Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Californians, Utah Mormons and other evil creatures

I was born with an inherent dislike for Californians. At least I can never remember using the word "Californian" without a certain disdain attached.

I think that was a feature of being raised in Idaho. I was raised on the stories of stupid city slicker Californians who'd come to Salmon to play Grizzly Adams for a weekend, all decked out in yuppie gear, and unable start a fire with a match and dry grass. Or California hunters who shot horses because they couldn't tell them from mule deer ("I swear it is a true story! My friend told me his friend told me his friend...") And there was plenty of enmity for the snobby, rich Californians who moved to Idaho to get away from the big city, paid too much for land, and built oversize houses, causing the local real estate to go bonkers. And then, after moving to Idaho to get away from the city, they'd go around trying to city-fy everything.

I don't think I picked up my disdain for Utah Mormons until I moved to Utah. I heard the occasional remark about Utah Mormons before then. But it wasn't until I moved to Utah that I fully adopted the opinion that Utah Mormons were sheltered, lazy idiots who had no idea what it was like in the "real world", and who were so stuck on themselves that they were unable to treat anyone else like a human being. You are a project, to be assimilated into the mindless horde, or you are an outsider, to be shunned. And the hypocrisy of Utah Mormons - Drinking, Swearing, Drugs and Raves, then spouting off pious testimonies on Sunday. Just like the Zoramites on the Rameumptom. Provo Utah Mormons are the worst. A breed apart. A whole new level of ridiculous.

I am married to a Californian now, and I have lived in Utah for as long as I have lived out of it. I have slowly come to a realization that my attitudes towards Californians and Utah Mormons are precisely the same thing as Racism.

All families, and all groups are the same in many ways. there is always a crazy uncle in the mix, always a stuck-up-snob, a handful of clueless nitwits. a few random "individualists" who work hard at being different than the rest (just like the rest of the individualists. A group within a group... but don't tell them that...).

My problem was that I viewed all Californians/Utah Mormons through the filter I constructed from my impressions of these few nitwits. It funny how once you have that filter in place, "They all look the same". You watch for and pick up any little word or nuance or action that fits your model, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Let me give one example, This specific story is fictional, but based on a number of real events I have observed over the years. A guy moved into a neighborhood in a small Utah town. Nice houses, lots of extended family. Mostly LDS. He was not LDS, a bit rough around the edges - had tats, liked Harley's, Loud music, Beer... His neighbors initially did the neighborly things - brought fresh bread, said "Hi". He had been warned about this by his friends - warned that they be over to try and convert him . He made it clear he didn't want anything to do with their religion.

It went downhill from there.

The girls in the neighborhood were all stuck up, and wouldn't ever date him. Cops came to his house because the neighbors complained about his loud music. They were always having neighborhood get-togethers, but he never got invited. It irritated him to no end that he couldn't buy beer on Sunday on account of these stupid Mormon's control of the government.

Now here's the other side of the story. His neighbors had come to say hi - to get to know the new guy. They were greeted with suspicion. He didn't seem appreciative of the gift they brought, and then he attacked their religion, which was something important to them. He didn't seem to want to be friends with his neighbors.

Half the houses in the neighborhood he had moved into were all the same extended family. They had frequent, informal family gatherings. They weren't excluding him, they were just... family. They were young families, with lots of little children, who needed sleep.  And mothers who needed a break from their children - and noise in general. His initial standoffish-ness when they welcomed him to the neighborhood made them all nervous about approaching him about his music blaring at 11:00 at night, so they used the police to deliver the message instead. The single girls in the neighborhood were involved in church activities, babysitting, and the like, and to be honest, they didn't really have anything in common with him. They politely declined his offers of dates to R-rated movies, and raves, and any activity he offered on Sunday, which was often his only day off.

So. Yeah. A few missteps on both sides, actually. A bad intro because of a filter imposed by friends and their filters, a disregard for others' culture. And it went downhill from there.

After 15+ years living here, I have come to realize that Utah Mormons are just like everyone else. Most are decent folk. They are mostly kind, considerate, sincere, imperfect, flawed, busy people. For most, their religion is a significant feature of their lives. That is a cultural feature, like the Queen and Football (The kind you play with your feet) in England. Like any group they want their culture to be treated with respect. And like any culture, there are a handful who hang in the culture but don't really apply the culture (thus seem like hypocrites), and there are a handful on the other extreme who paint their faces in team Colors.

Unfortunately the extremes are what stick out, and what we base our filters on. And we make judgements based on what people say or do, with our filters in place, and no idea what is acutally going on in their heads. Or lives.

So, when I am talking to someone, anyone, I am going to try harder to remember to ask myself. "What filters am I looking through when look at this person? Am I putting words in their mouth - or intent in their speech and actions - based not just on their skin color, gender, or race, but also their state of origin? religion, or group affiliation?" I am going to try harder to see more of what I have in common with them, and less of what is different between us.

Wish me luck.


  1. Hate to burst your bubble, but you've been living here for 20+ years.

  2. Hey Ed! I have read your blog posts when you post them on FB, and love your thoughts and ideas. I usually don't comment ( does that make me a blog stalker?), but I had to tell you that I love this post! I have been thinking about this subject a lot lately because a year ago we moved to California. We didn't want to at first, and had to ask ourselves, " is it really because it is California, or is it because of what we have been TOLD about California?" We had to admit, it was the latter. When we told our families ( who shall remain nameless, but live in a place that starts with an S and ends in almon), you would not believe the reactions we received. It was as if overnight we had become the worst kind of traitor. Oh, and the comments we got when they came to visit! But we realized that people here are just like everyone else! Yes, it is liberal, and they have the whole gay marriage thing going on, but guess what, the church is true here, too! We've also lived in Utah and a few other states, and we've realized that people everywhere are a lot alike- we're all just trying to survive and thrive. I loved your comment regarding racism-that the prejudices we heard/were taught about "those Californians" and "Utah Mormons" are no different than being a racist. Those have been our exact thoughts and feelings since living here, and I have never heard anyone else put a voice to those feelings. We don't absolutely love it here, so it's probably not a long-term thing for us, but I can guarantee my kids will not grow up hating any specific group of people because of prejudices I "think" I know something about. Thanks again to your thoughts and thanks for letting me ramble!

    1. D'Neil! Thanks for the comment! I greatly appreciate it! Much of what I write is an attempt to better understand my own thoughts/feelings on various subjects. I often find by writing, I get better insight into what my opinion really is. I very much appreciate comments of others. I am a big fan of open, honest dialog. Sometimes it reinforces my views, sometimes it changes my views... even if, in the end it is a view I don't agree with, I often at the very least gain a better understanding of the other viewpoint. Thanks again for "rambling" :)

  3. Oh, btw, this is D'Neill (used to be) Cheney from Salmon :)