No, I am not talking about that (Alpine Tri-Stake) rescue. Or any of the other rescue firesides people are reporting. I’m actually referring to the 2021 film The Rescue, which documents the dramatic 2018 rescue of twelve boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. A rescue that nearly didn’t happen—because people were more afraid to try and fail than to do nothing and watch the boys die.
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.Teddy Roosevelt
While I had followed this story in the news, I didn’t know the details of how the boys were (spoiler alert) eventually rescued until watching this movie a couple of weeks ago. It’s worth watching if you haven’t already and I am not going to go into how exactly the rescue was conducted (just watch the movie!). But I did want to discuss an issue the movie raised for me that I think we see a lot in organizations and individuals.
A theme throughout the movie is the tension between the Thai government / military and a group of cave divers (the best in the world, but private hobbyists) from Britain, Australia, and the U.S. who were not affiliated with the military or government but traveled to Thailand to use their niche expertise to assist in the rescue effort. This comes to a head when the groups realize that if they do not rescue the boys within a couple of days, they will die: oxygen is running out and the monsoons that flooded the cave in the first place are returning. The divers have a proposal to get the boys out, but it is dangerous–there is a good chance that some or all of the boys will die during the rescue. But there is no alternative, and they are out of time.
The Thai government initially resists this, even threatening the men with arrest if they go back into the cave to try to help. They seem willing to simply do nothing and let the boys die slowly in the cave rather than do something that directly results in the boys’ deaths during an unsuccessful rescue attempt. Part of the reason for this is a language barrier, and once the men find a fluent Thai-English translator they’re able to come to a better understanding. But even when the Thai officials finally relent, they make it clear to the divers that if anything goes wrong, they could be prosecuted and face jail time in Thailand. The Thai officials do not want to take the fall for this.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this and how we would often rather do nothing and let the chips fall–even if means there will probably be a bad outcome–than do something and have it go wrong and be on our hands. I don’t really know why exactly the Thai officials were inclined to just wait and let the boys die rather than undertake a rescue effort that, while very risky, was the only chance the boys had as the officials for the most part were not interviewed for the film. But I couldn’t help but wonder if none of them wanted to be accountable for a decision that directly led to a death.
There’s a name for this called inaction or omission bias–a “tendency to favor an act of omission (inaction) over one of commission (action).” This bias is the concept that’s explored in the trolley problem, and results from (among other things) the idea that harmful acts are often judged more harshly than equally harmful omissions. (I have to think it also has to do with a person’s desire not to be directly accountable for an outcome–which is also called “regret avoidance”.) Long before Covid, people used this bias to explain vaccine hesitancy; i.e., when parents are reluctant to vaccinate a child when the vaccination itself could cause harm, even when the risk of harm from a vaccine is much less likely than the risk of harm from the disease that the vaccine prevents. Omission bias is also related to status quo bias, a preference for the current state of affairs. While preferring the status quo can be rational if the status quo is preferable to the alternative, research indicates that we are disproportionately biased towards the status quo.
But forget the research, T.S. Eliot may have put it best in his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in which the fate of the narrator has been decided by his failure to decide:
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
And now, we do find ourselves back to the Tri-Stake Rescue (kind of)–and other Churchy things–to consider in the questions.
- Do you see omission or status quo bias at Church? In your ward? In top leadership? What about in yourself, your employer, or other organizations you affiliate with? How?
- Might omission bias help explain the Church’s reluctance to apologize for past events or make changes that could cause short-term pain but may be good in the long term? Or do you think Church leadership really feels it is on the best long-term course? Could omission or status quo bias help explain the tendency to protect “the grandmas in Sanpete County”?
- What can we do to counteract omission or status quo bias?
Fantastic post, and yes, I see a ton of this in the Church, and yes, I see this in myself as well. It’s always easier to double down on a bad investment or a sunk cost (the status quo) than it is to take action or do something different (that might have new bad outcomes). I’m not sure if this is truer the older we get, or if I am finally able to recognize it in myself more the older I get.
I can also see times where I took an action that I think didn’t have an ideal outcome, and I question whether it would have been better to do nothing, to keep going as I was. I tend to think it would have been better, but how could I know that? All I really know is that I’m not happy with some aspect of how it turned out, not what could have happened on that other path, had I taken no action. I took action for the reasons I did at the time. The pull of the status quo is still there, even when we took the risk and got our mixed results.
I imagine different Church leaders have different styles when it comes to this, that some of them are more prone to trying new ideas, and others believe change leads to instability and discomfort that will undermine the organization’s goals. Nelson seems to be one who is willing to change things, and frankly, not all of his ideas are winners. I admire his ability to try new things, even when they are kind of dumb, and even to undo his changes and revert to something else, but perhaps his shifting is problematic for the Church as well. It’s quite clear that these are not God-driven changes (e.g. cancelling the women’s meeting, then bringing it back again immediately with modifications), but rather organizational decisions. The capriciousness of these somewhat trivial changes calls all leadership decisions into doubt, which they should be, but undermines the false narrative that everything Church leaders do comes directly from their personal conversation with God.
Lots to think about here.
