Dear 100 Hour Board,
I've noticed that the Board writers tend to be much more liberal than you'd expect from BYU. I'd be interested to hear about how you came to view the world from a standpoint that most would consider to be in the minority when compared to the overall church population.
With that in mind, would you mind sharing a bit about your development of your political ideology? Was it something you came to develop on your own growing up? How has being a student at a traditionally-conservative BYU impacted that ideology?
P.S. I know I mentioned liberals specifically, but I'd be interested in hearing from writers on both sides of the aisle.
-Not Exactly Harry Reid
When I first came to BYU, I was very conservative, and had a pretty traditional standpoint on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its doctrine. Honestly, the Board (particularly Zedability's writing) was one of the biggest catalysts for me becoming more liberal. I had a lot of misconceptions about what it meant to be LGBTQ+ because I hadn't had any meaningful interactions with people from that community. Through reading the Board, I was very lucky to get to know people from different backgrounds than my own (such as LGBTQ+), and it helped me broaden my world view.
Another big factor in my liberalism was being a minority in my major. Being a woman in mathematics made me more cognizant of the issues women face in both academia and industry. To be fair, I've always been on the feminist side, but through my experiences at BYU, my understanding and perspective on how women are treated in society and particularly in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has become significantly more nuanced.
Finally, I think a lot of my non-BYU-mainstream views were cultivated by my innate contrariness. I've always hated just going with the crowd, and ever since I was a very little girl, I wanted to push back against what people around me were like. In middle school, because most kids rebelled by disobeying their parents, I 'rebelled' by still listening to and respecting my parents. I think no matter where I had gone to college, I would have found some way to go against the political clime simply because I hate abiding by social norms.
Dear Anyone But Harry Reid,
While my parents aren't radical leftists or anything, they're not ultra conservative, either, and they never really talked about politics while I was growing up that I remember. And although I'm definitely more liberal than them, they aren't as conservative as some members of the Church can be, so that's probably part of why I believe what I do. The comments they made all the time to us kids were things like, "Love everyone," "It's not our place to judge others who are different," and "Do what's morally right," and those tenets have infused my political beliefs throughout my whole life. (Note: I'm not saying that Republicans don't love others, I'm just saying that personally, those teachings led me to be more liberal.) I also grew up in a very diverse community (downtown Salt Lake is a whole different world than the rest of Utah, you guys), with friends of every race, friends who were immigrants, friends who were refugees from war-torn countries, friends from all sorts of different religions/lack of religion, tons of LGBTQ friends, friends from all sorts of socio-economic statuses, etc etc. Knowing and loving so many people from different walks of life helped open up my eyes to different points of view and problems that don't really affect me as a white, middle class person and therefore would have been easy to ignore if I hadn't known people who were affected by them. Despite the fact that I never really thought about politics in high school, that background formed the basis for a lot of my beliefs. Knowing the people I know, and seeing what good, hardworking, upstanding people they are, I can't get behind rhetoric that says that immigrants are somehow destroying our country or stealing our jobs (even my conservative economics classes at BYU disproved that last point), or that LGBTQ people are morally bankrupt and destroying the fabric of our society, or that poor people just need to not be "lazy."
However, when I came to BYU as a barely 18 year old, I still thought of myself as conservative. For a point of reference, that was the year of the 2012 election, and as a newly minted adult I voted for Romney without knowing any of his or Obama's policies, simply for the reason that Romney was a member of the Church (yeah, I was one of those people). But when Obama won the election I was also fine with that (again, it's not like I had any idea of his policies) simply because I had some liberal friends who were excited about it. Basically I was wishy-washy and had no idea what I believed, but thought I must be conservative because after all, that's what Utah Mormons are, right? That persisted until I took American Heritage my second semester and was suddenly exposed to the unsavory fact that the "American dream" has been unattainable to so many groups throughout our entire history, and not even by accident but by the purposeful design of those in power. I feel like conservatives tend to downplay the fact that not everyone in the US is on the same playing field, and that some people need additional help to get over the obstacles that we as a country have collectively placed in front of them, while meanwhile liberals are more open to the fact that just because things may be good for you individually doesn't mean they're good for everyone and we should try to address that. So American Heritage was the start of my leftward leanings.
