Monday, March 19, 2012


for those of you who don't know, i am in the US Army. i joined the Utah National Guard 2 years ago--in march 2010. it has been a great experience. it has also been very different from my experiences in high school, at college, or on my church mission.

in comparing the army with my personal religious beliefs, i often have been faced with conflicts. i don't enjoy the dirty jokes, drunkenness, or profanities that are often a part of Army culture. in mentioning this, i want to point out that the Army is full of very good people. just because they differ from me in behavior or religious preference does not make them somehow "bad." i have often been impressed with the professionalism and conduct of my fellow soldiers. they strive to live the Army values, which are:

Selfless Service
Personal Courage

in my unit, i interact with many soldiers--male and female, old and young, enlisted and officers. religion does not come up often in conversation (though we do start company activities with a prayer). in my company there are few people that are actively and openly religious. those few people tend to hold back in conversations because they do not want to be involved with some of the conversation topics that come up.

there is a brother and sister in my company who are very religious and innocent. they both recently turned in mission paperwork at the same time (she is 21, and he is 19). i have been impressed with how genuine and sincere they are. these two individuals are without guile.

yesterday at the chow hall, one of the soldiers brought up the "popcorn song." the young man did a little demonstration of the song, singing it for those of us at the table. if you are LDS you know it--just a ridiculous little ditty about how the blossoms on fruit trees looks like popcorn. a few minutes later the first sergeant came in the room. one of the soldiers at our table said, "hey first sergeant! this kid has a song he wants to sing for you! he's been practicing at our table." the first sergeant loved it. he called the young soldier over and announced to the whole company, "hey, listen up! we've got us some entertainment."

we all laughed and enjoyed as the soldier sang "popcorn popping on the apricot tree," complete with actions. he was red-faced and embarrassed, but a good sport about it. when he sat back down, one of the soldiers said, "man you are so innocent i fear for you." we laughed, but i could tell that he meant it. the young soldier could also sense that. one of the other soldiers said, "yeah, you need to get out of utah," somehow implying that his innocence was naive and ought to be outgrown. the implication was that only by getting out of utah could he experience what the world is really like.

what bothered me was the expectation that he needed to "finally grow up." did the other soldiers think that after living somewhere else he would come home with street smarts and cynicism, finally willing to laugh at their dirty jokes? i understand what they were saying. after all, i think utah is quite a protected place, separated from many aspects of the "real world." perhaps it is a good thing to go out and experience the difference. whether you live in south africa, russia, or south america (this young soldier will be serving in ecuador), i think that there is value in experiencing different cultures, religions, and languages. i also think that there is a lot of variety to be found within the united states.

while it is good to experience differences in culture and perspective, we do not have to change ourselves to fit whatever culture we live in. we can (and should) still be ourselves. i believe that we can let our experiences change us, and we can increase in our ability to understand and empathize with others. however this increase in understanding does not need to coincide with a decrease in those beliefs and behaviors that make us who we are.

i am glad to say that i never "grew up" from my state of innocence. i have learned and understood many things so far in my life, and i plan to learn much more. but i have come to the conclusion that innocence is not just a state of being; it is a choice. there are several definitions of innocence: freedom from sin/guilt, simplicity/naiveté, harmlessness, and lack of knowledge or understanding. i think all but the last are positive attributes that we ought to be developing in ourselves.

in conclusion, i want to go back to the story of this young solider. i hope he never grows up. i hope he expands in learning and understanding while remaining innocent, simple, and harmless. i hope he can stay strong and be himself in a world that sees innocence as weakness and naiveté as stupidity.

Friday, March 16, 2012

equality in relationships

this post was inspired by the thoughts of dr. kelly flanagan in a post called, "marriage is for losers." i encourage you to read it--it is relevant and well stated.

i have often thought about equality between relationship partners. in every relationship i have been in, i have considered whether one of us was more dominant than the other. think about the relationships you have had. did one person always make the decisions? did one person always get their way? was there usually a "winner" and a "loser" in fights, arguments, or conversation?

how much do you compromise in a relationship? how much ought you to give up for your partner's sake? i believe it is just as possible to give too much as it is to give too little.

your thoughts, feelings, and opinions are much of what makes up who you are. these things need to be shared VERY OPENLY in relationships. i have seen the effect of poor communication in relationships. in most cases, not sharing an opinion is infinitely worse than sharing one.