I was in a meeting with President Gordon B. Hinckley long ago, and someone asked about BYU — wondering if it was unfair to provide education for some LDS college students if unable to prove educational for all. President Hinckley responded that if one cannot do good for everyone, he or she should do good for some — if all is not achievable, some is better than none. Applied to the Thailand boys, if saving all is not achievable, saving some is better than saving none.
I just watched this on Disney + last month as well! How funny. And I also did now know the HOW of the story, which was incredible. I won’t spoil it.
I also thought the storyline was very interesting. They really went behind the scenes of these divers, including that most of them got into diving because they were socially awkward and this activity was something that helped ease the pain of it all. And all of them had experience with death in diving. What they accomplished is simply incredible. Their perspective, one that is not often sought out as social outcasts, was exactly what was needed to rescue these boys. How fortunate that they were heard. And I too was struck with the gravity that the government was willing to do nothing rather than something and sadly found a great many parallels to the worst days of the pandemic. No one wants to be directly responsible for death, even at times when the cure may be worse than the disease.
Yes the church has blinders. Yes my company has blinders. Yes I have blinders. There have been many instances where I thought something was not right but held my tongue, assuming that, by giving people a little rope, they would learn a valuable lesson. But more often than not, they succeeded where I expected failure, and in the end I’m the one who learned a valuable lesson.
To the church and the theme of rescue, I know I’ve shared this before, but enough with the firesides already. One big issue the church is facing right now is lack of engagement. The organization needs to give us opportunities to re-engage. We need networking activities. We need meaningful service. We need to hear from each other more and less from the same 10 people.
We don’t need more meetings.
I highly recommend watching “The Rescue”. Your post points out so many things.
A couple of things came to mind. As Elisa mentioned, there were so many difficulties and dynamics encountered during this rescue. What struck me was the faces of those boys and their complete faith that somebody would be able to help them. No tears, no whining. Just patience and faith.
The Thai government/military were at times difficult. It was only through communication and acceptance among a plethora of parties that a miraculous rescue was fulfilled.
Elisa, your post put that into perspective as far as TCJCLDS. If only. If only the true leaders of the church could come to the table with open minds and open hearts as was eventually achieved in Thailand. If only the Wilcoxers and others on the youth speaking circuit could THINK before speaking. If only egos from the highest rooms in the Church Office Building and Temples could identify and relate with the humble, simple members of the church.
If only our members and youth were able to show their complete faith and trust in leaders, as those brave boys in Thailand. No questions asked. They KNEW they were in good/capable hands.
One reason that more TBMs don’t leave the Church is because of their perception of risk. They simply believe that the risk of questioning their belief system is too great to be worthwhile, even if they have significant doubts and questions. They simply don’t see the payoff if the best-case scenario is that they wasted x years of their life on a false religion and now to be more authentic they have to alienate friends and family (and patients if you’re a Utah County dentist). What happens to their social life? What will they believe? So they simply move forward knowing deep down that there’s a decent chance this stuff is made up. Status Quo bias seems low risk in comparison although I would certainly argue there’s a bigger downside if you really think about the lack of informed consent.
In a way, I can’t blame some folks for holding on. Some of them can certainly make the argument that their lives are better off IN the Church than OUT of the Church, even if it’s made up. If that’s what someone really thinks, who am I to tell them that they are making a mistake? I value truth above all else when it comes to the Church. But some others might value community or tribe or just a sense of belonging.
I’ve noticed too that some TBMs fall back on the age-old arguments that the world is evil, the Internet is evil, and Josh H’s of the world have fallen. And that magnifies their perception of the risk in even entertaining alternative ideas. Ask a TBM whether he or she would want to know the Church is not true if indeed that was the case. That’s usually a show stopper. And it’s all about their perceived risk in really asking.
“Ask a TBM whether he or she would want to know the Church is not true if indeed that was the case.”
The difficulty would be in proving that it’s not true.
Jack: of course the question is hypothetical. but even then most TBMs don’t want to “go there”
Jack, you seem to be ignoring the flip side of that difficulty. Proving the church is true is just as difficult, if not more so, than proving it isn’t, especially if one embraces the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” perspective. I get that the sprit has witnessed to you, and I can take no issue with that other than to say it isn’t proof outside of your experience. It is not demonstrable, measurable, sharable.
From a religious perspective, Elisa, I think you’re talking about Pascal’s wager, at least in terms of making the move from belief to skepticism or non-belief. Sure, it may be safer to stay in the boat if you’re afraid you will drown or be eaten by sharks, but a life of obedience is a small price to pay for a glorious eternity, right?
I would like to see a healthier understanding of the process of growth and becoming modeled in the church. It’s accepted that achieving athletic excellence is painful – “no pain, no gain” – and that academic and other pursuits are hard. And we don’t give up when it’s hard. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.
Questioning one’s faith or the veracity of church leaders or how history and tradition sometimes don’t add up or how we feel when we see racism, LGBTQ-phobia, and toxic patriarchy are all also hard things.
But, the unpleasant feelings we experience in these area are often labeled a “stupor of thought” – caused of the devil. Stuff those feeling way down and don’t share them if you know what’s good for you. Is this a sin of omission? Neglecting an important recovery process (recovery of faith sometimes, recovery of dignity and worth outside of the church at other times) isn’t healthy and can be devastating in many ways.
