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The Dumb Things Mormons Say

By Michelle Lehnardt

After my fourth son received his mission call (Canada Montreal, Mandarin speaking!) our friends and neighbors celebrated with us and shared all the usual tidbits of information about the mission and people they knew in the area, etc.

Oddly, in the midst of all the congratulations, my fifth son heard something different. Over and over people said to him, “Wow, your brothers have all had such interesting mission calls. Ha, I bet you’ll go somewhere boring like Wyoming/Nevada/Idaho.”

I stood next to him during these conversations enough times to know people just thought they were being clever and funny; they certainly didn’t mean any offense. But my son has just enough insecurities about keeping up with his four over-achieving older brothers that he felt a bit wounded. And as an champion of missionaries everywhere, I don’t support the idea that there are interesting and non-interesting missions.

Within a few Sundays the talk about mission calls receded and I talked to my son about ignoring the dumb things people say. As Saints, we need to work constantly on not taking offense. A huge portion of Christlike living lies in letting things go, learning to live with the bumps and bruises inflicted by our fellow Saints. But while I’m working on those qualities, I also want to avoid hurting others.

I cringe to think of the many thoughtless comments I’ve made over the years out of simple ignorance.

We talk a lot about learning not to be offended, but today let’s talk about how we can avoid meaningless platitudes and social gaffes. I think we’d all like to be the delightful person who says just the right thing. I hope to leave everyone feeling a little happier and a little better (not running from me in the halls at church).

Perhaps we can create a syllabus for ‘Polite Conversation 101.’ I’ll share my meager knowledge and you can add yours in the comments. Together we can avoid social mishaps and the proverbial foot in the mouth. At least most of the time.

What not to say (these are well-known, but worth repeating):

  1. THOSE WHO ARE MOURNING

He’s in a better place now.

God must have needed her more than you do.

  1. YOUNG ADULTS

How’s your love life?

When are you going to get married?

  1. COUPLES

When are you going to start a family?

Isn’t it time you gave ____ a sibling?

  1. WOMEN

Are you pregnant? (No matter how big the belly—never, ever ask!)

  1. FAMILIES WITH MISSIONARIES

I can’t believe your missionary is coming home.

Two years just flies by!

 

People aren’t trying to cause offense. Most of these comments simply translate into, “I’m aware of you and I’m interested in your life.” Our ward members simply want to connect and often don’t know how. We tend to comment on appearance or future expectations, “You’ve grown so much!” “Are you getting ready for a mission?”

I’ve warned my kids people will inevitably talk about their height and school. They simply need to accept those comments in this stage of life. But if you really want to connect with kids and teens, talk to them about something besides their appearance, catch them doing something good and compliment them, or simply say ‘hello.’

Listening and complimenting are the twin super-powers in conversation. Use them lavishly.

And now I’ve reached the end of my knowledge (it didn’t take long!). Please share your own tips on what not to say, conversation starters and how to avoid turning into the annoying person at church.

 

 

 

 

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

39 thoughts on “The Dumb Things Mormons Say”

  1. Good advice! Perhaps "introverts" could practice a few responses to questions so they won't feel the need to run away. I have some children who believed they were introverts, but with practice they are much better able to cope with social situations. Our daughter especially has had to come out of her shell, so to speak, as the RS President of her YSA ward. She is now complimented on how outgoing and friendly she is. Just takes practice!

    I truly understand about comments about missions. At the time of my mission call friends were going to Ireland and France and Japan. Everyone was so excited for those places. When asked about my call, to Florida Tallahassee, the response was usually, Oh. And then the disappearing act. I'd never been to the Deep South Bible Belt. I learned a new language and came home fluent in "Southern" complete with an accent that caused my family to giggle whenever I'd speak! Every mission is wonderful, with great people and experiences to help us grow. Yes, it's thrilling to get to go to another land, but the US is so diverse that much of it is foreign, especially to a young person who has never travelled further than Salt Lake City to Rexburg.

    Thanks for the helpful reminder of learning to converse in an uplifting and encouraging way. Most of us need to practice and get better at it.

