Note: Yellow Submarine is a great film and only loosely connected to what I wrote, since The Beatles are NOT R.E.M. Yet, I think the movie has a lot to say about inclusion and being your authentic, best self, which is important. Also, how can you not feel happy after watching it? It’s 90 glorious minutes of bizarre, animated The Beatles’ music videos all about the power of love. Almost enough to make me a Shiny Happy Person, although they probably wouldn’t like Yellow Submarine, which leaves me against the norm, once again.
Can people be too good? You know, those righteous people that are super friendly and nice, but you just can’t stand to be around? Something just isn’t quite right or maybe I’m just hyper-sensitive and feel as though their very presence is condemning my wicked, wicked ways (like voting for Democrats and not shaving everyday, effectively throwing the Honor Code into the trash).
There seems to be a group of people that I struggle to label (not that everyone needs a label, but there’s this shared quality that I can’t define). These are not the “holier-than-thou” people that talk to you as though you are lesser than them when you make a snarky comment about liking some apostles more than others (who doesn’t, really? Besides Jesus). I know why I don’t like those sorts of people.
These people share some qualities with the HTT crowd, but differ in that they don’t lord their righteousness over you, it’s just who they are—I think. And, I can be friends with them, to a certain extent. I probably wouldn’t hang out with them regularly, but I can hold a pleasant conversation with them. I just don’t really feel comfortable around them. I’m worried that my semi-blasphemous humor will cause them to be wracked with guilt for eternity and I don’t want to be responsible for that.
I’m not sure exactly what it is that I struggle to identify with. Perhaps it’s a sense of innocence or naivety that typically seems to be associated with these individuals. It makes me feel like everything I say or do is going to be a corrupting influence, which probably isn’t true (I like to think that I’m a pretty decent human being, striving to be the best I can be…).
I guess I could just say that they’re too good for me, but I hate that phrase and all its romantic, stupid, low self-worth connotations. Although, R.E.M. may have coined the operable term—Shiny Happy People (SHP). I feel pretty good about that. I think it captures what I see as common qualities, that aren’t bad. They just aren’t for me. Some people would use “Molly Mormon” or “Peter Priesthood,” but I don’t really like those either and both of them have the HTT quality that these SHPs lack.
It’s extremely unlikely that I would ever be lumped in with the SHPs. Possible, but unlikely. I’ve never really identified with them, even when I was younger. I grew up in Idaho Falls, which is roughly 40% LDS and 60% not. This created some tensions between the Mormons and everybody else. If you weren’t Mormon, you seemed to either hate the Church or had almost all Mormon friends and were basically Mormon.
I had a pretty wide spectrum of friends, so a decent amount were not Mormon. Fairly frequently they would start bashing the Church or something and so I (being the good Mormon boy I was) would cough nervously and gently remind them “Umm…guys, remember, I’m Mormon…” At which point they would almost inevitably say, “Oh yeah, Conor, but you’re not like those other Mormons. We like you.”
I never knew quite how to take this. I mean, I was glad they still liked me and didn’t think I was prideful and pushy and self-righteous and full of myself, but I always wondered if some of this difference was a result of me not being the holy person that I should have been.
Or were all my other fellow Mormons just terrible? Not in a usual, drink and party sort of way, but in a be so holier than thou that you alienate the people that ideally you would be trying to share the Gospel with way. Perhaps part of it comes down to authenticity.
I think that generally speaking, if people are authentic then it’s easier to identify with them and to feel as though they care about you. I strive for that sort of authenticity as much as possible, which can frequently shock people. Particularly from the pulpit. I love watching the congregation when I speak or bear my testimony because it’s clear that they don’t really know what to do. I get that from my mom. She was speaking once about journaling (which she doesn’t do) and so said that she was awful at it, when another guy in the ward was nodding and pointing to himself, as a gesture of support for her. My mom then called him out and said something like “Yeah, me and Todd are journal losers” complete with her fingers in the shape of an L on her forehead. It was hilarious.
So, I’ve always tried to be that sort of person. Not that I call people out from the pulpit, but that I say it how it is, acknowledging that some things are less pleasant than we typically describe them (feeling like GenConf is crazy long and boring, that dating sucks, that I hope Jesus isn’t like a stereotypical King, but more like Aragorn at the end of RotK, when he tells the hobbits “You bow to no one”—that sort of thing).
Maybe that was evident even in my youth, I don’t know. I still don’t know why I got along with people that seemed to hate everything about the Church. It could have been that I was just me and I happened to be Mormon. Maybe it was the seeds of liberalism and nonconformity that would fully blossom later. Maybe I was/am super worldly, so they felt comfortable around me and weren’t made uncomfortable by my blinding righteous glow…(like in Hook, when the Lost Boys blind the pirates with the mirror-esque paper on their chests).
I’ve always been one to swim upstream, to stand out above the crowd (which is a little odd, since I’m quite introverted and definitely do not like to be the center of attention. Although I like giving talks in Church and teaching, so I guess sometimes I want to be the center of attention). Anyway, perhaps it’s that quality that helped me stand out from my fellow Mormons and make friends with the “enemy” (kidding. I hate “us vs. them” rhetoric and don’t think that my friends were my enemies or the Church’s. And maybe even less so after chillin’ with me).
Now it’s probably Mormons that are more likely to note that I’m not like them, given my politics and some of my heterodox theological opinions (not to mention my mustache…). For awhile that bothered me (and still does on occasion), but I feel pretty comfortable where I’m at and like I’ve found my place—which is more of an internal, re-configuring and thinking about myself in relation to those around me, than actually finding a new place. Some of it is probably that I have a solid group of friends that appreciate me for being me and view themselves in relation to the Church similarly.
Even if I’m not particularly fond of Shiny Happy People, there is a place for them too. I think it’s our diversity of opinions and experiences that make Church (and the world) a beautiful place. Everyone is needed to be their truest and best self, whatever that is. Sure, that means that I probably won’t like some of you and some of you won’t really like me, but if we can respect and care for each other that’s enough. I think. I can always do better at this, trying to restrain my judgment and remember to respond respectfully to the people that I disagree with.
Maybe we need the Shiny Happy People to blind the pirates and we need people to hang with the pirates (hopefully not ‘til death). Together we can all be pirates. Or save the pirates.
Maybe I’m not like you (for better or worse). Maybe you’re a Shiny Happy Person (shine on. Really). Maybe you hate labels and think they’re just part of perpetuating the system that we need to be fighting against. Maybe you’re just like me. Whoever you are, let’s come together and respect each other in spite of (perhaps because of) our differences and make this world a better place.