The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything—except what is worth knowing. — Oscar Wilde
I admit to spending more time than I should following links on the internet out of total curiosity. Some of the time spent is well worth the time and effort in the interest of education. However, far too often the time spent is mindless clicking in order to procrastinate doing things that would be a far better use of my time. There is far too much curiosity about the lives of other people, as well. If I spent half the time I spend scrolling through pictures of what people eat for breakfast studying the scriptures, listening to good music, and making my home a place to invite the Spirit, I’d be a much better person. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
We seem to be most curious about people. Curiosity is a good thing if it is used in the right way. We are all curious about the lives of those people close to us. There is validity in the idea of listening to people talk about their lives in the interest of friendship, good will, and being a good neighbor. There is also a point to shut it down. When you find yourself interfering and applying peer pressure to convince someone to adapt to the way you would do things, there is a problem. This unquenchable thirst to know everything about other people’s lives can be addicting and damaging when it escalates into trying to fix everyone.
While social media is the perfect temptress of the busybody, it also happens in everyday face-to-face conversations. It happens at work, at school, in the community, and even in our homes. We all seem to think we know everything there is to know, and that everyone else needs to follow our lead. Newsflash: If we were perfect, we wouldn’t be here.
Latter-day Saints (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are faced with a double-edged sword. We are tasked with the responsibility of being good member missionaries to spread the good news to our neighbors. We act like we know how to fix people’s lives—and for good reason. If the gospel principles that we teach are followed, lives can and will be fixed. The problem is that we often forget that others have agency—God-given agency that even God won’t take away. Sometimes people just don’t want to be fixed. Sometimes they just want us to be their friend and accept them with all their foibles. Don’t we all?
We must be careful that our insatiable curiosity to know everything about people is an honest curiosity. Sometimes we focus in on the faults of a person and apply pressure to correct that fault when that little flaw isn’t even worth knowing about the person compared to all their good character traits. If we overlook the little things, we often find precious jewels below the surface. You can’t see the gem stones within until you brush off the dirt that doesn’t matter.
In the various callings that I’ve held in the Church, I’ve often been associated with members whose spouses are not attending Church, or sometimes the spouse is not a member. We should be making friends with the spouses and setting a good example. In the interest of being good missionaries, we should invite them to join in our activities. It is not our place, however, to fix them. Latter-day Saints love people, and we want to share the goodness we have with others—and that’s as it should be. Sometimes others don’t want to share in that goodness—and that’s perfectly okay. We can still be friends.
Recently, a member of the Church who is not currently attending asked a question on social media about how to reassure her spouse that just because she had dropped out of Church she wasn’t giving up on her marriage, and still loved him. The question was totally ignored, and the reaction was to try to reconvert her to the gospel. I found myself stepping into the conversation and answering her question to deflect the peer pressure. This person has obviously used her agency and made a choice. Religion is a very personal thing. We need to respect her decision. We also need to remain her friends.
At some point, she may very well resolve her issues and return to Church, but not if she is bantered and bullied by peer pressure. My curiosity about this person is to know her good qualities; not the things that are none of my business. If I get all wrapped up in her decision to leave the Church, I will miss the fact that she is a good wife who loves her husband and wants to reassure him that she still loves him. By learning this one thing about her that isn’t worth knowing, I could derail what is worth knowing about this new friend. I can be a missionary by being a good friend, listening, answering questions, and setting a good example. It is not my place to tell her how to run her life.
Instead of being busybodies, getting all the dirt on people, and then trying to fix them, we would be better missionaries if we lived our own lives, tried to see the good qualities in others, and set a good example to all we meet. Let your insatiable curiosity be satisfied with the gems within; not the dirt on the surface. Learn how to discern what is worth knowing and what to brush aside and forget.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.