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  2. Try to be aware of tone of voice and body language. If someone is backing away as you speak they have probably had enough of of the conversation.

    If someone's tone is weary or anxious then consider ending the chat soon.

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  3. Just a correction–an introvert is not a person who is shy. Extroverts can also be shy. An introvert is someone who is emotionally fed by being alone, and an extrovert derives energy from being with people. An introvert can love being with people and be the life of the party (I know, I have a daughter like this), but then go home and not want to talk to anyone for a couple of days! So perhaps your kids were shy and you taught them to be a little less self-focused. Completely different than turning an introvert into an extrovert–that's not going to happen, and it shouldn't happen. Introverts are often the quiet observers and deep thinkers and we need those people!

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  4. When asked how many children we had after moving into our new ward, my husband replied, "We have two wonderful boys." (Which is all we were able to have.) The response from the sister asking? "Oh, you've just replenished, you haven't multiplied."

    I was more shocked than offended, but it took me a really long time to come to understand that she hadn't meant it to be cruel.

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  5. Don't ask moms when their sons are going on a mission Wait. Moms want their sons to go more than anyone else and having the added pressure of people asking when doesn't help. It's up to the YM or YW to go And if there is a problem asking only adds to the pain

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  6. Amen to that! Lately, I have been reading about how introverts need to change. As a proud introvert, I realize that Heavenly Father gave me my own unique talents and wants me to share them the way He knows I can through the way He created me. My daughter is also introverted and it's been a blessing to teach her to be true to herself as she serves others. Thank you for saying this!

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  7. When a less active person comes to church for the first time in a little while, don't go up and ask them where they've been, or tell them that we haven't seen them in a while. Maybe just say, "Hi Bro/Sis so-and-so. How are you?"

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  8. My husband was eight when his father died. His older brother was told over and over again that with his dad gone and his 2 older brothers out of the house that it was his responsibility to take care of the family. He was 13 years old. He took it to heart and his mom said it forever changed him.

    Maybe our conversation should be what to say, instead of what not to say. "So sorry for your loss."

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  9. Yes! I have heard the don't be offended lesson so much (which is great advice) but I feel like so many people take that as permission to not be thoughtful! I don't ever want to hurt anyone's feelings although I know I do.
    The thing that a lot of members get wrong about missions is they think it is about going somewhere exciting or exotic. Missions aren't long vacations. Their purpose is not to help us see the world.
    As far as kind things to say. I don't always know. But for death (and I have had to deal with this far too much) I always appreciate when the person just says how sorry they are. I also really appreciated it when people would share stories with me about my mom or dad. How much they loved them. A neat experience they had with them.
    Don't ask if someone is planning on having more kids. I try not to get annoyed at this. When I had 2 little ones and then had recurring miscarriages (6) people would often ask me when we would have more. That stung then. Because I desperately wanted more. (gratefully we were able to have 2 more after a five year stretch of recurrent loss. Now I am 42 and I think I should be past that question but I still get asked it and I just want to say "I'm old and tired. Can't I be done?"
    My other idea is not to give advice unless specifically asked for it. I know people are trying to be helpful. But it's presumptuous to do so. Most often people just need a listening ear and validation of their feelings.

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  10. Good article. Some very insightful things to note. I wanted to add some thoughts from a non-LDS perspective. I'm a practicing Catholic; my wife is Mormon. I've taken the discussions more than once and while I see some wisdom in the things Joseph Smith taught, I just don't believe he was what he said he was, or did what he said he did. But I have great respect for Mormons and most of my friends at this point in my life are Mormon. I go to services with my wife at her ward pretty much every Sunday, but stay true to my own Catholic school upbringing.

    Over the years I have heard and witnessed a great many well intentioned, but highly offensive statements and behaviors made by mormons. Most of these are done without malice, but are made out of ignorance. I'll pick the top three though there are more.

