Guest Post: Do, Think, Feel

by Whoa-man
When you first meet someone what do you talk about? How is that different from whatyou and your co-workers, classmates, or fellow moms talk about? How is that different from what you and a partner talk about?

I recently gave a sacrament talk about creating Zion and discussed how Zion is supposedto be a community where we know and care for each other, a place where we support one another not out of duty, obligation, or assignment, but out of love, a place where we bear one another’s burdens and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. The main question in my talk was what is needed in our local wards to make them feel like Zion-like places?

I can’t even remember when I first learned about the Do, Think, Feel communication structure, but I felt impressed to use it in my talk. Basically, it is a marker of intimacy and trust.

When people first meet we talk about what they do. We mention our names, our kids,our spouses, our jobs, our schools, our backgrounds, our activities. We talk about what we have done, what we are doing, and what we are supposed to do. These are safe answers and only reveal what is overtly obvious to everyone already. In relationships, this is the first date kind ofconversation. In the church, an equivalent would be the “Sunday School Answers”: Read your scriptures, say your prayers, go to church, go to the temple, follow the Prophet, etc.

When people feel more comfortable, more trusting, more able to be vulnerable, we start talking about what we think. We discuss our personal opinions about topics, our experiences and our reasons for thinking that way. People who discuss what they think instantly grow closer because what they are saying is not obvious. It takes a certain level of vulnerability to offer something about yourself that is not the same as others. This brings people who discuss what they think closer together. In a relationship, this is where people test trust boundaries by seeing how their thoughts and opinions are handled by the other person. Are they heard, acknowledged, considered and valued? At church, this level of communication is often found in the classes that you love attending. The ones that are thoughtful and personal, applicable to your life and inspiring.

Regardless of the conclusion of the conversation at church or in relationships whether or not you felt listened to and safe determines if you ever move beyond the thinking level of intimacy. Healthy relationships do. Most church interactions don’t. Why is that?

When people feel safe, when we trust our environment, when we feel unjudged, and free to explore our emotions, when we feel vulnerable but protected, when we feel confident that our feelings won’t be belittled, ignored, or patronized, we start talking about what we feel. We discuss our immediate concerns, pains, and struggles. We let people into our pasts, our presents, and our futures. We talk about grief, hope, pain, and success. In relationships, this is the healthiest way to show love and to fight. We’ve all heard it before; when you fight you are supposed to say “I feel” statements because it cuts through most of the periphery argument and gets to the heart of the conflict. At church, these conversations are rare but crucial to creating true “bonds of sisterhood”. To creating Zion. Why are these honest conversations about how we feel so rare at church? How can we change that?

Most relationships pass through all of these stages. Some relationships with communication problems are due to the fact that people are at different stages. It is very hurtful and leads to much miscommunication when one partner is talking about what s/he thinks and the other is divulging what s/he feels. It can be that way at church as well. Many miscommunications stem from one member discussing a church topic from the perspective of what you are supposed
to do, another from the perspective of what they think, and another from the perspective of what they feel. While each of these levels is not inherently better than the other, they do illustrate different levels of intimacy, sincerity, vulnerability, and trust.

Do you see these levels of communication in your relationships? At church? Do you have any experiences with communication where people were coming at a topic from two different levels? Which level do you communicate from at church?

Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.


  1. The main question in my talk was what is needed in our local wards to make them feel like Zion-like places?…At church, these conversations are rare but crucial to creating true “bonds of sisterhood”. To creating Zion. Why are these honest conversations about how we feel so rare at church? How can we change that?

    Zion needs great intimacy and connection among the people. The church is lacking in intimacy and connection because we are all still strangers. The only way to achieve Zion, or even a Zion-like atmosphere at church is for the men and women to all be connected to each other through covenants. As it stands, we are connected to Christ through covenants, but not to each other. As long as we remain unfettered by covenant relationships with each other, we will never achieve Zion and our conversations (and actions) will never approach the level of intimacy and sharing required of that ideal.

  2. I agree with the LDS anarchist, there isn’t a vehicle for relationships to develop. I am also of the opinion that …well, gossip… is a serious problem. What goes hand-in-hand with gossip is judgement… whether real or percieved, I *feel* that when women say what they do (no kids/10 kids/1 kid in jail/divorced/employed/SAHM) there is immediate judgement. The same goes for a calling. For example, a mother of 5 who is primary president… well, it is probably unlikely to discuss with her the fact that there is a travelling Van Gogh exhibition, should she want to tag along with you. We look at what people do- gague what time or interests they have- and exclude or inclue them in certain classifications.

