Linda & Richard Eyre: Utah’s interesting, divided society

By Linda & Richard Eyre, For the Deseret News

Published: Thu, July 31, 2014, 9:55 a.m. MDT

 This May 28, 2012, picture shows the Salt Lake City skyline as seen from 600 North and I-15.

This May 28, 2012, picture shows the Salt Lake City skyline as seen from 600 North and I-15.

(Ravell Call, Deseret News)

We love Utah. We love the mountains and the desert. We love the people. We love the increasing diversity and energy of Salt Lake City. We even love the interesting and unique culture. In our opinion, there is no better place to live.

But on some levels, a kind of divided, two-sided, competition-mixed-with-animosity division persists.

Part of it is fun, like the strong rivalry between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University (although this gets a bit extreme at times). Other parts are more troubling. Any time we generalize and try to shove everything into two categories, there are problems, sometimes very offensive ones. Too often it seems that people try to fit everyone either into the Mormon, conservative, insular, judgmental insider category or into the non-Mormon, liberal, anything-goes outsider category.

And it doesn’t work. It is based on stereotypes and oversimplification.

In reality, there are those who are both Mormon and politically liberal. And there are orthodox members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who cheer for the U. And there are East Coast transplants that love the safe, conservative atmosphere in the neighborhoods in which they have chosen to live.

There are hundreds of categories, not just two.

There is little that is wrong with the reality of Utah and the wonderful and nuanced combination of people and places that we have here. What is wrong is the oversimplified perceptions that seem to never go away.

We have had an in-and-out relationship with Utah for most of our adult lives. I (Richard) grew up in Logan, and Linda grew up over the mountain in Montpelier, Idaho. We met and fell in love at Utah State University and got married while I was in graduate school at BYU before we left together for Boston and Harvard.

Ever since, we have been in and out. We lived in London for four years and for a time we spent some years in Washington, D.C., and some years in Salt Lake City. Now we travel a lot with our work but call Utah our home base.

The point is that we see Utah’s unique society and culture from the vantage points of both insiders and outsiders.

And it is unique; some would say strange, some would say wonderful. And both would be right. Some perceive that our liquor laws are different, and so are our big families, and even the three-hour Mormon Sunday meetings. Others perceive that some longtime Mormon “enclaveists” still wish that the railroad had never come to bring in outsiders.

But by and large, we think most Utahns are pretty happy with where our state is and where it is going. We accept others for who they are and we all learn from each other. We are united by the fact that we all know, on some level, that we are pretty lucky to live here and that on many levels we have the best of most everything.

We think it is important for everyone to avoid the divided-society paradigm and to work to overcome it in every way they can. But it is particularly important for parents. Kids pick up quickly on signs of intolerance or criticism and judgment of others who are a little different from themselves.

One of the most important things parents can do is project an attitude of “what can we learn from others?" — including those with practices and paradigms that are very different from ours.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.

1. Common-Tator
Saint Paul, MN,
July 31, 2014

There is certainly an entire spectrum rather than simply a bi-polar environment within Utah. Within "the church", I had a graduate advisor at BYU who stated that it must be incredibly difficult for me, a non-Utah convert, to be living out there, as in his mind there were three churches within the church (and thus, reflective of life in Utah). First, there was the church outside of Utah, where folks tended either to be fully committed, or living out their lives "inactive", but under the radar. Second, there was the "flag pole church" inside of Utah, wherein resided a number of incredibly strong Saints, but also existed an under culture of "societal Mormons", active on Sunday but attempting to prove on the other six days just how "non-Mormon" they were. And lastly, he said there was the "Church at BYU", where there existed a strict "letter of the law" mentality ... "How could you wear blue jeans -- let's go speak with your Bishop", also followed by those who would stay as close astride the line as they could, to prove non-conformity. Simplistic perhaps, was his reasoning -- but insightful!

2. patriot
Cedar Hills, UT,
July 31, 2014

As the church grows now beyond 15 million and on toward 20 million a larger diversity of members are joining with all sorts of cultural differences as well as their own individual uniqueness such as tatoos and piercings and then even bigger issues such as same sex attraction etc... the once small Utah-Idaho dominated church is now world wide and carries with it all sorts pluses and minus's. The main thing however that matters is that whomever the person is we need to all chill out a bit and understand you can worship Jesus Christ fully and go to the temple with green hair and tatoos if you choose so long as you are keeping the commandments to the best you can and you meet the basic qualifications for worthiness.

as far the BYU / U of U rivalry...I won't touch that one.

3. Pitt Man
New York City, NY,
July 31, 2014

I was taken aback when I saw this column, because the divided and stereotyping quality of this state recently led us to the decision to move back East (though not NY, as shown in my screen name). Thank you for taking on this issue, and I hope for all those that live here that it will improve.

4. kdmicha22
Saint Louis, MO,
July 31, 2014

Checking into the history of Utah might enlighten a few skeptics. No Mormon came here out of a love for this place. They came to put enough distance to survive those who would not let them live in peace and exercise the right to believe as they chose. Anyone living in Utah now, benefits greatly from a culture, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created, turning an undesirable land into an oasis that has made it into many top rankings as one of the best places to live. Others had a choice to come to Utah and through no great deeds of their own, enjoy awesome benefits as well as its rich cultural diversity and certainly are not forced to stay.

5. Brave Sir Robin
San Diego, CA,
July 31, 2014


"The problem with Utah is that there are just too many Mormons."

I hope you never move to Rome.