Shelley from Idaho, writes:

Mormons are so uptight. I'm so tired of it. What's the deal with that?

Tracy says:

So, what's ” uptight” anyway? To me, a person is uptight when they're overly and unnecessarily rigid, extreme, get nervous, flustered, or panicked at the mention or observance of something to which they object. Objecting to something which one finds morally or ethically unacceptable, in and of itself, isn't a bad thing. I'm repulsed by some of the things I've seen. But in the simplest terms, someone who is uptight makes a mountain out of a molehill. And, obviously, the matter of being uptight is a subjective thing.

Generally, anyone who lives a stricter standard, will probably be considered uptight to those who live a less strict standard. (And please note that ” more-strict” or ” less-strict” are not necessarily interchangeable with ” right” or ” wrong,” ” better” or ” worse,” etc.) Someone who I think is “uptight” probably doesn't think they are uptight. And that person probably knows someone who they believe to be uptight. And certainly, there's someone out there who has less strict standards than yours truly, who thinks I'm uptight.

The specific subject of “uptight Mormons,” though, has two perspectives. The one from outside the church and the one from within. I believe the question was about the second, but let's start with the first.

Most people, LDS or not, know there are lines that just shouldn't be crossed. The uproar over the whole Janet Jackson boob extravaganza is evidence of that. Most agreed it was ridiculous. And just about every decent American and his/her dog objects to Brittney Spears' fascination with her own body, her obsession with keeping it mostly undressed in general public venues, and the way she markets herself to young girls and slimes her way across a stage where she knows six-year-olds are watching.

I think “uptight” people are those who nit-pick and make a big deal about the littler things. (For example, I would call anyone who writes in to complain about my use of the word “boob” in the previous paragraph,” uptight.” Gotcha!!) And typically, those who are “uptight” make it obvious to everyone around them that they object. I think it's the public nit-picking where the negative connotation comes in. If the disapproval wasn't made known, no one would know to call them “uptight” in the first place, right?

For instance, many think that Latter-day Saints are “uptight” about modesty in dress. But as previously mentioned, there are plenty of individuals and groups outside of the church who believe in modest dress, but who the general public does not consider “uptight.”

Do people talk about the Amish being uptight? I mean, it's just a zipper, right? They can't use a zipper! And yet, they're the most widely respected of all religious groups. When their standards are so restrictive, why are we uptight, and they're respected? I believe it's because they withdraw from society to avoid exposure to the “lesser” standards, while we dive in and put up a fight. And that's what I mean. It's our mouths, our actions, our reactions that get us labeled as “uptight.”

Many times, voicing objection is a good and necessary thing, especially surrounding the big things: marriage laws, abortion, TV smut during family hours, etc. We're supposed to “stand for something.” But unless we're asked, I think sometimes we just need to keep our mouths shut and stop nit-picking other people and judging them as though they should be living our specifically LDS standards. To them, it is just a Coke or cup of coffee, an R-rated movie, or two-piece bathing suit.

I've known members who wouldn't go to the neighborhood picnic because beer will be there. Nobody is getting drunk. They're sipping their beer, you're sipping your Sprite. Telling the homeowner's association that you refuse to go to a neighborhood social as long as alcohol is present is a good way to earn the “uptight” label. They haven't made the covenant, we have. So we shouldn't feel the need to roll our eyes when a girl at the pool walks past us in a bikini. And please, let's explain to our children that it's rude for them to tell Mr. Jones next door that he shouldn't drink wine, or tell his wife and daughter that their spaghetti strap sundresses are immodest. Yikes!! To paraphrase the way a dear friend put it, “We have standards that cause us to believe that a person shouldn't drink alcohol, watch an R-rated movie, or wear a mini-skirt, but we don't have to comment or point it out every time we see it.” Well-spoken, girlfriend.

So what's an example of an “uptight Mormon” from the perspective of another Mormon? The recent film The Home Teachers, though a little over the top, points out both extremes pretty well. The member who's too lax and the one who's too uptight. I'm pretty confidant that other members wouldn't call me “uptight.” In fact, I'd say that most would probably say that, if anything, I lean a little in the opposite direction. But I can think of a few examples of church members from my past who, to me, were “uptight.”