Then I went on a mission to Chile and developed such crazy amounts of love and respect for the people of not just Chile, but every South and Central American country (Chile has a lot of immigrants itself, so I met people from all over the place). After that experience, there is no way that I can look at anti-immigration policies as good for our country, or think that Hispanic immigrants are an "infestation," as Donald Trump is so fond of saying, or think that the current situation on the border with the detainment camps is even remotely okay. Immigration is the first real political policy that really grabbed me, thanks to my mission, and I find that I'm staunchly on the side of the Democratic Party on that one. Also, Chile has a semi socialized healthcare system, and I saw firsthand that it does a great job of taking care of people without putting too much of a tax burden on anyone, so I can't really agree with people who have never experienced a healthcare system like that who say that it could never work.
I also learned something about microaggressions and how we treat the complaints of people who we don't understand on my mission. Because Chile, despite its many wonderful qualities, still has a big culture of machismo and a lot of sexism, as well as a weird relationship with Americans. Chileans as a whole really like the US and Americans, but not in a, "I see you as a whole person" kind of way, but more of a "Wow, you're such a weird novelty" kind of way. So as a super tall, obviously American woman walking around the streets all day, I would get a lot of catcalls in very bad English; and a lot of people who assumed just based on my looks that I must not speak the language and would try to speak to me in English that was worse than my Spanish, without even letting me explain that I was actually fluent in Spanish; and people who would make fun of my accent or the fact that sometimes I didn't know what a word meant. It was exhausting, and one day after getting one too many heavily accented "Hello, beautiful"'s yelled at me by men who would yell at me if I didn't respond and laugh hysterically if I said anything back in either English or Spanish, I complained to my (Latina) companion about it. I told her how hard it was to feel weirdly fetishized by guys just based on my ethnicity, and to have people think that my accent meant I had a lower IQ, and to constantly have to deal with people's snap assumptions about me (that were usually wrong) because of my country of origin. And my companion basically told me, "Honestly, that doesn't really sound like that big of a deal. The people who actually know you think you're great, what does it matter what random people on the street think?" She was right; no one instance I was complaining about was that big or terrible, but put together it felt like I was dying of a thousand paper cuts. My companion was a lovely person and very well-meaning, but because she had never gone through what I was talking about, it was hard for her to realize that multiple tiny put-downs a day added up to a lot. And in that moment I had the epiphany that that's how we often treat marginalized groups in the US--we tell them that their problems aren't a big deal, because individually they're often not, and ignore the fact that their cumulative effect is huge and draining. And that's when I vowed to never discount what someone says they're experiencing just because I haven't ever experienced it.
Since then I've continued to move more toward the left because of what I've studied in both US and world history, reading lots of books by people who don't share my experiences, and continuing to learn more about different policies and seeing which ones I think align best with loving people, not judging them, and doing what's morally right. I don't agree with every aspect of the Democratic Party platform, and I continue to judge each policy I learn about individually rather than just forming an opinion based on which side or party it's from. And while by Utah standards I am very liberal, there are no doubt people in super liberal enclaves of the country who would think I'm actually quite conservative. So if you think the Board is liberal, hoo boy, you should never talk to some of the people I know who live in New York.
For me, being a more liberal student at BYU helped cement my opinions, if anything. Because I'm constantly surrounded by people who frequently disagree with my political beliefs I've had to think hard about the opposing viewpoint and why I believe what I do, and that means that instead of just believing things out of convenience, I believe things because I've really considered both sides and have then arrived at my conclusion. I also frequently have to defend my beliefs, and that helps me make sure that my beliefs are actually well-formed and have good reasons supporting them. It's definitely taught me a lot about the importance of civil discourse, though, and I would never think that someone who disagrees with me politically is automatically stupid or wrong, because I assume that they, too, have well thought-out reasons for their beliefs (unless their belief is to routinely be demeaning to others, in which case, stop it, there is no good reason for that). One thing that I hated at BYU, though, was how many people didn't afford me that same courtesy. I got so good at listening to others to try to find out where they were coming from, and realizing that both sides of the political spectrum have a lot of good to offer, and respecting others regardless of their beliefs, and yet I still met so many conservatives who wouldn't do the same for me. The thing is, the same could be said of liberals who think that all conservatives are dumb and racist, so my plea for everyone is to just treat people like people regardless of if you voted for the same person. You don't have to make your own beliefs smaller (again, unless it's your belief that it's okay to be a jerk to people), you just have to respect the fact that others may disagree with you and that's okay and you can still have civil discourse. I'm not perfect at this, but I'm trying.
P.S. Sorry this ended up being a freaking novel, I didn't realize I had so many thoughts on the matter until I started writing.
