Weirdos Unite!

Hubble telescope picture of the Whirlpool Galaxy.

With all of this out there, does it make sense to focus on our differences? (Image via Wikipedia)

Last night, my husband came home from a day-long work event with a story.

He and his colleagues were eating lunch together, when one of his colleagues at the end of the table—I’ll call him Tony—revealed that he had seven children.

“Oh, my GOD!” came the chorus from the table.

“Oh, but you don’t even know the half of it!” said one of his colleagues amid the laughter and ribbing.

At this Tony excused himself and left the table, unwilling to have his life choices judged by a group of hyenas.

Not only does Tony have seven children, he and his wife homeschool. *GASP*

Amid the titter of agreement that Tony was, simply, insane, the guy next to my husband nudged him.

“Hey, don’t you homeschool?”

“Yes,” my husband replied, “yes we do.”

We know Tony and his wife through the homeschooling community. We know Tony and his family to be generous and kind. When he found out we didn’t have a GPS, he gave us one of theirs. They have different politics than we do and I, frankly, feel a little ill when I think about the level of chaos they must deal with on a daily basis with that many humans living in one house (I can’t even wrangle two kids into the car without totally losing my mind), but their choices aren’t who they are. Their choices reflect their values, but you can’t necessarily assume what those values are just by looking at their choices.

This is perhaps one of the best lessons I learned living in Utah. As homeschooling homebirthers, our paths intersect with both very “conservative” and very “liberal” families. In Utah, we also had the privilege of knowing people with quite large families, many of whom birthed at home and/or schooled at home. Some of them were conservative, some were liberal, most were Mormon, but then so was most of the general population there, regardless of family size.

Another of the things I learned (re-learned, over and over and over) in Utah is that political and religious affiliations often just serve as smoke screens for what people really value. Someone says, “I’m Mormon” or “I’m Unitarian Universalist” or “I’m conservative” or “I’m crunchy” and people make assumptions about that person’s values based on whatever stereotypes they hold about those labels. But you can be a Mormon who believes in legalizing gay marriage and you can be a Unitarian Universalist who believes in small government. You can keep chickens in your backyard and cloth diapers on your kids and make your own deodorant and vote any way you want to.

I find that the same thing happens when I say I homeschool or, apparently, when someone says he has seven kids. People make assumptions about our values based on our actions. But if we can sit down and have a conversation about our choices and why we’ve made them, we find that our values aren’t binary. They are much more nuanced than that, and if we can get past the assumptions and the defensiveness and the (sometimes) evangelism and really connect on the level of feelings and needs (oops, there’s the “crunchy” again), I find that we’re more similar than we are different, regardless of our choices.

If we focus on our differences, those differences seem too big to surmount. But when we focus on our similarities, the differences seem smaller and smaller.

The ray of light for my husband as he willingly served as the face of homeschooling at lunch yesterday was when one coworker asked, “How do you teach your kids something that you don’t know?”

This was a real question that came from curiosity and actual interest rather than the assumption that my husband was a weirdo.

My husband came away from the conversation feeling good that he had made a real connection with one person about homeschooling and that he had taken some of the heat away from Tony.

I told him, though, that if he really wanted to take the scrutiny off of Tony, he should have told them about our homebirth.

9 comments

  1. Cathy Trahan · October 24, 2011

    This is an interesting thread. Our family recently went to Lancaster County, PA, and had a buggy ride with an Amish farmer. We visited his farm and saw a lot of what I felt were inconsistencies – liquid nitrogen, solar power, cell phone…. Of course I asked about what I saw and had heard about. The farmer explained that some of the rules of the Amish community don’t seem to make sense but he does what the church leaders say. He also said that teenagers don’t go off to the cities to explore what the world is like before joining the church.

    Our family had several good discussions after this ride about how he is Amish and he belongs to that community but it seems like the community is changing and is the religion changing too? Are teh changes coming about too slowly or too quickly for the church and its communities. We talked about how in order to stay in the coommunity you do what the leaders say even if you don’t agree since the idea of standing up to the inconcistencies might lead to either banishment or not being able to run your livelihood (farm) in a manner that supports his family.

    Religion is a challenging thing to discuss.