I remember one Young Women leader I had who, when teaching about chastity, liked to tell everyone that she'd saved her first kiss for over the altar of the temple and tried to persuade us to subscribe to the same standard. Gospel standards, as dictated by prophets and scripture, are “adapted to the capacity of the weak” she said (and misused). Since the standard was to refrain from “passionate kissing,” she figured that in order to be “strong” and really righteous, never kissing a boy at all was truly chaste. If that was a standard she'd established for herself, so be it. But she mentioned it to the Young Women frequently and in such a manner that it was obvious she believed that we should all be doing (or not doing) so in order to really be chaste. To believe that any kissing before marriage is either bad, less pious, a lower standard, etc., is uptight and definitely not church doctrine.

Another area of “uptightness” is the Word of Wisdom. Any reasonably knowledgeable person is well aware that whole grains are best, that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, that dairy products should be consumed in moderation, that meat is to be eaten sparingly, that soda isn't a health food, and that chocolate though one of God's greatest creations was not meant to be an entrée. (Doggonit!)

But I had a woman panic when she saw me give ice cream to my toddler at a ward dinner. First there was the “dairy products are poisonous” lecture, then the “refined sugar” speech, which was quickly followed by the “if Joseph Smith had only known?” discourse. And that wasn't the first time I'd heard it. I'd had another woman, who was actually a close family friend, tell me that my disabled daughter might not have been in her condition had I avoided white flour, refined sugar, and drank comfrey tea during my pregnancy. I've had friends come to me in tears because a member told them that the reason they miscarried (or why their little son has asthma or cancer) was possibly because they (the mothers) were eating refined sugar and white flour.

Truthfully, I don't care how extreme some people take things in their personal lives, I really don't. The problem is when it becomes a public production and a “if you were really living the gospel” thing. Members of the Church should live by the precepts of the Word of Wisdom, period. Anything more strict is a personal decision, and not a part of the gospel.

Another area. Humor. Some put jokes that involve anything having to do with the church, LDS culture, the scriptures, etc. in the category of “making light of sacred things” or being “light-minded.” Personally, I think they misunderstand what “making light” means, though I'm sure they'd say that I'm the one who misunderstands. Obviously, there's a line that shouldn't be crossed, but mostly, it's nothing more than innocent humor! The LDS jokes are some of my favorites! We need to learn to laugh at ourselves!!

So, why did the Mormon cross the road? To get to his other wife! HA! I think that's hysterical! [Editor's note: Tracy is hysterical because she's assuming she's not the wife left behind on the first side!]

Someone will say that such a joke furthers the misconception that we practice polygamy. But if someone says something about Mormons practicing polygamy, instead of getting wound up and on the defensive, tell the joke! They'll laugh! Immediately the tension has disappeared. Then, you simply explain that it was practiced over 100 years ago, that the people who show up on Jerry Springer with their 30 wives and 10,000 children aren't members of our church, yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah, you get the point. You'll have lightened the mood, shown that you have a sense of humor about the whole thing, that you're “slow to anger,” not easily offended and still have been able to dispel the misconception that we practice polygamy.

I don't mean to suggest that anyone should “bend” their personal standards. If someone firmly believes in their lifestyle, their diet, their humor, a stand they've taken, fine. Just simply live it. It doesn't need to be publicized, put on display, and brought up at every turn, in every meeting, at every gathering, or during every meal.

To me, such attempts are nothing more than a prideful and self-righteous public display, much like that of the Pharisees. The Jews wore tassels at the end of their sleeves as a reminder of their covenants. So the Pharisees made theirs longer. They also “broadened their phylacteries” believing it would show others and God that they were more committed. Work and travel were supposed to be limited on the Sabbath. The Pharisees actually counted their steps and thought of themselves as “more righteous” the fewer steps they took. They pointed out what they believed to be everyone else's weaknesses by comment, but also by constantly making public their attempts to live the law more strictly than what was required of them.