    1. Treating another's current religion as if it's some dreaded disease from which they need to be cured. The comments to me have taken the form of "when are you going to get over your Catholicism and convert so you join your wife in the temple." A Catholic or for that matter, anyone of a different faith can't get "over it," they don't have a disease to be cured from. Their religion is part of who they are. I understand how important the temple and conversion is to Mormons, so I get the concern for my eternity, but I don't have a disease to be cured of.

    This is something missionaries need to be cognizant of when they are evangelizing. And it should be something Ward members take into account before making those kind of comments.

    2. Calling non-members gentiles. I get this is meant to be humorous, but it is so very offensive. Yet I hear it frequently and just cringe.

    3. Bad mouthing or noting how much better mormanism is than another faith, from the pulpit. This is also highly offensive but seems to occur often, usually during a fast and testimony meeting, but heard such comments at other times as well. The intended spirit is to celebrate the joy of being LDS, but the result is alienating at the very least. So this is a big don't in my book.

    These are my top three though there are others. Something Mormons need to aware of is that people of other faiths do pay attention to how Mormons live out their faith. It's what I respect the most about Mormons. When a member says or does something as dumb as some of these things, even when well intentioned, it does nothing to foster a good relationship between the other faiths. There may be differences in the theologies, but all of us are taught to that we should be building up others faith, not tearing it down out of ignorance. Just some thoughts to consider

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  11. Wonderful article thank you, I also would like to add, if our young ones decide not to serve a mission, for whatever reason, that we love and accept them just the same as those who do serve, so they don't feel like 2nd class citizens, or failures.

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  12. I not only enjoyed and greatly appreciated this article, but the ensuing comments. How wonderful it is to have opportunities like this to share our feelings and know that we can learn from each other and be so richly blessed. Thank you so much to everyone for helping me to grow with your experiences. It is so important to be lifting one another up as much as we can. I have learned that from serving in the Temple as an Ordinance Worker. Many a heavy heart comes to be healed and uplifted by the sweet Spirit of our Lord. We are there to be of service anyway we can by being in tune with that Spirit so we may know what to do and say (or not!) to make the patrons feel comfortable and welcomed. I believe we must also be as gentle and loving outside of the Temple, too. Again, thank you so much!

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  13. Thank you to the originator of this article, and to all the thoughtful commenters. I greatly appreciate the useful ideas shared.

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  14. As a mom with a son going to Nevada Reno on his mission (he just entered the MTC), I thank you. But as a person who talks a lot and asks a lot of questions, I also thank you for the challenge to be more aware of other people's perspectives / feelings.

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  15. As a mom with a son going to Nevada Reno on his mission (he just entered the MTC), I thank you. But as a person who talks a lot and asks a lot of questions, I also thank you for the challenge to be more aware of other people's perspectives / feelings.

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  16. Thank you, Johnny, for sharing your feelings and perspective. I'm sincerely grateful you did. I would cringe, and I'm pretty sure that others would also, if I knew I had caused you or anyone else not of our faith any hurt or sorrow by a misguided comment! I'm so very grateful to know that your are supportive of your sweet wife! Here's why and MY unsolicited perspective on that subject. So, in advance, please forgive me! My wonderful late husband was a non-member (Lutheran) and, although he couldn't find himself to believe the story of Joseph Smith, he had great admiration for a lot of what we believed and how we served. He was very supportive of me and my desires to be a faithful member. For that I will be eternally grateful! I wish you could have met each other because I believe you have a lot in common.. You're both very loving and giving of yourself! God bless you, Johnny! You have given me a gift far greater than you know!

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  17. I love this so much.

    Also, if I have one more person tell me that I'll get better if I follow the word of wisdom, I might go crazy. It's an autoimmune disease. It's not going anyplace. And I already eat beautifully….But they can't see that.

    I think we are guilty of magical thinking a great deal. Everybody fires this, like "if I eat oatmeal and jog, I'll never get sick." It's like a magic spell we try to cast upon ourselves, as if faith is magic. But bodies are much more complicated than that, as are lives. We do good things and we follow covenants, but out crabby insulate us from pain, heartache, or illness. By assuming that I'm not obedient enough, or not faithful enough, that I got/stay sick is awful….and very few people realize the subtext to their words.

