I had a friend recently claim that due to the high rate of returned missionaries in Mormon Valley, it is actually a much more open minded place than people think. As a region it does have a higher rate of people who have traveled to foreign countries and who speak a second language. She claims that closeminded-ness can return to open-minded RMs when they return to the Utah world of sheltered mothers and girlfriends who have never traveled – and RMs abandon their open-mindedness because they want to meet the expectations of the women in their lives. Because, SEX, duh. She’s looking forward to even more open-mindedness as our culture shifts with the massive new influx of returned sister missionaries.
This made me pause – I believe she has some good points. I do know that many missionaries, especially foreign serving, that have been humbled by their experiences. Many of them leave as teenagers and return as legit adults. I started to think this through:
- many RMs return more open minded and stay that way
- many RMs return more open minded and change back into what they were before
- many RMs return with even more cultural superiority than when they left
I’ve been thinking a few days about what are the influences that help determine which category they fit in and I have a few ideas:
- The amount of American/Mormon exceptionalism one has before their mission. I believe all missions from all religions experience a bit of colonialism (“Hello, I’m here to teach you” whereas most other travelers don’t travel with the goal of teaching locals the right way to believe/do things).
- Mission rules: I believe these can limit the kind of interaction you have with the culture. As a result it’s hard for missionaries to get a full-immersion experience; I also believe most RMs don’t believe this – they think they’ve heard and seen it all
- Type of experiences on their mission: did they serve stateside, english speaking, developing country, etc.?
- Open mindedness of closest friends/family
- Could there be links to politics?
- Personality type
Personally I’ve ran into my fair share of RMs who are dude bros, but I don’t think there are as many of those as I think. I may be stereotyping based on a few bad apples. I also refute the assertion that sheltered Mormon women drag our men back to close-mindedness. I used to *be* one of the sheltered non-RM women, but I think my working and living in Las Vegas, Iowa, and Virginia shook that right out of me. Traveling did make me more open minded: I befriended gays, millionaires, atheists, Catholics, Baptists, etc. and found many of their perspectives and even their Christianity superior to mine in many ways. My Mormon exceptionalism was destroyed after 10 years of living outside the valley.
So I believe my friends argument has merit. Could our bubble be sheltering, but could the influx of RMs also be making us more open minded? I’d like RMs to weigh in with your own observations. Were you more open minded to different ways of doing things or were you more self assured than ever? What effect did sheltered mothers and women your age have on you when you returned? Do you think Utah is more open minded culturally than they get credit for? I definitely think the influx of returned sister missionaries will shift our culture – but I think most of those ways remain unseen.