I've been in wards where individuality wasn't appreciated much, and I've been in wards where individuality was appreciated greatly. What tended to be the difference?
Room for individuality depends almost entirely on the local leadership in the units, but the biggest factor that affects local leadership tends to be the diversity of the membership. A more diverse membership tends to necessitate more tolerance of individuality. Nobody has to be confrontational in any way, but hearing different voices and perspectives makes a difference - to widely varying degrees. On the other hand, it can be vary hard to appreciate diversity in thought and perspective in a ward or branch where nobody ever expresses a differing opinion, much less where everybody sees everything essentially the same way.
That, perhaps, is the worst result of those who are different leaving the Church or becoming inactive. It solidifies the "norm" and lessens the likelihood that individuality will be appreciated and encouraged - that everyone will learn from hearing multiple views. I'm not "blaming" people for leaving if they feel different (and I LOVE Elder Wirthlin's point in "Concern for the One" that it is the membership's responsibility to act in a way that encourages those who are different, those who are tired and those who have strayed to return), but I am saying that leaving only exacerbates the problem about which those who leave complain.
Intolerant people who prompt people to leave contribute to our inability to build Zion, but so do those who leave. I know for a fact that my own insistence on staying actively involved has been a blessing to others who might have left or faded away into inactivity without my voice, and I am glad I stayed for that reason even if there had been no other benefits for me. There have been such benefits - great and glorious benefits, but, still, that would have been enough.
I'm not saying I have been responsible for the fact that my last two wards, especially, have been and are wonderful wards - but I am saying I have been and am a PART of the reason. I speak up and contribute in a unique way, and that helps others feel comfortable doing so, as well - especially those who see things similarly, but even those who don't. I talk openly about the need to value diversity, and the diverse appreciate that and respond. I am seen as totally faithful and not a threat or a challenge in any way (since I am faithful and am not a threat), so "The Church" where I live is not seen the same way it is seen in some other units.
Again, I'm not alone in that, but I AM a part of it. Granted, I don't face this to the degree that some others do in their units (where the majority of members don't want to hear differing views, for example), but I have been in situations where I appeared to be the only voice saying what I was saying - only to have someone come up to me afterward and thank me for saying it.
I believe that is worth considering - truly contemplating and internalizing.
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