From the beginning of any faith journey, we don’t know how it will end. Many outcomes are possible. Will we be “rescued” or drown in our unexamined fears?
What difference would it make to the traveler to be greeted with: “You’re not alone on this journey. What do you need to support you along the way? No matter what, you will be accepted and loved.” Instead, questioning itself is shamed. The very real pain is pinned on one’s rebellious spirit. There is only one acceptable outcome. You have diminished value outside of the church.
So the wanderer is paralyzed by inaction – sometimes for years – while the water keeps rising.
Perhaps the greater sin is in institutionally and functionally “omitting” the questioner.
@Angela – I was thinking the same thing writing this post that Nelson has no aversion to changing things if he thinks he’s got a good idea. My view – biased by the fact that I think the Church needs to make seismic shifts to thrive going forward – is that his changes are cosmetic and attempts to avoid making even bigger changes that would truly rock the status quo. So I do think there’s still a big status quo bias in Church leadership.
@ji, yes, this is definitely an issue that I thought about during the movie. It seemed to me like an easy choice, which is why I was baffled that it wasn’t so easy for the decisionmakers. That said, as I mentioned in the post, we didn’t really get their side of the story.
@Chadwick, yes, so much good stuff in that movie! In our family we talked about the divers too – that they had some traits that probably gave them a hard time in life, but that ultimately allowed them to do something remarkable that they seemed born to do. I personally think most undesirable traits in people are actually the flip side of something desirable, which we’ll have to devote a post to someday. And the pandemic parallels were not lost on me either.
@Susan Brown, I loved how the coach had the boys meditate to stay calm. It is AMAZING that they stayed alive as long as they did. I do think perhaps ego and turf-battling played into the conflicts between the Thai officials and the divers, and that also probably happens in Church leadership too (at all levels) and in lots of other organizations. When that kind of politicking interferes with helping humans it’s so frustrating.
@Josh H, “regret avoidance” is real. Sometimes I think that makes us just stand still and let the status quo go on, but I think you raise an interesting point about not wanting to come to terms with having spent your life in something that you may determine wasn’t what you thought it was. I think I’ve done similar things with other changes in my life. Like, I know a change that I need to make that will improve my life, but part of what’s holding me back from making the change is that it will force me to reckon with the fact that I should have made the change long ago and instead wasted so much time. So I would almost rather hold on to the bad habit (or whatever) than see what life on the other side is like, see that it’s actually better, and then have to feel regret over the years I wasted. Not sure if that makes sense but it’s almost the opposite type of regret avoidance – I am not worried I’m making a BAD change, but actually that I’m making a GOOD change that will cause me to regret all the years that went by before I made that change. And that’s hard to stomach. Ignorance is bliss!
@jack, if the premise of Josh’s question is problematic for you, I think you could change it to anything someone has invested a lot in. An example that comes to mind is what happened with Theranos (Elizabeth Holmes’ company, which was the subject of the book Bad Blood – great read). Some of the investors who had put a ton of money into and stake their reputation on that company ignored a lot of red flags, and there are probably a lot of reasons for it, one of which may be an unwillingness to see that something you thought was amazing and had been telling other people was amazing was a sham. That’s a tough pill to swallow and would trigger a lot of different kinds of biases (I list a bunch of cognitive biases in footnote 5 of this post, many of which are relevant to this idea: https://wheatandtares.org/2022/02/07/hooked-on-a-feeling/)
@jaredsbrother I agree that Pascal’s Wager makes sense for individual decisions, but I am not sure it’s as applicable to organizational decisions. It seems some people aren’t willing to risk stepping out of the boat until staying in the boat is worse than leaving (like, I dunno, pirates on the boat? Stretching the analogy here.) From an organizational perspective, status quo & omissions bias seem like the ones holding people back. But maybe I just haven’t thought through how Pascal’s Wager would apply in an institutional setting when evaluating risk.
@BeenThere, you raise a lot of interesting points. One that struck me is that our Church rescues only have one acceptable outcome and path (which is kinda like the Thai rescue TBH ;-)). Since we tend not to be willing to accept alternative paths and outcomes, we can’t partner very well with or listen to those we are trying to rescue. And we tend to abandon people pretty quickly if we realize their rescue isn’t going to end up as full typical activity in the Church.
If the question had to do with (say) my willingness to entertain the idea that perhaps my wife didn’t love me–I could certainly consider it in a hypothetical sense. But it would be impossible for me to truly capture the reality of that kind of loss–because I have too much knowledge about my relationship with her. Of course, there’s always the possibility that such could be the case–but the plausibility is so vanishingly small that it renders the question moot.
I think the question proffered to TBMs about the possibility of the church not being true kinda runs along the same lines–for many of us, that is.
I agree that we can’t prove the truthfulness of the gospel objectively. We can, however, receive that knowledge individually–much like we intuit other kinds of subjective knowledge. And what’s doubly cool is–in the community of the saints — where many people claim to have that personal knowledge — there emerges an outward evidence of sorts because of the common understanding that the group seems to share. It’s really quite miraculous.
