Monday, July 2, 2012

The Holocaust of Hubris

Ash is falling like snow. If you live in Utah county, you've seen it, and it's an eerie sight. The state is covered in wildfires from north to south, and the cinders are dropping on Provo like we're Lilliputians in an ashtray. And in a way, I'm probably responsible.

You see, I recently took a BYU English class and, irresponsible young adult that I am, I tried, in my own little way, to defend the rights of gay students at BYU--and, doubtless, called down this plague upon the state.

The project was to write a group persuasive paper about a topic related to the social sciences, and being, well, me, I wanted to write something that would spark a little interest in what could otherwise be a mundane class. I wrote up a list of things I wanted to discuss, but when one of my group members suggested encouraging students at BYU to be more open-minded and accepting of their gay or lesbian classmates in order to curb depression and suicide, I knew we had a winner. And so we fell in love with our inflammatory little topic, with little to no regard for the state's unusually dry weather this year.

Now, while I'm not antisocial, I certainly am not one to sing the praises of group projects. While our group got along quite well, I often felt like I was being held back. While I wasn't the one to originally think up our topic, I was by far the most gung-ho about it. I was excited, and I was confused as to why my groupmates didn't share my enthusiasm. As time went on, I saw other things that rubbed me the wrong way. Whereas I was working feverishly on a scathing deconstruction of the events surrounding Boyd K. Packer's October 2010 conference talk, one of my teammates was writing a detailed set of instructions on how to accept same-gender attracted students that was heavily (and I repeat, heavily) informed by a couple of doctrinally-normative talks by Elders Holland and Oaks. I began to feel like I was the only one who actually believed in what we were doing, at least enough to say what really needed to be said. This was our chance to stick it to the man! Why would we pull our punches?!

As Breaking Bad taught me, No half measures!
Eventually, we had some classmates peer review our paper, and my opinion of my peers fell to its lowest. In a quick note scribbled next to my section on Elder Packer, someone scrawled out, "Be careful saying something so negative about a person we consider an authority."

I read that and fumed. Were they actually coming straight out and asking me to pander to them? Was I being shut down for calling into question a flaw in their (albeit carefully) constructed worldview?

Eventually, I calmed down. Well, I reasoned, they are my audience, and while I want to call into question their assumptions about the world, perhaps I would indeed be wiser to not alienate them. I want them listening to the end, I decided, and not tuning out halfway through. With a heavy sigh of resignation, I completely restructured my section. Time passed, and the semester came to its end. In lieu of a final, every group gave a presentation based off of their paper. I stood up with my group and gave my spiel, secretly thinking something like, "If only you got to hear our real paper, ">then your lives would change."

It was then that a member of my group--the same person, in fact, who based a section on Elder Holland and Elder Oaks--began the final part of our presentation. This person, as it turned out, had served in the military, and had once known the breathless crush of depression. This person had once sat in a barracks with gun in hand, debating whether or not to use it one final time before being stopped by other soldiers--friends. Earlier this year, this person served in a platoon with an openly gay soldier, and mocked him mercilessly. However, because of our group's work that semester, this classmate of mine had apologized and been reconciled with that platoon member. Fueled by a very personal memory of the awful depths of depression, this group member realized that the point of our paper had little to do with homosexuality; it had everything to do with love. You don't have to be an open advocate for gay rights to believe that no one deserves to be depressed.

In that moment, I realized that what I had previously praised as my own ingenuity and revolutionary spirit was nothing more than hubris. I wasn't fighting a system to gain rights for gay students; after all, even if I had thoroughly and completely convinced my classmates of my point of view, that wouldn't change a single university policy. I wasn't trying to help anyone--I was feeding my ego, I was proving my own superiority over my supposedly ignorant classmates. I was being cheeky earlier when I suggested that the Utah wildfires were a punishment for my group's paper. The reality, though, is that an ego is much like a fire; so long as there is sufficient material to feed it, it is never full. It spreads and spreads without end, unquenchable and, eventually, uncontrollable. And we can see what happens when a fire gets out of control.