nearly ten years ago i graduated from BYU and moved to virginia to get a masters degree at UVA. i remember sitting in the welcome meeting for new graduate students and feeling a bit of culture shock. the most memorable catalyst for that culture shock was the DGS (director of graduate studies), a very hip man who taught african american studies and late 20th century pop culture--a man with long hair (a definite no-no at the Y) and colorful language (another no-no). i think he had a goatee, too. i wonder if he had a beard card signed by his medical provider...
that first semester at UVA was full of all kinds of new experiences. my first party, by which is meant a lot of people getting together to drink and talk with loud music playing in the background. my first wine & cheese gathering. my first outing to a bar for drinks. my first attempts at explaining mormon peculiarities to drunk people. my first whiff of pot. my first taste of thai food, vegetarian food, and cooked spinach. my first cocktail party (at which i was dubbed the 'mormon alice cooper' for reasons that remain entirely unclear to me).
i embraced every new experience that presented itself so long as it didn't require that i do something that contradicted my own standards. i made a very conscious choice that i would welcome any advance of friendship. for the first time in my life i lived far away from family (only two hours from my oldest brother, but without a car that was a fairly insurmountable distance). i was starting a new educational venture. and i knew that if i didn't build a supportive network for myself in charlottesville i would be miserable.
i didn't end up miserable. i ended up so happy that i wanted to never leave. i made wonderful friends at church. and i made wonderful friends at school. some of my friends from virginia remain among my dearest friends. i wouldn't trade the experiences we shared for anything.
once in a while, when i've described my experiences in charlottesville to other mormons, they've been surprised that i would go out to a bar on a friday night as a regular social activity. or that i would go to what was essentially a slightly grown up version of a kegger. that i wouldn't immediately leave a party when i smelled marijuana. that i laughed about the cross-dressing that i witnessed at a "shock your mom" party (one of the funniest nights ever) rather than being horrified. that when my boyfriend in virginia said 'f*** you' to me, i usually laughed at him because it was never said in anger but rather as part of a teasing that helped make our relationship happy.
i don't want to simply condemn people who would have refused to participate in such activities. i know that different people have different tolerance levels for different things. i respect that. but i think that a lot of people also create their own offense by focusing on something they consider unacceptable rather than looking past it. in my mind, it's far better to hear someone swear without it ruining my day or foreclosing the possibility of knowing that person, and the happiness that friendship with them might bring, than to try to shut myself off from all sources of behavior i deem inappropriate for myself.
what it boils down to for me is this: i want to know and love my world. all of it, not just that part that fits my preconceived notion of good. and focusing on the things i do not like so much that i fail to see wonderful new things or old things in new ways--well, that strikes me as the best way to refuse to know and love my world. and it seems to me that when we're so tuned in to potential sources of offense, we actually grant them much more control of our minds and spirits than they would have if instead we let them roll off our backs and instead we looked for the beautiful.