Bottom line? I think much of the “uptight” issue has more to do with our mouths than our ideas.

Kathy says:

First, thanks readers LDS and otherwise for introducing this topic. It' s a worthy meditation for everyone.

Most of us have buried a friend or family member at a far-too tender age, and this has helped us to understand that 99% of the stuff we expended energy on was completely beside the point of loving and living our lives. Losing valuable sleep over money problems? Sweet dreams. Your bills are only numbers on paper the instant you die. Agonizing over the loneliness of being single or without a date to the prom? Exhale, pop open a soft drink and a fun book. You can love anyone you please. That' s where the fun is. They don' t have to love you back.

Of course we are expected to exercise appropriate, responsible stewardship over all our resources and relationships. OK. Where does the balance lie? I like Nephi' s example here. Go and do. He makes it sound easy to hear the voice of the Lord a bit more directly than most of us, but we have a lot more guidance than he did by way of handy scriptures on paper versus brass, and modern prophets. Most of us can do a lot more going and doing and a lot less obsessing and fretting. He lived in the days before Jesus Christ' s appearance on the earth! Isn' t that weird to think about? We know how the story comes out. He didn't. He had to take the whole thing on faith. No matter how much responsibility was loaded onto Nephi' s shoulders, he never sounds “uptight” in his journals. Those who “murmured” sounded like the uptight ones, to me.

The good book is the right place to look for most of our “uptight” hassles. Do my kids like me? (Or, if you' re single, does anybody like me?) Is there any way I can pull my GPA out of the commode before it gets posted to my transcript? Can I ever develop enough stamina and wit to please my bosses? (Or, if you' re unemployed, can I get a job before I go bankrupt?) A daily dip into the scriptures will remind us that those are not relevant questions. Read the beatitudes and the charity definition. Jesus promises that his burden is light; never uptight.

I remember the first time I heard this new word “uptight.” It was, in fact, applied to my mother-in-law by another of her daughters-in-law. I knew exactly what she meant, but I had never thought of this characterization. In this case, because I have known and adored this cute lady for about 35 years, I can say that some of the synonyms for “uptight” that apply to her are “fussy” to the extent of literally bursting into tears if everything does not go as planned, including family photo shoots that predictably turned into shouting matches among parents, grandparents, and babies, with arm-wrestling over binkies, propping babies into the right pose and dashing back into place before they can plop over or run away, then screaming at the tots to smile, pull their fingers out of their noses, etc. These sessions were like visits to an alien galaxy to me. We always hired a candid photographer on our side of the family, and even the posed shots came out fine, with happy kids and beautiful babies, no binkies, no boogers. I don' t think I had ever before been in any kind of a photo shoot that involved hollering. But, in defense of my exemplary in-laws, they are the successful side of the family. They have tons of money and they are almost all bishops and stake leaders. So who is to say whether it is a good or a bad thing to be “uptight”? Being “laid back” to the extent of ignoring important stewardships is certainly not the answer. Hostile hollering is part of the fabric of these folks' personalities, though, and kind of an unfortunate legacy.

Another phrase, which I remember vividly, originated with the same daughter-in-law, who is one of the most impressive people I know. Her groom was having an “uptight” fit over the way his new bride was managing the use and care of one of their wedding gifts. Wrong spatula or spoon in a Teflon skillet, if I remember right. She looked at him in utter disbelief at the intensity of his reaction and said, “It' s a pan.” She' s not an idiot. She knows you use a wooden spoon or a plastic spatula on Teflon. (Especially brand-new Teflon!) But his response would have been more appropriate to a far more serious transgression. I think, in many cases, the things that “uptight” people flip out over are “just pans” after all, as Tracy said.

I could go on. Dog lovers versus “uptight” people who think dogs are messy and allergenic, and who jump three feet every time a dog barks, call the cops, call the pound, get as worked up as if there were a gang of criminals crouched under the kitchen window firing practice rounds into the Mercedes. The “uptight” anti-dog segment, of course, can justify all the above with leash laws, animal dander, public nuisance nitrogenous waste, and on and on. It' s just another area where people can become divided against each other if they choose to.