Like much of the BYU population I grew up in a white, upper class, religious family in Utah. And like pretty much everyone else my neighborhood growing up I was quite conservative. I feel like a more conservative approach makes sense in that political context. Honestly, if I was basing my political views on what would most benefit me or my immediate family I would be very conservative.
What changed for me is meeting people who are different than me. Toward the end of high school I started paying more attention to how things were different for those of a different gender, race, nationality, religion, family situation, and economic background. When I went on my mission I got to know hundreds of people and learn about their stories. As I got a broader view of the world, and what people's life experiences are, my political views slowly started to change.
I started to see how people of different economic and racial backgrounds had to deal with challenges I didn't. I started to feel differently about immigration, prison reform, education, health care, and several other social issues. When you aren't poor, or an immigrant, or a minority, your view on things are different than if you were. I feel like there are things that are unfair about the current environment, and currently the Democratic Party is the political party that is trying to reform those issues.
Anyways, the TL;DR version is that I've met a lot of people from different backgrounds than mine that have experienced injustices and right now to me those issues are more likely to be reformed by the liberal side than the conservative side.
Dear not Harry,
My parents are very conservative, and I was very conservative up until adulthood. The biggest change in my ideology came from moving to Orlando, Florida to participate in the Disney College Program. Previously I had only lived in areas that were not particularly diverse, and I had led a very sheltered existence moving directly from my parents' home to the bubble of BYU. But Orlando is diverse, home to people of all backgrounds. In Orlando I had my first openly gay friend, had a black boyfriend, and worked with people from a plethora of different countries. Those experiences changed my point of view fundamentally. While I'm still a fiscal conservative, I am much more liberal in my social leanings.
BYU also definitely influenced that development, especially because my degree is in history. On one hand, I chafed under the general conformist standards of BYU culture, which resulted in the development of some conflicting opinions. My study of history also introduced me to the ideas and perspectives of many different people from all over the world, which helped develop in me a sense of sympathy for my fellow man and forced me to acknowledge that I know very little about the struggles that other people face. As a result, I don't believe the government should intervene in a lot of social issues they seem to have their hand in.
Dear Not Harry Reid,
My political ideologies are far more complicated than a simple label of 'liberal', though I do tend to often agree with other people who call themselves that. As for my political development:
From a very young age, historical fiction novels were my favorite books to read. I read libraries full of books on the Holocaust, Apartheid, Reconstruction America, the Cold War, the Dust Bowl (I actually loved Grapes of Wrath). I felt deep connections with the struggles of the characters. For example, I read Walk Two Moons in 3rd grade and it just moved me in a way that's hard to express. Social issues are something that's just kind of woven into my being. As I got older and more educated, I would hang around with the adults at family dinners. I started hearing my uncles say some rude comments about the 'Brown boys' that they hired to do their yardwork, or about the dirty abomination of homelessness in Salt Lake City... and then go into talking about their summer property in Mexico or the ways they were taking advantage of some new tax law... and those comments just really rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn't believe people would say such hurtful things about other people, and clearly care so much more about money and property than social issues. Now, their political beliefs and those types of comments are not synonymous, and I know that. However, there is a pretty high correlation between the two, and for my young mind, it made me very disinterested in the GOP.
There were other formative experiences that I had in high school that kind of solidified my feelings. Briefly:
- Having a gay best friend in high school (I mentioned the story in Board Question #92264). It was really hard for me to hear the kinds of things my family would say about him when I knew him so well and cared about him so much.
- Emotional and spiritual affinity for the book of Luke and the stories of Jesus where he spends time with "the outcasts." Additionally, King Benjamin's council that we are all beggars. Those scriptures hit me real hard my junior year and stuck with me ever since.
- Revisionist History podcast episodes General Chapman's Last Stand, A Good Walk Spoiled, and Carlos Doesn't Remember. All 3 episodes highlight interesting topics about race and economics. They got my wheels turning.
- My friend was assaulted and told me the story, and I wanted to learn more about feminism. I started doing research and talking to people about feelings and experiences... and forming my own opinions, which my dad often mocked me and called me naive for... and of course, when you get made fun of, you dig your heels in some more.
I actually think we are fairly representative of the BYU student population. I don't have any data to back me up, just the feeling I get when I interact with other students.
