Do Mormons Have Boundaries?

Rob over at Scrum Central has a new post that, in part, discusses how Mormons have no boundaries, how we are completely comfortable in just asking ashamedly personal questions.

“There is something about Mormon culture that makes its adherents blithely assume they can ask the most outrageously personal and intrusive questions of other Mormons, or treat them in the most incredibly insensitive ways, without even stopping to think whether they’re being impolite or nosy. Doing or asking things they would never dream of with a non-Mormon friend or neighbor.”

Rob goes on to explain that:

“And when I explain these realities to people I meet at parties who’ve never met a Mormon before, that’s when their eyes really get big and their jaws really drop. And the phrases change to things like “You’ve got to be joking” or “I had no idea it was that bad” or “what a hot house” or “I thought the Catholics and the Jews had the monopoly on guilt.”

And here’s why I mention the bit about Mormons having no boundaries. It’s because responses like that, from non-Mormons looking at Mormon behavior about this issue, are normal human reactions to the behavior I’ve described. But in my experience, countless Mormons would just brush off such reactions and say “well, they don’t really understand.” It’s that unwillingness to question the assumption that they have the full picture on this (or any) issue, and thus the right to do or say anything amongst other Mormons (particularly family members) necessary to promote and preserve The Officially Approved Goal.”

As one of the types of Gay Mormons he later describes I do take issue with his analysis but still think it is a great post. I probably fall into the “Well they don’t really understand” category but not for the same reasons Rob discusses. I think that people don’t really understand because in the Jello Belt everyone around you is having a shared experience. Think about it, Mormons fled persecution in the east and moved in isolation and solidarity to the Mormon corridor and as such formed tight-knit bonds with everyone around them. Ensuring the well being of those around you (yes physical and eternal Rob) meant that personal questions needed to be asked as a matter of survival.

I posit that the same mentality that existed 150 years ago has simply carried down the generations of long-time LDS families. Do 2nd generation Mormons living in Texas have this same instinctive view to ask ridiculously personal questions? No. Certainly Converts don’t gain this sense of moral superiority to assume is correct (and perhaps thats why only ~20% of converts stay active past 1 year). I think that European members who don’t have a cultural tradition of no boundaries don’t have the same Chutzpah to ask “Why aren’t you married” or “Where are your kids” to a 21 year old man.

As further proof that LDS Members do indeed have boundaries there have been members who I have talked to whose Gaydar has pinged on some member of my ward. They have told me looking for an answer to which I probably already know and my answer is always “If you want to know then ask him” (probably because of my cultural roots in the heart of SLC). I have yet to have a single sister go and ask said individual. They don’t think it would be appropriate to ask. So Do Mormons have boundaries? Yes. Do they have boundary issues? Somewhat.

  • In your example, it sounds to me like YOU have appropriate boundaries, but not the others in your story. Even asking you is wildly inappropriate.

    I watched a documentary once that described how gossip is actually evolutionarily beneficial for the reasons you describe. It helps pass on critical information for survival sake. It’s a human tendency, not a uniquely Mormon one. But I do agree with Scrum Central, that Mormons take it that one step further into inappropriate intrusion. I can’t count how many Elder’s Quorum Presidencies I’ve been in where we thought nothing of dropping by a member’s home past 9pm to ask personal questions (that now make me cringe to think I participated in). As a missionary, we interviewed potential baptisms with highly intrusive questions. I think that’s where young Mormons get their start thinking that they have some sort of right or responsibility to know personal details of others.

    I don’t live in Utah. I’ve lived in Brazil, Japan and currently lay my head in California. I’ve seen the same lack of respect for boundaries in all those wards. I think the only place I can’t think of an example would be in the Manhattan ward I attended back in the 80’s.

  • Sunny

    Sadly, I think that there is a huge mentality that everything is done with love and care, and that people latch onto this idea that they have to save everyone. (For the record, yes, I am LDS; my husband is not.) Too many people don’t SEE what they are actually doing. I know I have my own faults, too, but I am learning. I wasn’t one of the herd; still am not. I prefer to think for myself, and that often caused me scorn in the eyes of others. But, know that there ARE people that do respect boundaries. 🙂 I, unfortunately, do not go to church a lot because these boundaries that I have set keep on getting broken. However, I still believe what I do very strongly and always will. But I won’t shove it onto someone, either.