One of our readers confided that, in England, the simile “as miserable as a Mormon” is fairly well-known. I hadn't heard it over here in the Colonies, but the implication is obvious. I know a lot of jolly, contented, happy, and joyful Mormons, but the comedic “cheap shot” makes sense. How could a person who is a hundred percent faithful sexually, a hundred percent sober regarding alcohol, a hundred percent tithe payer, a hundred percent committed to the triple mission of the church, and too busy to loaf around the taverns with the gang at work or in the neighborhood be anything other than miserable? We are, in our “peculiar” way, having a ball in many cases. We actually like goofing off with our Relief Society sisters in crazy skits and hen party capers and we deeply love service, shoulder-to-shoulder with these same awesome sisters. We like to study. We read for fun. We like to practice. Many of us love music, drama, and sports and appreciate the law of the harvest that pays off so handsomely for diligent practice in any skill. Maybe that's just because “misery” loves company but if this is misery, the joke's on the joker. We are having the time of our lives. We have an enviable life and we appreciate these opportunities with all our souls.

But let's be honest. There are miserable Mormons, and we need to acknowledge those counterexamples and examine the circumstances that allow that to happen. In what way does being “uptight” contribute to unhappiness? I would attribute a lot of it to the quest for a perfect appearance to an external audience. Try to get eight little kids doozied up for an 8:00 am Sacrament Meeting in hand-sewn twinsy outfits with every hair in place. Expect them to sit frozen like the statues at the Nauvoo Women's Monument for three hours. Get defensive and humorless about attacks against the church or the doctrine. Get hot-headed and readily attack others for anything or nothing. You'll be seen as “uptight” by the kindest of your detractors. Others will be far more critical. It' s understandable and we need to look carefully at the fit of that shoe. Who' s “uptight” out there? Can you lighten up a little?

As for me, I need to tighten up a little. I'm too laid back for my own good. Keep that in mind as you read on, OK? Here's a little quiz for you ?

Uptight or Just Right?

You' re already late for church. Your baby dumps the contents of his sippy cup onto his sister' s new dress. You:

  1. Scream and pass out.
  2. Grab a full sippy cup out of the fridge and double-check the seal. Yank off the dress. Grab another outfit out of the dryer on your way through the garage to the car.
  3. Skip church. Try again next Sunday.

You have been named program chairman for the no-kids Christmas Party. You bring your brilliant original program to the committee and begin rehearsals. The ward know-it-all substitutes her mom' s script (her momma was your counterpart in her home ward) and takes over the baton. You:

  1. Wrestle the music stand away from this usurper and run sobbing into the bishop's office.
  2. File your superior gem of a program in the “to be filed” compartment of your diaper bag and breathe a sigh of relief. Sight-read the alto for the ladies who depend on your experience and probably nominated you to begin with.
  3. Resign from the committee and go see a movie while your kids are being baby-sat by the Young Women.

The less active lady on your visiting teaching beat has told you Mormonism is a cult and the prophet has you duped. Furthermore, there are no more lepers. You:

  1. Wag your finger in her face and tell her if Mormonism were a cult, you'd be a little heap of ashes somewhere in Branch Davidian or Jonestown. The church has lasted for 174 years, it has gone global and it's not going away. Furthermore, there is, somewhere on that globe, an active leper's colony that desperately needs single-crocheted all-cotton bandages.
  2. Confide that the leper bandage in your purse looks more like a white brillo pad than a useable binding for an open sore, but ask how hard single crochet can actually be. Ask her if she can help you learn before you go nuts or cross-eyed, whichever happens first.
  3. Tell your Relief Society President she has moved and left no forwarding address.

Your fun-loving uncle has slipped a couple of fingers of Vodka into your Smoothie. You:

  1. Clutch your throat and throw up on the banquet table.
  2. Smell the booze from a block away, dump the Smoothie into the potted palm, and tell Uncle Jack you need a new can of pop. The old one appeared to be a hand-me-down.
  3. Chug the spiked pop. You can repent before your next interview, now that they are two years apart.

