrong choice by smoking.
    Does it make me think you are a bad person? Nah, not at all.
    I make the wrong choice by eating fatty foods, by not exercising properly, etc. etc.

    That extends to all sorts of decisions, oppinions, attitudes, and political beliefs. I may totally think someone is wrong, has made the wrong choice, joined the wrong side, taken the wrong action, etc...
    however, a lot of the time that doesn't really make me think they are a bad person.

    So my questions-
    How do we define what makes some one a "bad" person?
    (or a "good" person for that matter)

    Further- is there a difference in language in the way we judge?
    Can I think that Pris has made the wrong choice health wise and not think he is bad?

    Can I think that Julie in Austin is wrong for being rather libertarian but not think her decision makes her a bad person?

    Can I think that someone is wrong morally but not think they are a bad person?
    well... that is more tricky. I think that morality is not a zero sum game. And because I think that morality is not zero sum it is pretty easy to make judgement on an action that isn't definitieve of an individual.

    I think that part of the reason a lot of statements are taken as offensive is because they seem to be clearly tied up in an overarching opinion that morality is in fact a zero sum game.

    There is a bit of doctrinal support for that if we misunderstand doctrine-

    So, I guess what I'm saying about the judgemental is I that I don't really think they are bad people for being wrong...
    they just don't know better.

  7. Blogger BULLSEYE 

    The way I see it, this could be anywhere from truly enlightening to completely pointless and stupid.

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