now i want to suggest that there is a correlation between relationship equality and compromise. in order to be equal, both partners in a relationship need to share their feelings. there also needs to be a willingness to compromise. sometimes this means that you don't get to eat at your choice of restaurant. sometimes this means that you allow your partner to "win" an argument even when you think he/she is clearly wrong. compromising does not mean that the same person is always compromising--it needs to go both ways.  whatever the circumstance, we need to be open enough to consider the other person's point of view. and we should be able to expect that our partner is honestly sharing their point of view. there is no reason for silence.

dr. ben carson taught me a lesson at the BYU devotional on Feb 24th. he told the story of a pair of adult siamese twins. they were very intelligent. both had college degrees. both of them had doctorates (though only one of them had wanted one). in considering the operation to separate them, they were informed that there was a possibility that one or both of them could die. despite the danger, they decided to go ahead. ben quoted them as saying, "we would rather die than spend another day stuck together." dr. carson gave us this response: "i was surprised at first, but then i did something that i highly recommend you try out--i put myself in their shoes." after he considered how difficult it would be to spend literally every second of every day stuck to another person, regardless of how much you liked that person, he decided it would be very difficult indeed.

the point i am trying to make in sharing that story is that we need to put ourselves in our partners shoes. we may think that we know our partner very well, but chances are that you don't know everything. i bet that those siamese twins still had arguments. i bet that they sometimes surprised each other with their differences of opinion. as we interact with our significant others, we need to put ourselves in their shoes often.  every time that we disagree. that doesn't mean we will necessarily change our minds, but it does mean we are more likely to understand and to empathize.

in dr. flanagan's blog, he speaks of three different kinds of marriage relationships. the first two are grossly unequal.  i quote from his blog:

"In the first kind of marriage, both spouses are competing to win, and it’s a duel to the death. Husbands and wives are armed with a vast arsenal, ranging from fists, to words, to silence. These are the marriages that destroy. Spouses destroy each other, and, in the process, they destroy the peace of their children. In fact, the destruction is so complete that research tells us it is better for children to have divorced parents than warring parents. These marriages account for most of the fifty percent of marriages that fail, and then some."

"The second kind of marriage is ripe with winning and losing, but the roles are set, and the loser is always the same spouse. These are the truly abusive marriages, the ones in which one spouse dominates, the other submits, and in the process, both husband and wife are stripped of their dignity. These are the marriages of addicts and enablers, tyrants and slaves, and they may be the saddest marriages of all."

"But there is a third kind of marriage. The third kind of marriage is not perfect, not even close. But a decision has been made, and two people have decided to love each other to the limit, and to sacrifice the most important thing of all—themselves. In these marriages, losing becomes a way of life, a competition to see who can listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most. The marriage becomes a competition to see who can change in ways that are most healing to the other, to see who can give of themselves in ways that most increase the dignity and strength of the other. These marriages form people who can be small and humble and merciful and loving and peaceful."

after reading his words, i came to the conclusion that i need to work to have that third type of marriage in my future.  the others are too painful and sad to consider.  so how do we create that kind of self-sacrificing, loving, compromising relationship?  and how do we do it without changing too much of ourselves?

i believe it is possible to change and compromise in a healthy way and in a healthy quantity.  i think there are two main things that we can do to foster equality in our relationships:

1)  listen to each other.  try to listen more than you talk.  when your partner is not speaking, listen more. as you listen, put on his/her shoes.

2) do not be silent.  share your opinions, both big and small. there is no reason why a mother-in-law should hear the true feelings of a husband or wife before it has been shared with their partner.

i think there is too much of a tendency for one person in a relationship to dominate the relationship.  that dominant person calls all the shots, makes all the plans, and ends up in control.  at first there may be a reason why their partner puts up with it.  maybe they are just glad to have a boyfriend/girlfriend (or husband/wife).  maybe they don't like making choices or they have a hard time choosing between alternatives.  but i don't think it is good for a relationship to be so one-sided.  in most cases we will make better decisions when two people come together and deliberate.  even if our decision is not the best (in our opinion) we may find that joint-solutions are more effective than a solution decided upon without mutual agreement.

i want a relationship where my opinion is equal to (not superior to) my wife's.  i want a relationship where my wife feels comfortable calling me an idiot when i am acting like one.  i want a relationship where we are both willing to admit it when we are at fault.  what do you want? share your thoughts.