Learn in Public

You can learn to ride a bike in an empty parking lot or quiet street, but almost none of us learn how to ice skate in private. If you want to learn to ice skate you have to be willing to go to a rink crowded with people who know more than you do and fall down in front of them. (And get back up in front of them – sometimes even less graceful than the fall.) It can hurt, of course, but if you ever see a person fall a few times and give up, a bruised ego is more likely to blame than a sore backside.

But here’s the thing: Everybody on ice skates is engaged in our own negotiations with gravity. We might see you fall, but people fall on ice all the time. It would be a rare bully who would boo you off the ice while you’re trying to learn.

We’re not so understanding online. Platforms like Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram encourage us to live more publicly, but we don’t give each other much room to learn publicly. When you agree to an interview, share a performance, or publish an opinion, you know there will be trolls there to attack you for daring to show up. If our online culture were to spread to our skating rinks, there would be an arena full of idiots making fun of everyone on the ice.

The solution for too many of us is to hide. To insist on learning only in private – never make a mistake that can be seen by anybody else. To stay small. You might choose the opposite course and get big and loud and combative – to become the expert and then beat the critics at their own game by shaming them for contesting you.

Our world would be better if we all agree instead to learn in public and to leave space for others to learn in public. Courtney Martin describes the goal as being willing to speak up and stand out – don’t let your ego get “bruised into silence” – and then daring to hear and learn from your critics.


On counting women

When the LDS Church announced the addition of a woman to three of its high-level committees, most of us thought, “it’s about time!” And most of us shrugged. (This post from Jana Riess nails the reaction, so I won’t waste time here.)

I was intrigued by one aspect of the story, as reported by Peggy Fletcher Stack at Salt Lake Tribune: The Church spokesperson seemed to dodge a question about how many women served on leadership committees. Her phrasing made me think of Tobias Fünke, the never-nude from Arrested Development. So I made this.



About that letter to my bishop

It’s been over a week since I wrote a letter to my Mormon bishop asking which church meetings I should miss if I wanted to avoid hearing the LDS church restate its position on gay marriage. I shared the letter in a private Facebook group, hoping more bishops would handle the issue more carefully if they heard from ward members before Sunday. From there, the letter attracted more attention than I expected.


I’ve had two top-5 stories on Medium, and this letter saw more readers in one day than any other story had in a month.

It was a terrible letter

I’m not typically a reactive person, and I wrote this letter while I was feeling annoyed. It is accurately written, but it creates conflict instead of encouraging productive action. That’s really too bad, given the size of its audience.

It wasn’t all bad

But I did hear from a lot of people who felt inspired by my letter to have productive conversations with their leaders. Some bishops themselves even referenced the letter in talking with members in their ward. Several LGBT Mormons reached out to say it helped them feel more welcome to know that conversations like these are still happening in our church. At least it helped spark new ways of talking about what is, by now, a very familiar issue in Mormonism.

What I should have said

If I had let my letter cool for a while in my drafts folder, it would have been better. Our church does have a history of racist teachings from General Authorities, and our current approach certainly echoes the approach our grandparents heard from their leaders about race, but I would have turned down the intensity a few notches. I’m not typically so combative.

And frankly, I could have just saved myself the effort, because others have said it better. The Mormon Mental Health Association issued a statement that is on point, and Benjamin Knoll wrote a delightful pseudo-press release highlighting an even more appropriate historical comparison.