    Then, when we tell people what we think (different gospel interperatations/children should or shouldn’t be spanked/is coke okay or not okay)- then those lifestyle choices based on what we think further divide us… I think in large part- because we judge people for thier choices and thoughts. I am sure, as feminists, we have all been in a situation or two where a male -when we have pointed out that he is doctrinally incorrect in whatever way- declares himself correct because he is male, and feels inclined to call us, of jibe us to a degree of repentance. When we do not, and politiely stand out ground, we are shunned for thinking for ourselves outside the box. On the rare occassions when this has happened, I have always had someome tell me they appreciated that I spoke up– but that was always in confidence later. When we think differs from what the masses seem to think we should think… the divide is opened.

    Feeling… oh, boy. In a church where (in my experience) people are so quick to judge based on assumptions, gossip and culture that isn’t at all about doctrine– sharing one’s feelings is exceptionally difficult. To share feelings implies a degree of trust… and frankly, I don’t trust Mormons to not judge me.

    I guess for me, it boils down to seeking out those precious few who tolerate me, even if what I do/think/and feel is not what mormon culture says I should.

  3. This really gives me a new way of looking at the communication problems I’ve had in the past at church. It’s nice to be able to understand the disfunction better, but I’m not sure what to do about it or how to change the interactions on a large scale. I’m sure it’s a matter of practicing and getting better at talking to people on the level they’re at, but I’m not sure how to change our relationships in general. I do really wish there was more investment in our connections.

    It’s part of the difference I have seen in areas where people have family to rely on versus not. When you only have ward “family” to support you and relate to in a more isolated area, your initial level of communication seems to be more personal. There just seems to be more at stake and so it’s easier to open up to others and share yourself on the level of think and feel. It would be nice if the more densely member populated areas could figure this out and get past the superficial interactions.

  4. This is a great post, Whoa-man.

    I don’t see a whole lot of ‘feel’ conversations going on in RS. At least not ‘feel’ in a sense that they are revealing anything of themselves that really puts them in a vulnerable position. I think that’s because forums like RS tend to be vested in the ideal. When we talk about how our realities don’t match up to the ideal or how we feel uncomfortable with the ideal itself, this tends to make others less than comfortable. It just seems like people don’t know what to do with those comments, and quickly try to steer the conversation back to familiar ground.

    I think part of the problem also is that a class with 30 people, some whom you know, some whom you don’t, isn’t the best forum for intimate sharing. I think small group settings or one on one are much more likely to develop those bonds of intimacy. Though, of course, I wish we could all be more vulnerable in bigger group settings. I know I’d feel a lot closer to my RS sisters if there was more personal sharing, warts and all.

  5. This is such an interesting way to think about our relationships. The part about relating to people on the superficial “what we do” level really resonates. I’ve been in the same ward for 18 years now and most ward members are still acquaintances really. We tend to stick to names, kids, spouses, jobs, “what we are doing” types of exchanges. This is about as deep as we can get in the 10 minute passing period between classes. The people who are on a deeper level of intimacy and true friendship are few, and they are usually people I’ve served with.

    I’ve been mulling over how this relates to familial relationships. We do tend to serve our families. Maybe we serve them because we love them, or we love them because we serve them. It’s probably both. LDS Anarchist’s point about how covenants can tie us together is something I hadn’t thought about in this context, maybe because I was born into a part-member family. I have a very close relationship with my parents, although there are no covenants to link me to them.

