*Post originally published on 11/27/15
Not long ago, I ran into an old, ahem, “friend,” someone who had served in the same LDS mission that I had at the same time. I will call him Elder Pinhead. When Elder P. asked if I remembered a particular missionary, I had to admit that I had no idea who he was talking about. This happens, you know. I served in the Milan, Italy mission over twenty years ago and I don’t always have the greatest memory of names and faces! Anyway, when asked about the phantom missionary I could not recall, I suppose my face was something like this:
Yes, I was dazed and confused, and I had no memory of said missionary. Elder P. was shocked when I couldn’t remember that guy. He insisted that this missionary was the kind of guy who sticks in your mind like superglue. Hmm. He obviously didn’t stick around long in my brain cells.
So my friend said this:
“Well, your mission didn’t mean anything to you, did it?”
Gasp. I swear I could feel the arrow piercing my heart at that moment. My mission meant nothing to me because my memories differed from his?
Cue next gif:
Wow, that comment hurt! Yes, I’m a big girl and shouldn’t have let it get to me, but it did. Big time. When I chose to serve a mission for my church, I made pretty big sacrifices. I left my home, family and friends, the life I knew, and a college scholarship to become a missionary. I struggled to learn another language and to overcome my natural shyness and reserve to share the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ with others, because I love my Savior and wanted to serve Him and share his message with others. So I may not have been the greatest missionary, but I tried my hardest. In fact, I worked harder than I ever had in my life and learned to love the Italian people, their language, culture, and history. I treasure my experiences with other missionaries and with the people I taught, whether or not they accepted the message I was sharing. I hold their faces and names in my heart, and always will.
To this day, once in a while a random memory from my mission will pop into my head for no apparent reason and make my heart smile. I will burst into song at odd and sometimes inappropriate moments because I feel like singing songs from “The Little Mermaid” in Italian. For the rest of my life, I will write the number 7 with a little line through it exactly the way I learned to write the number in Italy. I will cook my pasta perfectly al dente, make tiramisu “Mormon style” with no added coffee or liquor, and I will love Italy forever!
So, yes, I was hurt that someone decided my mission “meant nothing to me,” because I didn’t remember someone he thought I should have.
My whining ends here. This experience made me realize something. I looked inward and wondered if I’d ever made similar assumptions about another person, simply because that person’s opinions, experiences, memories, or even tastes and preferences differed from my own. Don’t agree with me politically? Wow, you must be a brain-dead moron! We think differently about God? What’s wrong with you?? You don’t think the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies are the greatest ever? Loser. Our memories of a shared event aren’t exactly the same? You obviously didn’t care at all about the experience!
I don’t want to be this way. I love my family, friends and neighbors, and I want to treat them with genuine respect. To do so, I realized that I have to be careful about the assumptions I make so easily about them. I need to learn to listen carefully to what they are saying and even more importantly watch their actions. I need to avoid falling into the “Facebook” trap of categorizing people based on their opinions, thoughts, and experiences, simply because they are not like mine. (And then think that I have to start a virtual war by immediately explaining in great detail why my opinion differs and is the only opinion out there that matters). In other words, I’m trying very hard to avoid being a pinhead.
So, in the future, if anyone ever says anything with which I might disagree, I might share my own opinions, but I will always try to do so respectfully, knowing that we might not always agree but that each of us is worthwhile and valid as a human being. So, I might see something on Facebook or Twitter that makes me do this:
But I’m still going to respect you. You are valid and your opinions matter, and they don’t have to be exactly like mine.
One more gif. This is for Elder Pinhead. Yes, I know I’m name-calling. I’m working on that.