Friday, August 22, 2014

Individual Adaptation within Collective Norms

 I have a friend who has struggled with body acceptance issues for a long time.  She is working on coping mechanisms to help her overcome this difficulty, but wearing garments exacerbates seriously her struggles.  I can't understand those struggles fully, since I have never experienced them personally, but they are real and, at times, can be damaging and even dangerous.

With reference to the garment, she said something to me once that I thought at the time was very powerful - and I have thought about it off and on since then.  She said:

It's difficult for me to see how a loving Heavenly Father could require something that makes us feel this way.

I had the chance to communicate with her again a while ago, and the topic arose one more time.  Having thought about it since she first shared her frustration, I answered her in the following way:

I don't believe he requires us to do things that make us feel that way - but, if you accept his existence and the foundation of communal rules in any way, he does require some people to do things that aren't "ideal" for those people. There's no way to have communal laws, rules, regulations, suggestions, cultural practices, etc. that are going to be "right" for everyone. They are approximations of what works generally for the good of the collective group.

That's an important, even critical, distinction - and I believe it's vital to understand. "We" don't get everything that would be "ideal" for "us" when we agree to be part of any group. An essential part of learning charity - true charity - is acceptance of that fact. The key is to step back a bit, see the benefit for the collective group, make whatever sacrifices are possible for the group, make individual adjustments and adaptations that are important to you personally and find peace in that balance between serving the collective good and honoring what is vital to yourself.

It's not easy - this embrace of paradox and complexity. Simple extremes are easier - but they also are more destructive. Worship according to the dictates of your own conscience, but find a way to do it within the community you choose as your own. It might take a while, but it's worth it in the end - since the faith you carve out will be your own, and it will allow you to continue being an active part of your own tribe, so to speak. 

In the specific case of the garment and her body issues, I have NO problem with her not wearing the garment in the same way most Mormons who wear it do so.  The Church Handbook of Instruction actually leaves how she does so in her hands, and I love that policy.  If adapting in healthy ways means wearing it only for specific things (like when she attends the temple) - or only for a short period of time each day and/or night - or only one day per week or month - or even not until she has a better handle on her body acceptance issues, so be it.  I would rather have her be working on getting to the point that she can wear it without real damage than be damaged in a very real way on a regular basis.  The key, I believe, is not to wear or not wear but rather to face the issue head-on and strive to find a way to do whatever is possible in the present while working on making the future better.

I think that is a good outline for most things in life. 

1 comment:

Shawna said...

This is why it is so important for us to focus on ourselves and how our lives are matching up with what we believe and the promptings we are getting from the spirit, as opposed to spending our time judging other people in our communities for not doing things the same way we do!