    Like

    • CJ · October 24, 2011

      That’s really interesting, Cathy. What a unique opportunity! In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle there’s a section in which Barbara Kingsolver describes a visit with an Amish family in, I think, Ohio. Not much discussion of religion in that section (mostly it’s about locally grown food, as that’s the topic of the book), but still interesting to see a portrait of a real person behind the stereotypes. And I’m guessing the Amish communities in Pennsylvania are likely to be different from those in Ohio and from those in Florida, just because they’re made up of different people in different locations. As a young person in Ohio, I’d see the buggies parked at the KMart and wonder how that figured in with the “closed community” aspect. As an outsider, I suppose I’m unlikely to ever understand completely.

      I agree, religion can be challenging to discuss. I’m a little surprised my post has taken this direction, but I’m going with it.

      Like

  2. Heather · October 23, 2011

    Can you label yourself catholic/mormon/whatever if you don’t actually believe the doctrine? I don’t believe you can.

    A “true” mormon (for argument’s sake) couldn’t support gay marriage because the doctrine teaches that homosexuality is a sin. Well, not the feelings per se, but acting on them. I call people who label themselves with a religion, but don’t actually believe what the religion teaches “Sunday Catholics”. Someone who lives with their significant other before marriage, uses birth control, disagrees with the pope, etc. but attends mass regularly and calls themselves catholic. Or an LDS church goer who only tithes 5% and gulps down his coffee before heading out to sacrament meetings.

    I’d love the community that comes with mormonism (for example) but I don’t think I can just put aside the history and teachings to take what I want from it. I could find a few bits of things I agree with from every major religion but that doesn’t mean I get to take on that label. Not honestly.

    Like

    • CJ · October 23, 2011

      Heather,

      First I will say that I agree with your personal feelings about religion. I also could not belong to a religious organization that teaches things in which I cannot believe. Whether I understand it or not, the fact is, there are members in good standing of the LDS church who do not believe homosexuality (and even acting on it) is a sin. It’s not my place to say whether they’re “true” Latter-day Saints or not. (There are some very insightful comments about homosexuality and the LDS church on this post (the original version from August 2011, not the one posted this week) from Ask Mormon Girl: http://wp.me/pLaYV-5U)

      My point in mentioning this in my post wasn’t to condone the official teachings of the LDS church; it was to point out that you can’t automatically assume what an individual values and believes based on the labels they attach to themselves. I’m a homeschooler and have been treated downright rudely by some people here in New England because of the assumptions they make about my values and beliefs simply because I homeschool. They don’t care to know me as an individual; they simply rely on their biases and stereotypes as ample reason to dismiss me.

      This is what I’m arguing against: dismissing an individual based on assumptions and stereotypes. Personally, I like having my stereotypes and biases challenged. It has enriched my life in countless ways and given me the opportunity to experience many different points of view, including those with which I disagree. Moreover, I believe that uniting on issues of shared values rather than focusing on where we disagree is the only way to make positive change in our world. I can’t do this if I dismiss wholesale anyone who might hold a belief that I find offensive.

      Like

  3. Heather · October 23, 2011

    You can’t be mormon and support gay marriage. Religion isn’t like a menu where you can dismiss what you don’t agree with. If you are paying a tithe to a religion then you are supporting (or not) what the religion supports (or doesn’t).

    Keep writing!

    Like

    • CJ · October 23, 2011

      Thank you for the comment. I wrote this because I have friends who are Mormon and support gay marriage. And I know Catholics who support women being ordained as priests. People within religious groups are individuals and have different points of view, sometimes even in conflict with the other beliefs of their religion.

      Like

  4. timbra · October 22, 2011

    🙂 So you’ve been to my house. . . and the other day, the guy came to spray for spiders (he was a missionary fresh off the field) who said that he was one of (i think) seven kids and they lived in a house OUR size, with two rooms and one bathroom! Now even I feel like I’m wasting space in this house with four humans 🙂 I’m glad we’re friend despite all our differences (and that you live most of the continent away from me. . .PS, my sister is moving to El Sagundo, CA, so, no Mass trips for me in the next three years. . .well, not to see my sis anyway.

    Like

    • CJ · October 22, 2011

      We definitely seem to have different ideas of adequate space these days than in the past. A common way of building homes in colonial New England was to build the hearth and chimney and put one room on either side of it and have a small kitchen nook kind of thing on one side of the hearth. Then as the family grew and could afford it, they might add on. The idea that bedrooms are a fairly new architectural development was a bit of a surprise to me. I guess back in the day, everyone just slept wherever.

      I’m disappointed you won’t have an excuse to visit MA, but I’m glad your sister will remain somewhat close, geographically. Do you know the song, “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo”? It’s a classic.

      Like

Your turn! What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s