The most recent (and highly fascinating) issue of Newsweek magazine details the behind-the-scenes drama and intrigue in both the Obama and McCain campaigns. Not only does this issue supply many hours of compelling reading for aficionados of politics, but in its pages our very own President-elect provides an excellent notion for me (and you) to chew on.
While ruminating over his “uneven” performance in early debates, Obama said this about himself:
There’s a certain ambivalence in my character that I like about myself. It’s part of what makes me a good writer, you know? [But] it’s not necessarily useful in a presidential campaign.
Let’s leave aside the fact that it’s exciting for me (nay, thrilling) to have a President who’s not only adept with the spoken word but is an accomplished writer in his own right. But when I read the above quote, I thought, “Exactly, Barack!” That dang ambivalence does get in the way of being an effective debater . . . or, in my case, (hypothetically) a really really good visiting teaching coordinator. In the same way that one might be able to see both sides when it comes to diplomatic talks with Iran, one might understand why Sister Lundquist didn’t get her visits in during October (she has those four boys, and her husband is always out of town, and there was that sinus infection) and tell her, “Hey, hon, don’t you worry about it. You just do the best you can. Heck, I think it’s cool when people manage to fit quarterly visits in! Besides, your heart’s in the right place . . .”
Do you think there’s a reason I’m not the Visiting Teaching Coordinator? Exactly.
It made me wonder, though, how the quality of “ambivalence” affects us as Mormon writers. I agree with President-elect Obama; an ambivalent nature can be an important asset for a writer to possess. But ambivalence isn’t exactly highly valued in our Mormon community. In fact, it often makes folks highly suspicious.
So what do you think? Does our cultural expectation to eschew ambivalence hurt our writers? And how in the heck do we acknowledge ambivalence in our writing without alienating LDS writers who expect, if not passionate certainty, then at least a solid sense of right and wrong? And conversely, can a writerly inclination toward ambivalence, if taken too far, hurt our testimonies? Can this ambivalence be dangerous? And maybe I’m wrong, and so is our future President. Maybe it’s entirely possible to be an excellent writer without the (curse?) of a vacillating nature.
At any rate, I’d like to know . . . are you ambivalent? (And if so, you don’t need to answer “yes” or “no.” You can say “maybe, kinda, sometimes.”) How has this affected you as Mormon, and if you’re a writer or an artist, what are the fruits of this ambivalence?