The church is a hardliner when it comes to rules and policies for the majority of members. But when it comes to the elite and the inner circle, they bend and modify the rules and state, “its OK to rescue the Ox from the mire on the Sabbath”. However. regular members need to sacrifice and follow the Lords plan and the ox should be sacrificed to keep the commandments and the covenant path.
Example, I just read that Nelson modified an entire group of missionaries returning home to his own personal schedule, so he could see his own granddaughter, because the planned returned day conflicted with his schedule. He changed the whole group plan for his benefit.
However, when a “regular” member requests anything which is reasonable, rationale and charitable, we are all told “NO”.
I requested my son to come home a few days early after a 24 month LDS mission over Christmas to see him. We were told no, “the Lords work is too important and he is still needed” He spent the next 2 weeks wasting time and did NOTHING of value. He came home and they had to leave after 30 hours to start school out of state. I saw my son for only 30 hours (including sleep) . 30 hours, after not seeing him for 2 years. what a shame. and then they talk about the importance of families, what a sham! I have dozens of other examples (we all do! )
The church uses the status quo, except for their own.
If that was a group of missionaries trapped in the cave, the LDS church would not rescue them, unless there was one of their own family.
We have all seen this in church. The church acts like a MLM. The church takes credit for what the good members (on the bottom of the MLM) who do the rescuing, however they do not want to get their hands dirty or use any institutional $$$$ to improve families or peoples lives. The leadership on the top, collects the benefits and control the agenda stating they are doing and led by God’s will. If the people can not be rescued it is God’s will (since having a martyr is better than having a rescue)
It is amazing how we were all deceived for generations. Many stay in the status quo, thinking the church still provides some good. But many LDS members are soon to run out of “Mormon oxygen” as truth of the generational deception comes forward and “real oxygen” is consumed.
I consider myself a TBM, and if the church were not true I would definitely like to know. But I wouldn’t trust any of you to break the news to me 😉
@jack, your seeming unwillingness to engage in the original hypothetical (re church) or mine (re a non-religious institution) and instead just reformulating to “that’s impossible to even consider because it just can’t possibly be the case that the church is wrong (or that my wife doesn’t love me)” actually answers Josh H’s original question. ie, many Church members *are* unwilling to entertain the possibility that the Church isn’t what they think it is.
Which is fine – I get that you are strongly convicted about this & that it matters to you. But you *are* providing evidence of the point made whether you like it or not :-).
@bwbarnett inasmuch as I don’t see how an institution can be “true” or “false” (those labels don’t make sense applied to an institution or person for that matter) you can trust I won’t be breaking that specific news to you.
Tying back to the post – why is it you’d want to know that rather than stick with the status quo? What makes you open to that? If you are open to that, what have you done to investigate? (I’m not really trying to get at the ultimate issue about the church being “true” or not but rather our inclination to stay in the status quo / comfortable more broadly.)
@Elisa Great questions. I’m open to that simply because I have not seen God and Jesus Christ, nor have I heard their voices telling me that the church is true. I have heard the voice of the Spirit telling me the church is true, but that is not the same. Some would argue it is the same, or should be same, or maybe even that it should be a stronger witness, but for me it is not. However, it is a strong enough witness for me, that I have decided to act and live my life as if the church is true. For me, it is faith-based rather than a perfect knowledge-based.
I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean by “sticking with the status quo”. Is wanting to know that in opposition to sticking with the status quo? Are they mutually exclusive? Does my wanting to know that mean that I am not a TBM?
Regarding your question about what I have done to investigate, of course I have done all the normal things TBM’s do throughout their lives (study, pray, attend church/temple, serve, …) and have found happiness and satisfaction in doing so. And I have done some things that many TBM’s don’t do, like reading and occasionally participating at W&T for several years now, listening to differing points of view. I have plenty of questions. Some things just don’t make sense. But I think the bottom line for me is that I don’t trust another human being to somehow prove to me that Jesus Christ is not leading the church, that it’s not His church. Nor do I have any motivation for attempting to prove to myself that the church is not true, through years of studying all the anti-literature and other sources. If someone is extremely happy where they are, why would they look for another lifestyle?
Doing nothing is so appealing. It seems like it’s always been especially tempting for me. I think it’s partly because early in life I came in for a lot of blame, despite and sometimes even because I was really trying—I was out there doing! If you do nothing, as Elisa and others pointed out, it’s easier to be invisible, and since I internalized the message from a variety of places that invisibility is desirable, the lure of doing nothing when confronted with problems is strong. None of the cultures my identity intersects with celebrate visible women. Kind of the opposite. So should I repent, change my ways, become a Doer of Hard Things that May Not Work? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the liberal doses of Eastern religion and philosophy I’ve been exposed to, but I think there is a discipline and a virtue in the practice of nothing/non-action. Obviously it does not apply in every case. It seems like action was the easy call in the case of the boys trapped in the cave. But I don’t think the calls are usually as easy in our own lives. And I think fear can make both action -and- non-action terrifying when we’re the ones making the call.
