Monday, May 26, 2014

Modesty: Extremism Is Not a Good Thing

I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with modesty as a standard.

 None. Zilch. Nada. Zero.

 I really like the general definition of modesty as, "Moderation in all things" - although there are times when extreme measures are warranted on either side of the continuum. It's when modesty becomes an obsessive focus on one aspect (in this case, how people dress), as well as a hedge about the law (moving the lines to avoid coming anywhere near the edge of the law), and the hedge obscures the path itself (so people lose sight of what modesty in dress really means), and the ideal disappears from sight (when extremity in dress is seen as modesty) that I am concerned - and we have too many members who have lost sight of the ideal, in my opinion.

For example, more clothing that covers more of one's body is not modesty when it moves past moderation; rather, it becomes extremism (like a full-scale burkha), which is the opposite of modesty.  Complete, shapeless coverage when in public is simply the opposite extreme of full nudity in public - and both are equally "immodest". 

The BYU-Idaho example that occurred a few years ago is a classic one.

The Church and BYU-Idaho didn't ban anything the young woman was wearing, but an administrator and an employee stretched the definition of modesty so badly that it made both organizations look stupid - and necessitated a general statement reaffirming that, in deed, nothing she was wearing was forbidden. Furthermore, the young woman in question was the RELIEF SOCIETY PRESIDENT in her ward and had gone straight from a meeting with her Bishop to the testing center. She was covered from neck to toe in clothes that weren't even tight (not skinny jeans, but standard boot-cut jeans), but one guy apparently was distracted by her curves and exercised "a little authority, as (he) suppose(d)," to define modesty in a ridiculous way.  *sigh*

Sometimes, we really are our own worst enemies - and sometimes it's because we restrict meaning and build such high hedges about the law.


ji said...

In matters such as this, our wrong isn't modesty per se -- rather, it is our seeming practice of enforcing our standards on fellow saints. Yes, the male proctor was wrong, and yes, the institutions were rightly embarrassed, but there was also wrong in all the pointing fingers and wagging tongues aimed at the proctor, the institutions, male Latter-day Saints, and men generaly. Jesus said that when one is offended, to try to resolve the matter quietly. But I am hopeful that some learning has occurred somewhere.

Papa D said...

I agree, ji, that there was too much ridiculing of the proctor in some cases, but the "too much" wasn't in pointing out the absurdity of what he did (or even in how many people made that point) but rather in the cases where the criticism itself was "immodest" (over-the-top, extreme, overly harsh, etc.) and too broadly applied. I believe we simply MUST talk about instances like that if we are to understand true modesty - but, as you say, we can't respond immodestly and retain credibility with regard to modesty.

Also, I agree that our wrong isn't modesty, per se, and that we are wrong to try to compel others to act as we act. That is an important discussion in and of itself - but I think it's important to define "modesty" properly and fully if we are to fix a real problem I see too often in our dominant culture.

ji said...

Yes. Another thought -- I'm okay with hedges around the law. Individuals make them, and families do, and so do church communities. The key is appreciating the difference between the two as time passes. Hedges need to be trimmed from time to time.