Mostly A' s? Think “type A, as in” At Risk for a Heart Attack.” Dear Sis. You might be a bit uptight.

Mostly B' s? Let B represent “Balance.”

Mostly C' s? Not a terrific grade. You might be Cruisin' Just a Bit Too Easily Down-stream. Study the B responses and try to move a little toward the middle. You might have to row upstream a ways.

Alison says:

A-C-A-B. OK. I admit it. I flunked the test except that I tend not to wag my fingers. I'm mostly at risk for cardiac arrest. And I almost edited the “B” word from Tracy's response in favor of “costume malfunction.” Someone has to maintain order and civility in this world for all you slackers out there!

But let me try to defend myself ?

Tracy calls standing against smut on TV “good and necessary,” but standing against two-piece swimsuits and R-rated movies “uptight.” I call it standing against smut on the beach and smut in the theater and I'm hard-pressed to make a huge distinction between them or to call one good and the other bad.

I don't want to get into a beard fallacy argument here, but it's all just a matter of degree. As members of the church I feel that we should stand against any and all things that are contrary to the revealed word of God. Even if we do them ourselves. And if we are labeled “uptight,” so be it. But let's use some common sense and decorum and timing wouldn't hurt either.

Let our voices be heard. I hope they will not be shrill voices, but I hope that we shall speak with such conviction that those to whom we speak shall know of the strength of our feeling and the sincerity of our effort.

Gordon B. Hinckley, In Opposition to Evil

Tracy says:

Well Allison, I feel totally stupid now! When I read your comments, I thought, “Wow it did seem like that's what I was saying, didn't it!” So I apologize for not being very clear on that. What I meant to say was that, although I think it's totally appropriate to complain to TV executives and film companies about the trash on television and in the movies and ask for more family films, we need to handle more personal encounters differently. What made me mention it was a real experience.

Several years ago, a friend who knows I'm LDS was telling me about an encounter with someone she called “an obnoxious Mormon coworker.” During office chatter, my friend (who's a big Mel Gibson fan), mentioned that she'd seen The Patriot over the weekend, and said something like, “You guys have got to go see this movie. It was so good.” Apparently, the LDS coworker said, “Isn't that rated R?” And when my friend said yes, the other said “Oh, well I don't watch rated R movies,” and gave a little speech about how she doesn't support filth and violence.

Comments like that do not generate feelings of respect and admiration among neighbors and coworkers, it just makes a person look like an “uptight,” condescending, “holier-than-thou.” We need to be careful how we say things. We don't wear bikinis, but I highly doubt that very many faithful LDS members strictly prohibit themselves from going to the beach or the neighborhood pool just because some girls might be wearing them. And what are we going to do? Roll our eyes and make an under-the-breath derogatory comment every time someone in a bikini walks by? I've heard people do it! And it doesn't do anything to fix the problem. It would be better to write clothing labels and ask them to make more modest swimsuits, and also to make modesty look appealing and fashionable through their advertising.

I remember a couple years ago, some girls (who used to be my Young Women when I was in the presidency of our ward), wrote to a very large and popular clothing manufacturer and asked them to please make more modest prom dresses. Those girls actually ended up being on Inside Edition for an “expose” on current fashions and how immodest they've become. But Inside Edition did the talk about low cut and backless dresses. Our girls just said, in effect, “We're not judging anyone else's choices, we just want the clothing companies to give us a choice, and make dresses that will allow us to be fashionable and modest.”

I hope I'm remembering correctly, but I think it was Nordstrom that gave the girls a great response and actually created an entire line of modest dresses.

My point was that whether the subject is movies, dress, diet, or what have you and we hold a standard or belief but “look down” on those who don't share that standard and constantly make a public show of our belief by belittling others and constantly making comments, we usually display an “I'm better than you” attitude, rather than personal belief and commitment.

Alison says:

Tracy, you go to the beach with all those semi-nude bodies? Ew!