And also, in thinking through some of the comments, I’m not convinced, for me, that the whole true/false binary is very helpful anymore. And yeah, I’m not sure what I would even mean to talk about the church being true, or even the BoM being true. Does it help me live a better life? Does it generally make the world a happier, more just place? The whole by-their-fruits thing is a more useful framework for me. Too much humanities grad school maybe, but I find questions of existential big-T truth kind of irrelevant to my day-to-day. Yes, I suppose I need to know if statements like “I did my homework,” or “I paid the mortgage” are true—but they are also easily demonstrable/verifiable. Very little energy need be invested. I’ve found the less I ask myself “O say what is truth?” and the more I ask “O say what is good?” the happier I am. Not that I’ve ever figured out the answers, mind. It’s just the second question has led me to better places.
Elisa, it feels like a dodge somewhat to say that omission bias or status-quo bias are the product of inertia, but it is fairly well established that humans prefer the known, even when it is uncomfortable, to the unknown, which they often imagine to be far worse. Things don’t often change in dramatic ways without some kind of forced deviation brought about by massive forces. Entire societies have migrated to a socialized medical system during world war, for example.
I once had the opportunity to visit refugee camps and Roma villages in Kosovo in which inertia played a part in both driving some to leave and convincing others to stay. On the one hand, a group had to engage in forced migration at the barrel of a gun. On the other, families remained in their villages surrounded by armed militants because the prospect of migration was terrifying and they didn’t know what they’d encounter if they tried to move to parts unknown. Also, the latter group never encountered the powerful impetus of the barrel of a gun.
In the Thai government and military example, they know their culture, and the calculus probably tells them that doing nothing will have fewer repercussions than trying and failing. Our culture would not create the same calculus. It’s not that hard to find similar examples in other Asian cultures, but then the culture explanation also feels like a significant dodge. (My grad school professors explained that culture is NEVER the explanation and I’ve always carried that with me.) Still, there is the Japanese axiom that says “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down,” which suggests that inertia is a powerful influence and can only be broken by significant and undeniable forces. Culture is the lazy explanation for everything, which makes it completely worthless from a social science perspective.
Individually, there are plenty of examples in the church of individuals who were staunchly committed and then had a child announce themselves as LGBTQ, which throws a spanner in the works. Ultimately, to not even consider the ways in which the church is in error is to also not establish the ways it is true. Perfectionism is a fascist fever dream. I personally think omission bias drives the church most of the time as it almost never acts without significant external forces brought to bear. Honestly, I’d have been more likely to remain engaged if just once the organization took a stand on some ethical or moral question in a way that united people instead of telling members they are different and special. I’ve never seen that.
jaredsbrother: “a life of obedience is a small price to pay for a glorious eternity” Huh, this stood out to me for one reason: I don’t think I’ve heard a version of the celestial kingdom explained to me in such a way that is sounds like a glorious eternity. Obviously, we are all going to hear different versions of this from different teachers, but I still haven’t heard a single version that sounds better than the Terrestrial Kingdom. I remember as a child thinking that I’d have to have the courage to do what Jesus actually did and become an actual savior (a bodhisattva), but that is a teaching that appears to have gone out of favor, and I also discovered it didn’t apply to girls who honestly don’t really get “glory” anyway. We aren’t rewarded so much as we are the reward, which is a hard pass from me. “You get to have kids forever.” Why is that a selling point? “But you’ll LIKE polygamy; we promise you’ll feel differently!” Riiight, buddy. Then there’s the fact that doing the Mormon checklist thing forever sounds like actual hell, or being surrounded by people who are on the whole some of the most judgemental folks I know, just sounds yikes. So what exactly is this glorious eternity?
Thanks, Angela. I meant that last part with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but it clearly did not come through. I wanted to call attention to the fact that Pascal’s wager is often explained as a fairly simplistic game theoretical model, often accompanied by a basic four-square table, that cannot begin to capture the complexity of existence nor the diversity of individual human experiences. It does, in my opinion, illustrate very well the tendency for humans to want to have some kind of assurance, else it would not be so central to both Islam and Christianity (my knowledge of Judaism is quite limited). We fear death and we want to know we are going someplace nice, and only Buddhism is really willing to say, “Sorry. You can’t know that..” This may explain why Buddhism only thrives in the parts of the world where it is bequeathed culturally.
The celestial kingdom concept in Mormonism really hinges on the desire for people to remain with their immediate families, those they love most, beyond death. If we start to think about the details, as you clearly have, it gets much murkier. “I want to stay with my wife and kids for eternity,” is an appealing promotion. “I have to live with my annoying in laws forever” is less so. I don’t think the church has really sold it as glorious eternity like Islam has with the multiple virgins, etc. But they have made it the pinnacle of Mormon striving while strenuously avoiding conversation about the gory details, as they have with most things.
Elisa, I am engaging the hypothetical. I’m just suggesting that it doesn’t have any teeth in for some of us TBMs because of what we know. It’s like trying to get me to do an experiment with (say) Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no 3. I must entertain the hypothetical notion that it’s an inferior piece of music–and do it convincingly. The only way I might come close to getting that kind of an experiment to work is if I lie to myself.
