I appear to most people to be a classically orthodox Mormon. I have held positions of perceived authority in every area in which I have lived; I have six children - the oldest on a mission and the youngest in grade school; my wife did not work outside our home until a couple of years ago, when our youngest started school; I always wear a white shirt and tie to church; I support the Priesthood leadership in public, almost without exception; I live a very conservative life; and on and on and on.
However, many of my religious and political views defy classification of my collective beliefs. Some are conservative; many are moderate and nuanced; some are very liberal. I have spent years carefully considering and altering my perspective on many issues. Even so, I constantly have to respond to assumptions that, because of my general appearance, I believe the most extreme conservative things imaginable - even from other members and even on public blogs where I have commented regularly for nearly four years. I often write something and then have to respond to a response by saying, “Wait. Read it again. I didn’t say that.” I want to be judged by what I actually say, not by what others have said that gets lumped in with what I said - so I try hard to grant others that same courtesy.
Misplaced assumptions happen to me and to others, regularly - I believe because it is very easy to read certain buzz words and phrases and jump to conclusions based on previous experiences with the attitudes and beliefs of others. Sometimes it is hard to read slowly and carefully and thoughtfully and avoid assuming too early, “I’ve heard that one before” - often stopping and responding at that point without finishing a comment or comments. If there is one frustration of public conversations like this for me, it is when I see the emotions roil and stereotypes get attacked when no such stereotypes have been stated.
When we come together in sincerity and attempted understanding - not to convince each other but to learn from each other - great things can happen. When we position ourselves against each other (like even I do sometimes), great things rarely happen. Ultimately, I believe the responsibility is mine for what I give to and get from any gathering - whether in a building or on a blog. I can't blame anyone but myself if I leave a potential feast only partially filled.