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  18. AMEN and amen to this post and comments!

    I would add for those who didn't marry or adopted children: "when are you going to be sealed? You're not really married / a family until that happens." Ugh. I needed to recover after we adopted, rushing to the temple isn't on my list!

    Also for adoptive parents: "Aren't you having children of your own?" (I think you mean "biological chikdren." My adopted children are my own; they not a neighbour's lawnmower that I'm giving back later.) And "Oh! Their temple work is going to be extra fun/interesting /unusual" implying that again, their adoption only informally makes them a part of our family so they a have separate biological genealogy line to complete. Again, they are my children, not loaners from someone else's family who are spiritually required to go back.

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  19. Carolyn, If this is a question to me, Rozy, then no, we have five children, one girl and four boys. Our oldest boy also claims to be an introvert. I don't like either of the labels as they, like so many others, don't give a full picture of personality, spirit, and potential.

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  20. I think Carolyn was just stating that that was another one of those offensive comments that people say, not necessarily specifically to you. As an introvert myself, I can vouch for the fact that I'm not simply shy or in a shell… I am not troubled, I don't need to change. Introverts can and do have the full set of social skills, we just often prefer to listen and observe rather than speak. We thrive on personal time, and that I think is a skill everyone can learn from, as this quiet time with my scriptures and my thoughts are when I most deeply feel the Spirit. I do enjoy sharing my testimony and thoughts and talking to others, but not all the time. I am glad everyone is different, I just hope people know that introverts and extroverts alike do not need to change, and each has their own set of challenges. We can learn from each other.

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  21. Many wonderful thoughts have been presented here. I think the main thing is to try to reach out to others with Christlike love. This doesn't guarantee that something you say won't come across as hurtful. After all, the Savior told Peter he was acting like Satan in Matthew 16:23. And even our best intentioned messages that sound wonderful to us might sound otherwise to hearers. Humor can be a beautiful thing, but it's a lot like music in that we all have different tastes and capacities for it, so it must be employed with love and care.

    On the exotic mission thing, I have to say that I was once of the uninspired opinion that foreign missions were somehow superior to domestic missions. Ditto with missions far away as opposed to close to home. I was fortunate enough to have an experience that made it clear that the Lord does not share this view. We have repeatedly been told that God views all callings the same. There is no hierarchy of value with Him when it comes to callings. The same is true of missions. I am grateful that the Lord gave me an opportunity to repent from my previous faulty understanding.

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  22. I love your thoughts on humor and music! We all have different tastes and capacities. And you are so right– the Lord has no hierarchy when it comes to missions and callings. We should extend love and support to all.

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  23. Loved the article and great insight. One I get tired of, as I have a life threading illness, and on a transplant list, is "You look so good you must be feeling better", when in reality I am in constant pain, and just want attend church, feel the spirit and not be reminded of my illness that I live with 24/7. Again thank,ups for your beautiful words of wisdom, Bryan Hughes

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  24. I was at a meeting recently and talking with a lady and she was describing a fantasy series that made it to HBO. I replied sarcastically, "Game of Thrones"? I immediately regretted it. I had judged her. I should have focused on common ground, which we did have. She talked to me about the Wheel of Time series, which was finished by Sanderson, whose Mistborn series I'm reading now. Because of that moment, because of that terrible moment, I failed to talk about that, to give her that connection. To give us something that united us, something we could have talked about. I'm grateful I have another shot at it. Because I sure missed out.

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  25. Thank you so much for creating this discussion! So much wisdom in your post and in the comments.
    After reading your post, I have been thinking about how to support people who are mourning. Sometimes I struggle to know which is better in some situations: silence or well-intentioned, but awkwardly given, words. In the past few years, we have had some members in our ward go through some extremely brutal trials. They have not always been people I've known super well. When our paths have crossed for brief moments in the hallway, etc., I haven't known whether it would be better to say nothing about what has happened in their lives and just try to be normal. Or maybe it would be better for me to try to acknowledge their pain in some way even if I don't know exactly what to say. I've tried both. Sometimes, words feel completely inadequate.