@bwbarnett that makes sense. I think you’re right that if someone is doing fine and enjoying life then there is no reason to disrupt the status quo and that’s not necessarily an irrational bias – it’s rational. It only becomes irrational if the status quo is broken and one refuses to fix it because they would rather stay safe than possibly make things worse (even if they could also make things better). As for omission bias, similarly, I think that plays in more on doing nothing when there is a harm going on.
Maybe a better hypothetical / example would be: if I have a gay kid and I think maybe they are being harmed in church, but I am also afraid that they might be harmed if I distanced themselves / myself from the church. Omission bias would encourage me to just do nothing (would rather not take some kind of action to regret, even though I may regret inaction) and status quo bias might encourage me to maintain the status quo out of fear of the unknown (even if it could be better). So I just keep taking them to church if that’s what I’ve been doing.
In other words – I don’t think those biases are all that relevant when there’s no “problem” to address. They become relevant if there’s a problem but people decline to take measures to address because of those biases.
Super interesting discussion.
I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of counterexamples in which forbearing or delaying would yield the better outcome in a given situation. But, as you say, Elisa, the counterexamples only seem to work when there’s not some sort of harm or danger inherent in the status quo.
For example, if a young man or woman in the church feels pressure to marry the person they’re dating, waiting and letting the situation develop before making a decision is probably wiser in most cases.
The movie Lincoln makes a big deal about Lincoln using delay as a political tactic. “Time is a great thickener of things,” he says. It’s not a quote from the historical Lincoln, just the film. And now y’all have got me wondering if that’s a less useful maxim than I thought.
Jaredsbrother beings up a good point Many chuch members don’t want eternal families. My wife has a fraught relationship with her parents and sister, who are significant sources of stress and anxiety for her. She would rather fade away into nothingness than spend eternity with them
I can’t beleive in a benevolent god that would force you into painful relationships if you don’t want too. The eternal relationships that can have any real meaning are those we choose.
@jlm @jaredsbrother I mean, don’t you think a lot of tweens and teens interpret “families can be together forever” more as a threat than a blessing? Not to make light of families in which there is real abuse … but growing up even though I had a perfectly fine family, I wanted to spend time with my friends, not them, which is pretty normal for a kid!
I think that’s just a good example of a way in which a church messaging is not resonating with certain audiences but there’s no willingness to actually acknowledge that and change (similar to what @Susan Brown was talking about). So status quo remains.
@Margie I’m with you on the good vs true shift.
@faith the analogy of missionaries trapped in a cave is thought-provoking. That’s another messaging where we might be missing the mark – we had a missionary out in our ward whose dad died very suddenly in a tragic accident. The missionary was not serving far away so could easily have come home for the funeral but of course did not. During his homecoming that was mentioned and rather than being inspired by his commitment, my kids were horrified.
Excellent post Elisa! Lots of food for thought. I think omission bias is happening in the church, but I’m not sure that church leaders know that it is happening. I think that church leaders believe they are responding to problems and trying to rescue people. The Gospel Topics Essays were put out, but not advertised. Church leaders speak cryptically about doubters and faith crisis issues in their talks and offer advice like not believing everything you read on social media or the internet. As Elder Ballard said, ” We’re as transparent as we know how to be in telling the truth.”
Perhaps the leaders of the church aren’t able to take steps to really rescue members, because they are protected by those surrounding them from learning the real severity of the problems facing the church. If yes men are more likely to be promoted in the church, then those employees may be hesitant to deliver bad news to top leaders or may present the news in a more palatable light. If the top leaders don’t have a concrete grip on the problems facing the church, then creating a viable rescue plan is challenging. It also might be a generational issue. Age might impact understanding and could be a barrier for creating a viable rescue plan. I’m honestly at a loss for coming up with solutions to these problems. That’s why I love reading the great insights I find on Wheat and Tares. This blog is a rescue for me.
Good discussion here. Prior to COVID, I was serving as a ward clerk. My bishop at the time was a decent and earnest man, but he didn’t want to upset the apple cart, and was chronically allergic to taking suggestions or responding to input from me or anyone in the ward council. He was quick to shoot down any ideas that deviated from the status quo or the CHI. He was the type who genuinely wanted to do the right thing, but he also couldn’t sneeze without permission from the stake president. He has since been promoted and is now the stake president.
My current bishop is a do-nothing leader who has no desire to do any more than the bare minimum. Sacrament meetings under him are more boring and uninspiring than ever. He’s terrible at managing callings. His handling of COVID has been awful (he refused to get vaccinated, and two of our ward members ended up dying of COVID in the last year, and I think he is indirectly responsible). Despite the fact that the ward is dwindling badly, he continues to maintain the status quo and pretend that everything is great. He has no willingness to innovate or try new things, which is exactly what we need to be doing right now for our own survival. He shows up to church every week with a smile on his face–I can’t tell if this is an act, or if he is truly delusional. My current EQ president is cut from the same cloth, and seems oblivious to the fact that the ward is circling the drain, instead guided by inertia and the need to keep having useless, boring meetings.
