I recently started following a blog called Middle-Aged Mormon Man. He has been discussing the so-called Long-toed Mormons, those who may need help but don't get it because no one wants to step on their toes. He followed up with a part 2, a less critical, more serious post about why we help or don't help, ask or don't ask. I have thought about this subject a lot in recent years.
When I was younger I felt like a trouble magnet. It seemed my shoulders were made for crying on, my ears were made for listening. Sometimes it was annoying but I most of the time I actually enjoyed it. I felt important, needed, valuable.
At some point I crossed over. I don't know exactly when it happened but I lost my touch. Suddenly no one was coming to me to talk. No one wanted my support or comfort. I guess it was around the time I started having children. I felt a little overwhelmed by having someone who needed me constantly. I didn't know what I was doing. I needed advice and support from more experienced mothers. And there were lots of them!
Sometimes I felt uncomfortable being the one in need. On the rare occasions that someone asked me for parenting advice I freaked out! "I don't know!" I inwardly screamed "I don't know what I'm doing either!" It was a hard transition. And, as MMM describes, pride was the big stumbling block. I didn't like not knowing. I didn't like being just like everyone else. I didn't like that helpless, vulnerable feeling. What am I saying, I still don't like it!
To compensate, I focused on my kids. I knew more than them, right? Now they are getting older and sometimes ask questions I can't answer or don't want to answer. And the stupid schools have to go and change things so my kids look at me like I am insane when I say "carry the one" or "take away 4" or "what's a rubric?". And even if I think I have figured out how to be a parent to say, a three year old, each child is unique! :)
In some ways it was nice to be in my own little world. I didn't have to worry about the rest of the ward. If I had a calling I did it as well as I could. I kept my head down and stayed out of people's way. After a while I realized that I knew very little about those around me. And they knew little about me. I had taken the attitude that I wouldn't pry into other people's lives. If they wanted me to know they would tell me. It seemed no one wanted me to know.
I realized that I had a similar attitude about sharing information about myself. "If they want to know, they will ask". This was kind of contradictory. I wouldn't ask or tell. This has lead to some serious isolation! I think I have also given the impression that I don't care about those around me. This isn't true. Exactly. If I really take the time to think it through, I don't want to know everyone's problems because I will feel obligated to do something about them. Contrary to popular belief, I really can't do everything!
So I guess I do intentionally, if subconsciously, keep people at a distance. But that isn't my point here.
I grew up in a ward where everyone knew everyone else. We got new members from time to time, move-ins, visitors, etc. But for the most part the same people were there week after week, year after year. I am sure I don't know everything about everyone. But I know a lot. I know about some of the skeletons in the closets. I know about the illnesses and injuries, the scandals and tragedies. I know about the successes and miracles. I know, in part, because of gossip. There are certain people in the ward you can count on to pass information around. I sometimes miss being a branch on one of those information trees!
Okay, technically gossip is the snide, nip-picky, rude, nosy talking that people do out of spite and boredom. I HATE that kind of gossip. What I am talking about is the "good gossip". That is the wild-fire spreading of information that people might need to know.
For example, several years ago a friend of mine was having complications with her pregnancy. I called to check on her and she told me that she had miscarried. She stoically told me the whole story through her tears. I was heartbroken for her. When I went to the school to pick up my kids I met a few other sisters from the ward. I told them what I had learned. We all mourned for her loss. We discussed what we could do and followed through with our plans. I felt guilty for telling others her private business, even though she had not asked me to keep it quiet and everyone knew she was having problems. It wasn't my place. Or was it?
I have struggled with this issue for a long time. What is appropriate to tell and what isn't? There is a good explanation of this in a New Era article. It is our intentions that count and whether what we share is helpful or hurtful to others.
It's still a tough question. My 5th grader has recently earned the title "snitch" for telling the teacher when some boys in her class were fighting. She feels ostracized and has cried many times over this experience. She keeps justifying her actions to me, saying "They were punching each other! What was I supposed to do?!" All of my support and assurances barely soothe the pain she now feels.
What should we tell? What should we ask? What is our buisness and what isn't? I like getting different perspectives on issues so I can better understand what happened. It isn't always out of a desire to help someone. Sometimes I just want to understand them better. Is that a good enough reason? If I ask inappropriate quesitons will people tell me I crossed a line or will they just avoid me and label me?
My conclusion is that is isn't wrong to know things about poeple. It isn't wrong to tell others if someone needs help, specifically those who are in a position to do something about it. Ultimately we should follow the Spirit. If we get a feeling to share or keep quiet, we should follow that impression. We can't always know the consequences.