Telephone: The Game.
Or, on the Single’s/Married Divide in Illinois.
Here’s an example of the “telephone game”, which is illustrative of a problem in our stake. Last year, two of the great professional musicians in our stake wanted to start a choir, and did so under the institute. The directors chose some wonderful music, designed a diverse and spiritual program, and brought the choir to a great level. All of the concerts were very sparsely attended (they weren’t advertised very well), but it was still a very uplifting experience. The only drawback, in my opinion was the lopsided demographics of the choir. Including the two directors, there were 17 people in the choir. Taking a strict demarcation between conventional wards and the student ward, roughly 1/3 of the choir was from the student ward. Taking a more effectual look at the demarcation, I count the engaged people with the conventional ward against people who are not engaged. That left 2 versus 15 or approximately 1/10 of the choir was representative of the student ward. I know the directors didn’t plan for more married people than single, and they certainly wouldn’t ever want people to think singles were unwelcome.
But there’s a problem with Mormon social culture. Actually, it’s all social cultures. We tend to talk about the things we have in common. Therefore, you get a group of married Mormons together, they will talk solely about their marriage, their children, everything focused on their “marriedness.” In this sense, this is a problem with Mormon social culture: people are defined by their marital status rather than their personhood. So, I tried to get several other people from the student ward to join, but was informed that they have no desire to hang out with people that they consider “cliquish”. One quote I can share is, “I don’t feel welcome, everyone’s married, everything they talk about is their marriage.” This quote doesn’t originate from someone afraid of being with families, she babysits, and does quite a bit with her married friends, they’re just different than the type of people in the choir. Her friends discuss their lives in a way that’s inclusive, whereas choir members would discuss their lives in a way that was exclusive.
I shared this information with a member of the choir, so they could hint to members of the choir to try being more inclusive rather than exclusive. Of course, conversation lead to conversation, and eventually this email was sent to our list-serve:
I also want make sure ward members are clear that the choir is for all stake members of institute age, not married students only. I’ve heard that some people have been told that it is just a “married student thing”, but that has never been the intention of the choir. Last year the choir was about half married students and have (sic) single students, and it would great to have that kind of a group again this year. We would love to have any who are interested in participating from the University ward.
Somewhere between what my friend said, and what I said, and what was reported to the director, there was a little bit of telephone effect. A little bit of a straw-man that was built up. Something which is easy to fight, but what was not a fair representation of what was said. I never said that the intention of the choir was to make a choir of married students to which singles were not invited. I said, that the way the choir had turned had become something to which many singles did not feel welcome, as any socializing before or after focused on the married nature of most of the members of the choir. And, because the director didn’t understand the problem, the email he sent out certainly didn’t address the problem.
In discussing this whole thing with Tomchik, he wrote something very profound, which I share here:
[B]ut I wish that married folks wouldn’t treat the University Ward folks as different, when they are just like anybody else – human beings, members of the Church, who want to fit in, be loved and appreciated, etc. It goes the other way, too, when people in the single’s ward don’t want to participate in something simply because of the high number of married people involved. In essence, I wish no one would view marital status as a social divider, and I wish no one single or married would act in such a way that others would resort to using marital status as a social divider.
But we’re not there yet. And I’ve given up on this stake. I decided to join a community choir instead.
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