All of these men are a product of the culture that bred them. This is a culture that has beaten initiative out of us, that trains us for inaction, to defer our thinking to higher authorities and to wait for orders from SLC before doing anything. This is sad because one of the most beautiful aspects of lived Mormonism to me is being part of a community that’s always willing to step up and help one another, no matter what. I think women in the Church have this part figured out much better than men, since women have been forced to circumvent patriarchy for years to get anything done, while men continue to stand in our own way. Just last week my wife, along with several women from RS, threw together a last-minute baby shower for a young mother-to-be who has no family around and needed all the help she could get. Meanwhile, in EQ we wasted an hour badly rehashing a GC talk as a lesson. Sadly, inaction seems to be what we are best at nowadays. Perhaps this is another consequence of being part of an organization that is dedicated to promoting conformity and suppressing critical thinking.
Elisa, that your kids were horrified says positive things about you as a parent, in my book. The mission is just not that important and we should stop treating it like it is, especially when compared with a parent’s funeral. Can we lump that practice with the horrid ‘better dead than impure’ admonition and bury them both under 6 feet of concrete?
Great post Elisa! I think much of the omission bias comes down to an assumption that there is a formula to be found in the church handbook of instructions and the other things “we always do”. We just need to do more of that and it will allow the spirit to touch someone’s heart and they will come running back to the church and accept any call offered.
I was just starting to re-read David Ostler’s book “Bridges” and what he did to collect the data that he did for that book is almost unheard of. He simply asked the young adults that were not attending why they didn’t and made it very clear he was not trying to “reactivate” them. He comments how many of the folks he talked to where very grateful to have someone even ask with no strings attached.
We are risk averse to trying anything else because there is a strong “this is the way” given from above. “This is the way” makes me think of the Mandalorian 🙂
I watched the Rescue last night because of this post. It was excellent.
I used to think that the church leaders could take a strong moral stand on an issue and the vast majority of members would follow in lock step, that the only people that wouldn’t follow good, thoughtful leadership would be extremists on either end.
I now feel like the Covid era has proven me wrong. Today it seems to me like any change from the status quo creates a group of disgruntled members. If the church expresses support for vaccines they offend the antivax community and Covid deniers. If the church returns to normal operations they scare away the Covid-cautious. The policy of exclusion offended a lot of people, but so did its repeal, and the manner in which it was repealed.
What I don’t see happening is the church changing in a way that creates a broad appeal and excitement in the church community. I feel like the roll out (that never happened) of the all-but-forgotten 4th mission of the church, to help the poor and needy, was a real missed opportunity in that regard. We really could have rallied and grown around a new common goal. I wonder if it’s possible for the church to make change a catalyst for growth, excitement, and empowerment, rather than division and exclusion.
Regarding The Rescue, multiple people have puzzled about the reluctance of the ministry to support or allow the rescuers to go in. I can’t say for sure what the exact logic was, but I did identify two salient lines of thought that were pretty clear, but not necessarily rational or definitive, in the documentary.
The first reason is that the operation was a huge risk to the rescuers. One person in the Thai military operation actually did die, and further rescue operations risked more lives, when quite frankly, the military leaders probably thought there was no real chance of getting the boys out safely. The real risk was the possibility of losing all the boys and some of the rescuers as well. For similar reasons, according to a police officer family member of mine, a person in the US trying to enter a burning building when police are at the scene is likely to be arrested because entering the building puts the lives of emergency personnel at risk.
The second reason was concern that popular opinion would want to hold the rescuers accountable if the children died during a risky rescue operation. There was concern that political pressure would be brought to bear to hold someone accountable, and the foreign rescuers would be targets for that anger.
The answer to Church questions are easy. The Black ban was of man not God. The leadership is working to provide more responsible positions for women. And the Church is working hard with other religious traditions to improve the world. The 4th mission is being elevated to #1 on its priority list. Here’s how the youth and all members can help. Sharon Eubanks would be great for delivering this message.
No more BS. No more showboating. Just present a reason for the youth to stay. Young are idealist.
@Cindy, I agree that if leaders are surrounding themselves with yes-men then they won’t have good information (and so can’t make good decisions). At this point, though, it seems like willful blindness because the information seems quite readily available.
@Jack Hughes, that’s a good point about relying on authority to tell us what to do. I also see plenty of people in Church “anxiously engaged” in a good cause and not waiting to be commanded in all things 😉 but for sure I also see a lot of people who don’t know what “seek forgiveness, not permission” means.
@jaredsbrother, I agree, but that (staying on a mission) is one of those things that seems like a given to a lot of LDS families. My aunt died while my cousin was on a mission and he didn’t come home, and an elder during my mission lost his dad and he didn’t go home. I don’t begrudge that this was a real sacrifice and took a lot of faith on their part, and that they were doing what they thought was right, but I don’t think we should put 19 yr olds in that position. It seems perfectly normal to mourn with your family and heal when that sort of thing happens.
@Happy Hubby, yes, and this relates to Cindy’s comments as well. We do not have enough diverse perspectives in leadership so people assume that the things that always worked for them will work for everyone. In reality, different people have different spiritual needs – shocker! For example telling a woman who is upset about patriarchy to spend more time in the temple is … definitely not always a good idea. Love Mando … and love that he’s apparently sort of in a cult.
