Maintaining Appearances

Attending a CES school as a non-Mormon can be tricky. A major issue that arises is the need to portray yourself as Mormon in certain situations, or at least lower suspicion that you are less than a full Mormon. How do you maintain appearances without blowing your cover or running into trouble with your bishop or the honor code office?

Generally, the easiest solution to this dilemma is the grey rock technique. The grey rock technique is a tactic for dealing with narcissists, but also applies well when dealing with the church. Basically, you want to make yourself seem as interesting as a grey rock, someone that no one would think twice about. This involves having a physical appearance that blends in easily and draws no attention to it. It also involves portraying your life to people like your bishop or TBM (True Believing/Blue Mormon–meaning very orthodox) roommates as being bland and boring.

The objective of the grey rock technique is to seem so uninteresting that no one would even begin to look into or think twice about your life, beliefs, activities, and whatnot. It’s much easier to avoid problems with the honor code office if you deflect attention and prevent any sort of investigation in the first place.

Even with the best execution of the grey rock technique, you will still get into situations where you have to play the part of a Mormon. This can be minimized but is an inevitable part of staying at BYU, and inevitably will require being disingenuous/dishonest and may lead to some level of emotional damage.

When playing the part of a Mormon, try to stay as true to your own perspective and values as possible. For each topic within Mormonism, try to find things that resonate with you, and speak on those topics when asked about it. For example, discuss the temple in terms of the value of having a peaceful place apart from your normal life where you can meditate or work through issues you’re facing, or you could discuss the atonement in terms of fostering gratitude for the sacrifices that others have made for us, etc. Find ways to speak about your current values using Mormon lingo, such that a Mormon would find it spiritually uplifting even though you are really discussing something different.

Because you won’t be able to truly express yourself in some settings, it’s absolutely necessary that you have someone you can be completely open and honest with about your situation. Talk to this person about all the different situations you’re encountering. Express your frustrations or other feelings about the situation. Find places or situations in your life where you can again be completely open and honest with yourself and the people around you. This will be the counterbalance that will make wearing a mask through much of your time at BYU bearable.

No matter the situation, try your best to be as honest and truthful as possible. There may be situations where you find yourself needing to lie about something. In these cases, do so in a way where the fewest details have been changed, and your story is still mostly based in fact. Whatever details you do lie about, make sure that the individuals involved cannot prove you wrong, and ensure that you keep the same story among those who could talk to each other about it. Again, try to avoid these situations if at all possible; it may be surprising how quickly one small lie can turn into a gigantic web of lies that balloons in size so quickly you can no longer ensure it is bulletproof and you are found out. Even if you are not found out, you will get the sensation that people around you can see through you. If left unchecked for long periods of time, this can lead to paranoia, anxiety, depression, or feelings of guilt and shame.

However you choose to portray yourself, your beliefs, or your narrative, be confident and sure of yourself. If possible, find a way to believe it yourself or find a way to describe your situation that is both truthful and also does not raise issues among Mormons.