-Sunday Night Banter
Dear pigsquatch of persia,
Just seconding what SNB says: we're probably not so different from most students you meet on campus, if you were to get to know them. I also don't think we're all that liberal, not really. I'm not downplaying the well-considered comments of other writers, and I won't speak for them, but if you think my views are liberal, and you were to compare them to a bunch of students from, say, an urban East-Coast university, I wouldn't seem liberal at all.
Dear Rarry Heid,
I'm not sure that I like simply describing myself as conservative--it seems too broad and maybe too reductive, in its own way--but I think it would be fair to say I probably lean considerably further right than most of the other current writers do. I also grew up in a fairly orthodox, conservative Latter-day Saint family, but I spent my formative years in a solidly blue state, surrounded by friends who were, by and large, considerably more liberal than I am. When it comes to communication, I tend to be very pragmatic--I don't like to say much unless I actually have something to say, so even when I wax verbose, I try to avoid heated or emotionally charged language or other forms of rhetorical bombast, and I really don't like when those things overwhelm or supplant a logical argument. More than anything, I think that's what prevented me from agreeing with my more liberal friends--many of the most vocal ones tended to dominate conversation, showed little if any patience for conservative viewpoints, and generally were not terribly pleasant to talk to where politics was concerned. With many of them, the truth of the orthodox liberal talking point was a given, and to oppose it was to be crazy, stupid, or willfully bigoted. Or, perhaps, blindly swayed by one's membership in the Church.
I would like to add that by no means were all of my left-leaning friends like this--several were kind, levelheaded, and reasonable, and we had good conversations on points of disagreement on more than one occasion--but looking back on the events that were most formative for me, the more vocal and unkind friends that I had are the ones who stick out to me and I would point to them as the strongest influence that alienated me from becoming more liberal than I otherwise might have.
On the whole, I still lean quite conservative, but as I've gotten older, I've found more and more that my sense of pragmatism and a desire for civil discourse is cutting both ways. For example, my personal position on abortion is largely in line with that of the Church. I'm not really fond of the idea of elective abortion, although I'm open to arguments with respect to its legality. With that said, I'm more than happy to have conversations with those who feel strongly pro-choice as well as those who argue that no exception whatever ought to justify abortion under any circumstances, so long as they let their position stand on its own merits. I'm not interested in having a discussion with a hyperconservative Latter-day Saint who believes that membership in the Democratic Party is incompatible with faithfulness in the Church and casts aspersions on the testimonies of any such members. Nor am I interested in listening to a hardline feminist who insists that opposition or agnosticism on the question of abortion is merely some sort of nebulous internalized sexism that disqualifies one automatically from any further discussion.
To me, much more important than any particular political position is a willingness to listen to (and talk to) another person in good faith, and increasingly I find that the shouting from both sides that the other side is full of wicked baby-killing degenerates or woman-loathing chauvinists (to take just one issue) is unutterably exhausting. When I was younger and first becoming politically socialized, this felt like it happened almost exclusively on the left side, and I became quite conservative as a result. The pushback I've since felt in the opposite direction, which has pushed me slightly to the left since my formative days, hasn't come so much from peers or culture at BYU. I've found both to be generally pretty healthily balanced in my social circles. Mostly it's been a product of other conservatives who have simply followed our polarized political climate in digging in their heels and refusing to engage the other side in any real dialogue. (It seems a little surreal to me that almost every online discussion I've seen of BYU policy prohibiting beards is summarily dismissed with "you signed the code when you enrolled--go to another school if you don't like it." I don't feel strongly about the policy myself one way or another--scruff doesn't really suit me, I don't think. But why, exactly, are we so tightly clinging to this particular policy that we'd rather see students transfer to another school than change it? Is there no room to have that discussion?)
To be honest, I haven't been well attuned to political issues at all since coming home from my mission, but it's been eye-opening to me to see how many people on both sides have opted to do that and simply blame the other side for anything and everything in an endless shouting match. I find myself hesitant to side with anyone, whatever their political leanings, who doesn't understand that the tone of the message is as important as the content--even when I agree with the principle of the argument.
Basically, I just wish more people would have charity, even in politics. If you take away only one thing from my answer, make it this. As far as I'm concerned, the point of any discussion--political, religious, or otherwise--is to listen to other people and to hear people on the other side listen to you so that you can have a real and hopefully enriching dialogue, whether or not it ends in agreement. The biggest reason I've remained as conservative as I am is precisely because of repeated negative experiences with people who were more interested in confirming their own sense of superiority than they were engaging in actual dialogue. That cuts both ways. Don't be someone who entrenches someone else in their views because you're eager to tell them just how wrong they are.