@Rockwell, you bring up a good point about the risks to the divers. So arguably, if you do nothing all the boys die and if you do something all the boys die AND some rescuers die, so doing nothing *is* better. That brings up a whole other host of issues as to how you’d make a decision there – how do you weight the lives of the boys, the risk of harm to the divers, the fact that the divers are willing adults, etc.? There’s plenty of data you could look at but at the end of the day you will never have perfect data to make the decision, and you do want to make sure you’re not being unduly influenced by omission or status quo bias or (here, I think) a desire to avoid taking the blame for an unsuccessful rescue. I’m glad you liked the movie! Even knowing the ultimate outcome, it was still incredible to me that they found the boys and that they got them out. We had a post on miracles a while back and while this wasn’t a supernatural miracle, it was certainly as big a miracle as I’ve ever seen.
@roger hansen it seems easy enough … so why aren’t they doing it?
@Jack Hughes It always fascinates me – the broad spectrum of experiences we all have in the same church. Several years ago I was called as a high councilor. Our stake had 15 or 16 wards at the time, so the stake presidency was overloaded. When I was called, the stake president did his best to encourage me to just do stuff, don’t worry about getting approval for everything, just go out and follow your best judgment, pray for guidance and get to work. He said that for several years he had been hoping to call a high councilor into his office to “reel him back in” because perhaps he had gone a little too far on his own, but that it hadn’t happened yet. I was only in the calling for15-16 months I believe before being called into a bishopric. I tried to get called into his office to get “reeled back in”, but never did. Well, I mean I didn’t intentionally do questionable things, but his little speech gave me confidence to just go out and do stuff as part of my calling without worrying too much about getting approval from him. I have considered it good training – I liked his approach to leadership in that regard.
Jack Hughes: “My current bishop is a do-nothing leader who has no desire to do any more than the bare minimum.”
You might be surprised. It could be that that’s exactly what the Lord wants for your ward at this particular time.
I’ll never forget something that my father-in-law told me. It’s very straightforward and simple: “I never judge a bishop.” And reason he said that is because he was a former bishop himself–and he knew what it was like to be misunderstood even though he felt he was doing his best to follow both personal inspiration and the general guidelines of the church for his calling.
Of course, that’s not to say that bishops don’t make mistakes–of course they do. But generally speaking, they’re a good lot–and there’s more to be gained by being supportive of them than not.
@Jack I really appreciate your comments here, even though for the most part, I don’t agree with them. Keep ‘em coming, it’s the diversity of thought that makes this an interesting place to be.
Never judging or questioning our leaders is not the best advice, though there are certainly good and bad ways to go about it. While serving as bishop, I learned that often other people’s ideas and suggestions were better than mine. I also encouraged people to voice their opinions, because I recognized that I was not immune to my on biases and my best intentions could very well be wrong (despite what we think about mantles and inspiration). If everyone just went along with the status quo and never said anything, the ward and it’s members definitely would have been short changed.
Thanks, Call me Mark. I’ve been banned from other sites because of my conservative-leaning views–I appreciate your patience with me.
Sounds like you were a good Bishop–to me. Listening to the concerns of your ward members is exactly the right thing to do–IMO. The status quo can only be a place to start. Every ward–like every family–has its own unique challenges that often need to be met with unique solutions.
Re: Judging Leaders: I make it a rule not to judge them–with the clear understanding that you can’t navigate this life without breaking the rules on occasion.
As a descendent of many Sanpete grandma’s let me assure you they don’t need protecting. Their lives are full of “civil disobedience” to authority. You don’t live and thrive as a Sanpete woman without a strong backbone, faith beyond orthodoxy or the status quo, and a voice that knows the difference of when to be still and when to speak with a voice of thunder. I have enjoyed the post and the comments. Thanks All
@josh h & @Jack
“ ‘Ask a TBM whether he or she would want to know the Church is not true if indeed that was the case.’
The difficulty would be in proving that it’s not true. “
Perhaps something more tangible might illustrate josh h’s thought better, like having a fair understanding of church history. Many TBMs seem to prefer ignorance over information.
One time my colleague was talking about their “poor” sibling whose spouse didn’t believe in the church anymore. When I conversationally responded that the church does have some difficult history, and brought up the church-issued gospel topics essays, the colleague stiffened up, and testily said, “And none of that matters to us, does it?”
I guess it doesn’t.
The church continuing to keep large amounts of money invested in corporations and land is example of upholding the status quo.
“President Hinckley responded that if one cannot do good for everyone, he or she should do good for some — if all is not achievable, some is better than none.”
Could we marry President Hinckley’s observation with @Roger Hansen’s: “The 4th mission is being elevated to #1 on its priority list.”, tapping generously into the EPA fund? Sharon Eubank is a great person to lead the way.
Your “Too much humanities grad school maybe” yielded perspectives I find valuable. Thank you for your studies, and application of them.
@camay I totally agree. I think this attitude on the Church’s part is condescending and incorrect. Love the way you put it!
@sasso that’s a good example of willful ignorance that we see a lot. And I agree with your example about money & land! They’ve been keeping to the status quo (not spending money) and suddenly found themselves with an obscene amount of money on their hands without a clue what to do with it.