    My sister's husband has gone through cancer twice. The first time he was diagnosed, my sister felt like many friends, in not knowing what to say, kind of disappeared for a while. She found this absence and silence really painful. For myself, I am super private and in the same situation, I probably would have preferred the quiet space as I processed everything. So hard to know how to best support people! I totally believe that as we reach out genuinely and with good intentions, in most cases, it can feel helpful and healing.

    I totally agree on all that's been said about how we respond to where people are called to serve missions. Thank you so much, Michelle! You always bring so many insightful truths to light. Your kindness and compassion inspire me

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  26. Yes, Kate! Thank you for this! Shyness is not exclusive to introversion, and introverts don't need to change to accommodate a highly extroverted world. As it relates to this topic, I rarely talk to anyone because I'm too worried formulating what I might say. 🙂 Then I can keep from offending people. Ha!

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  27. Yes! This irritates me so much. Don't you want your "own" children? Or: Do you know their "real" parents? Um, the last time I checked, I've fed, and clothed, and cared for, and nurtured, and most importantly, LOVED, these children their whole lives, so I'm pretty sure the fact I didn't birth them doesn't make a bit of difference. They are my own, and I'm their real mom!

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  28. As to whether it's better to say something or not to someone who is suffering, here is my perspective. Two especially difficult times in my life have been 1) when my youngest daughter had a serious illness and was in Primary Children's Hospital for awhile and 2) my oldest daughter had a newborn pass away. I saw the awkwardness that others felt, but what was always most meaningful to me, and was all that needed to be said/done, was when people would come give me a hug and tell me truthfully that they were praying for me. That touched me more than anything.

    A side note about the mission one – my son got called to a California/English-speaking mission. Several people gave their condolences that he wasn't going foreign. But the funny part was, he WANTED to go stateside and English-speaking!!

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  29. Terri, thank you so much for this comment. My husband died when my son was 12, with little sisters that were 8 and 6, he was told the same thing over and over. He also took it seriously and quite literally! He started telling me what to do, he and I had many battles over that. It's not right to tell a child that "he's the man of the house now", or anything like that. The remaining parent is still the parent, it's not the child's responsibility to be the head of household, not to mention they are just as grieved or more so than the adult! they're barely getting to a place in maturity where they can even process grief that great, so to add that heavy weight of responsibility is just horrid! The poor kids don't know what to do.

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  30. I generally smart off when people say/ask dumb questions,

    When are you going to have kids? After we get a boat.

    You only have one kid? Doesn't she want a sibling? Not after going to a ward party.

    You must be pregnant. Last I checked a broken bone isn't a sign of pregnancy.

    I never ask people if they have kids, how many kids they have, if they are having more, etc. I'm past the age where I could handle being pregnant, and I've made peace with the fact I have one kid. I wish everyone else could make peace with it too.

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  31. Introversion is a real thing, not just in people's heads. Please don't suggest that introverts just are trying hard enough, or that extroversion is the only right way to be. Yes, there are things that introverts could improve about themselves, there are ways that we can grow and stretch beyond our boundaries. The situation is the same for extroverts, albeit the things extroverts have to learn and grow in are often different.

    When we introverts have enough enthusiasm about a topic, we can be so excited about it that we appear to others to be extroverted. We can also become more skilled at social encounters through practice, and we should all practice these things so we can be more integrated into society. But that doesn't change that at the core we experience sociality differently than extroverts do. I can act plenty extroverted for a time, but then I need a lot of time to 'recharge,' a time which my extrovert husband does not need.

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  32. When I went to work full time, my second child was six months old. A woman in my ward asked me about my job and said 'It must be so hard to leave you baby at home and go to work.' The words were not so much the problem as the tone which she used, and the context in which she said them, which made it sound like 'if your husband was good enough and you had the right priorities, you wouldn't have to leave your baby at home.' Well, it was hard to leave my baby, but my working was the right and only real choice for our family at the time. Her words bruised my heart, which was already tender as my children, still adjusting to the change, begged or cried when I had to leave for work. It took me a long time to even be able to talk to that woman again.

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