  6. All the comments made here so far I agree with. In my personal experience and years (60+) in the church, I can count on my one hand the deep and lasting friendships I’ve made. Over the years I’ve found for the most part sisters are very judgemental (I can’t speak for the men). I also think it’s the kind of area you’re living in. I have found more success in small branches than in the big wards that I’ve lived in. In all 3 of the branches I’ve lived in, even though there has been a range of poor, middle and well to do, all those sisters have been such great friends and an inspiration to me. Sincerity oozes out of them and it shows in their demeanor and attitude. However, in the wards, it was a totally different attitude. I found that certain “class” of people stick together – where you were from and who you were related to – particularly someone important in the church (only in their minds). I’ve found that those who think they are more important than you – and they let you know it – are more judgemental and are not inclusive. And it always seems to be that “those” people are the ones that are in leadership positions and you always felt like you were being peed on. I always find it amusing when I attend wards in Utah County – or in any other large area for that matter, I always offer a smile or a nod of acknowledgement and what I get in return is literally an “up and down” look and no smile in return – very funny indeed. I think we are a long way from being a Zion people. A Zion people serve to no matter who or what you are; a non-zion person picks and chooses who they will serve. I apologize if I haven’t stayed on topic – just my thoughts.

    • That’s funny, EM, as I find that I give the once-over and reject the members who I stereotype and believe do the same. You’ll find that I give preferential treatment to those who are different and generally not included. I guess that proves your point that people of a certain class stick together…though in appearances I’m going across class lines. I’m learning that the “class” that looks as if they have all together usually don’t and so, are deserving and in need of service, friendship and positive regard.

  7. Whoa-man, I’d love it if you would submit your Sacrament talk to Sabbath Pastorals for Exponent II’s paper! It sounds wonderful and then we could all read it in full.

  8. My first impression after reading this post is a little off-topic, well it’s Mormon Feminism, that’s always on topic here, right? 😉

    Seriously, though, the difference between think and feel is often how I would characterized bloggernacle discussions of Mormon feminism. Most feminists tend to “think” about issues in the church about how women are treated, policy, doctrine, etc. And when we have more traditional (TBMs) members comment they usually phrase their responses in testimony language. “I feel valued in the church. I feel the Spirit tell me the church is true.”
    We all know it’s impossible to maintain an online discussion when one person is thinking and the other person is feeling.

    I said it was off-topic, but I do think that for me it would be hard to have the kind of Zion community you refer to, Whoa-man, because I think (and feel) so differently from most of the people around me at church.

  9. Several years ago I had a Bishop in a singles ward who decided that we were going to be a Zion Ward. Every Sunday after sacrament meeting we were supposed to introduce ourselves to two people whose names we didn’t know, among a few other things. It all sounded super hokey but we did it. Oddly enough it worked pretty well. We did grow closer as a ward, and that time period stands out to me as one of the times where I have felt most loved and accepted in a ward, and felt the most love for the other people in the ward.

    Putting it in the context of the post- I think lots of us aren’t even starting the conversation at all. For many of the people in my current ward I haven’t even gotten to the ‘do’ part of the sequence- and I could do better than that.

    • I agree with Starfoxy–sometimes, I let myself off the hook saying my calling keeps me too busy to mingle or I have to find my kids, etc. So, for the past couple years, I’ve been bad at the “do” part.

      But, this past month, I made myself a promise that I would make one comment in Gospel Doctrine and introduce myself to one person in SS and RS. (Phew! It takes a lot out of an introvert!)

      I wonder how many people in wards don’t ask the “do” questions and just assume by looking at someone that they know what they do and whether they want to initiate a closer relationship, which sadly, makes it unlikely that the “think” and “feel” levels are ever reached most of the time.

  10. I’ve had the same visiting teachers for about 3 years, and until recently never really shared my feelings with them. Certainly, they knew about challenges with my work, even my parents’ divorce. But, I never let them “in.”

    Three weeks ago, things changed. They were scheduled to visit, and I was, simply put, having a rough day. I consciously decided to be completely honest with them if they asked me, “How are you doing?” The result, after they predictably asked me how I was doing, was a solid 15 minute rant that included several swear words and condemnations of the church, other women, and the world, in general.

    My visiting teachers listened with compassion and responded with real questions to gain understanding. Their love opened the floodgates of tears. I expressed deep feelings of fear and anger. Since this event, I feel that I am known in the ward. I believe that the love in this experience was a result of my visiting teachers not trying to resolve anything/fix me/make me feel better. Rather, they were just “there” – completely in it with me – which I realize now is all I needed.

    • Janna,
      You make the excellent point that I’ve always thought about Visiting Teaching. I have to let them in to my life. I can’t expect them to guess my needs or feelings. It’s vulnerable, but real.

