We love Utah. We love the mountains and the desert. We love the people. We love the increasing diversity and energy of Salt Lake City. We even love the interesting and unique culture. In our opinion, there is no better place to live.
But on some levels, a kind of divided, two-sided, competition-mixed-with-animosity division persists.
Part of it is fun, like the strong rivalry between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University (although this gets a bit extreme at times). Other parts are more troubling. Any time we generalize and try to shove everything into two categories, there are problems, sometimes very offensive ones. Too often it seems that people try to fit everyone either into the Mormon, conservative, insular, judgmental insider category or into the non-Mormon, liberal, anything-goes outsider category.
And it doesn’t work. It is based on stereotypes and oversimplification.
In reality, there are those who are both Mormon and politically liberal. And there are orthodox members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who cheer for the U. And there are East Coast transplants that love the safe, conservative atmosphere in the neighborhoods in which they have chosen to live.
There are hundreds of categories, not just two.
There is little that is wrong with the reality of Utah and the wonderful and nuanced combination of people and places that we have here. What is wrong is the oversimplified perceptions that seem to never go away.
We have had an in-and-out relationship with Utah for most of our adult lives. I (Richard) grew up in Logan, and Linda grew up over the mountain in Montpelier, Idaho. We met and fell in love at Utah State University and got married while I was in graduate school at BYU before we left together for Boston and Harvard.
Ever since, we have been in and out. We lived in London for four years and for a time we spent some years in Washington, D.C., and some years in Salt Lake City. Now we travel a lot with our work but call Utah our home base.
The point is that we see Utah’s unique society and culture from the vantage points of both insiders and outsiders.
And it is unique; some would say strange, some would say wonderful. And both would be right. Some perceive that our liquor laws are different, and so are our big families, and even the three-hour Mormon Sunday meetings. Others perceive that some longtime Mormon “enclaveists” still wish that the railroad had never come to bring in outsiders.
But by and large, we think most Utahns are pretty happy with where our state is and where it is going. We accept others for who they are and we all learn from each other. We are united by the fact that we all know, on some level, that we are pretty lucky to live here and that on many levels we have the best of most everything.
We think it is important for everyone to avoid the divided-society paradigm and to work to overcome it in every way they can. But it is particularly important for parents. Kids pick up quickly on signs of intolerance or criticism and judgment of others who are a little different from themselves.
One of the most important things parents can do is project an attitude of “what can we learn from others?" — including those with practices and paradigms that are very different from ours.