I've been in training at my new job during the past two months and my fellow new hires and I are struggling to learn the impossible complexities of our expected responsibilities. Most of our managers and coaches are so supportive that some of us feel like we're being coddled.
Generally, when someone observes my work to provide feedback, he or she will offer floods of compliments. I can feel myself resenting it as I sit through bullet point after bullet point of accolades. I mean, I'm a reasonably intelligent guy and a reasonably quick learner, but I'm sure there are opportunities for me to develop my skills that are more important to discuss. I can figure out on my own what I'm doing well—hurry up and tell me what I need to do better.
Apparently, I have very little patience for positive reinforcement.
This approach is great for some people, I realize. Some of my coworkers get discouraged easily and the abundance of praise is valuable to them. But as far as I'm concerned, this approach only pisses me off. So it was while I was pondering my own reaction to useless platitudes that I came up with a theory.
When I was a kid, I was told repeatedly in church that I was part of the greatest generation. My peers and I were superior to all generations that had come before and God had selected us to live in the latter days because he needed his best and brightest for his most important work. I was frequently reminded by older Mormons that I was surrounded by a surfeit of temptations that were previously absent—and often these older Mormons would self-effacingly admit that they would not have been equipped to deal with these temptations in their youth.
Of course, I rarely felt that I was living up to the reputation I was given. Because Mormonism also teaches that you always need to do more. I'd skip scripture reading a few nights a week and I'd hesitate to share the gospel with my friends at school and I'd start to feel like I wasn't really a member of God's elect. And, of course, when masturbation became problematic for me, I was overcome with the sense that I was a colossal disappointment to myself, to my generation, and to my Father in Heaven. But that didn't stop me from raking in all these compliments from adults who seemed to admire my very existence.
And then it all turned out to be bullshit anyway.
I'm wondering if those experiences are why, as an adult and an ex-Mormon, I have so little interest in positive reinforcement. It puts me on edge. I distrust it. It actually makes me suspicious that there's something I'm doing horribly wrong and that my manager is trying to soften the blow by building my confidence up before correcting whatever my huge problem is. I would honestly be so much happier at work if my coaching sessions contained no direct compliments, but only a list of things that needed to be improved. Maybe I have such a distaste for compliments because I received so many as a Mormon kid that felt undeserved and that turned out to have originated from unreliable sources.
And if something as relatively tame as that can have such a lasting impact on a person's character and behavior, I can't imagine the lasting impacts for Mormons who have suffered firsthand through the homophobia, sexism, racism, and abuse that the church can heap on people. Which makes my perspective on the recent MormonLeaks documentation pointing to lawsuits and confidentiality agreements that much harsher. It's as though Jesus directed us to protect the good name and reputation of the shepherd of the ninety and nine instead of concerning ourselves with the struggles of the one. Negotiations for legal settlements don't acknowledge or correct the institutional failures that caused the damage in the first place.
Every day I become more and more impatient to see enough bad press that even lifelong members within my small circle begin to understand the horrible truth of Mormonism.