      • True. I understand it’s tricky, though, because not all people can really hear your “truth” with such openness and understanding. But, I guess I just went into the conversation with the intent they would be understanding – and they were.

  11. There was a couple in our ward who made a point of inviting a different family over for Sunday dinner nearly every week. I don’t have the energy to entertain that often, but I’ll admit it was a good way of getting to know people in the ward, and moving past the superficial toward something deeper. I was impressed. They didn’t wait around for someone to reach out to them. There is something about being invited into someone’s home that fosters a feeling of friendship.

    • We did this when we first moved into our current ward. After 20+ families we got a bit tired of still being treated like strangers and never having any gesture of friendship reciprocated. Someone finally told me that it’s a west/east coast thing?

  12. I hope that’s it. The alternative is that we’re really weird and don’t know it. 😉

    Seriously, I’m no Martha – and a total introvert – so it was a real stretch to reach out like that. But I did try to understand that some people aren’t comfortable inviting others over, even in reciprocation. And now everyone seems to have too many kids to make it a carefree evening, so we’ve given up on that route. We’ve tried game nights with couples since then, and they’re always fun and well attended, but we seem to be the only ones that initiate anything.

    I also really wish there were ways to make RS activities a time for closer association and more intimate settings (without forcing people together unnaturally) I loved it when the small interest based groups were encouraged, even though I didn’t always like having to get approval.

  13. I love this post. I’ve never really heard of the Do, Think, Feel structure, but I can see how it works in my own life. I think it is a bit harder to find the safety and trust within my ward to share what is closest to my heart, mostly because I never know exactly how it will be received. It seems “safer” to keep things to myself and muddle my way through it.

  14. LDS Anarchist, that is a fascinating point.

    Spunky, I think you hit the nail on the head. Judgment or fear of judgment is the greatest obstacle to vulnerability and, therefore, intimacy. What is interesting for me is how often it is said and repeated and emphasized NOT to judge in the scriptures and how often that concept is taught at church versus how often things like homosexuality, obedience, and even following the prophet are mentioned in the scriptures versus how often they are taught at church. It doesn’t seem proportional, right? Why aren’t we taught not to judge more often?

    Corktree, I think you are right about wards where people live by family versus those where people rely on the ward family. It is a bonding experience. I too wish we invested in connections. What could we do to implement more of that?

    Caroline, I agree. When I teach my RS class I try to break down the group into smaller discussion groups so that there can be a little bit more intimacy and the response is usually very positive, but this isn’t always practical. One conundrum I have is that Exponent Retreats are extremely large 100 people or so and yet I feel so vulnerable, connected, and immediately bonded to those women. What is different about that gathering than regular church and could we apply that experience to our wards? Do you think it would it work?

    Rebecca, Em, Jenne, “The once over” is interesting, huh? My feminist friends and I are just as guilty of it as the rest of people in the wards, but I think it is usually because I feel judged or I am responding in kind, etc. but maybe they are too! It’s a vicious cycle.

    Jessawhy, that is a really astute point about Mormon feminist talking to each other from these very different perspectives and maybe that is what is leading to much of the miscommunication. Also, your last paragraph made me so sad. Why is it that being different or having different opinions in the church automatically puts you on the fringe, disqualifies your ideas from being taken seriously, and/or makes it near impossible to feel truly connected to a ward?

    Emily, there is something to be said for all of us coming to church with tons on our mind and bonding is probably the last think we think of. I do think part of the problem is that it is not even on our radar, we don’t even do the “do’s”. I LOVE your idea about making it more conscience, actively deciding to try to open up or get to know others. Think about how great a ward would feel if everyone did that every week! I can’t even imagine.

    Janna, what a great example. I wish we would all be truly honest and bold with our visiting teachers. I think that is the benefit of visiting teaching if it is done right, to meet, bond, and get to the deep level with someone that you maybe wouldn’t have originally chosen to be friends with.

    Annie, maybe that is where we have some control over our ward connections: in us being courageous enough to open up! It takes a lot of bravery to open up, be vulnerable, let intimacy in especially when a) you’ve been hurt before, b) you don’t necessarily have any proof that you’ll be treated better this time, c) you or your views are atypical, and d) no one else is doing it. However, if we could all really open up maybe it would free up others as well and we can start another cycle, one of sharing and caring. Now that is the Zion I’m talking about!

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