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October 27, 2014
Cookies and Pi
A Spoonful of Sugar
by Sydney Bone

Mary Poppins’ philosophy of letting your imagination bring joy to otherwise mundane tasks had a pretty big impact on my childhood.

I look back fondly on evening after evening spent singing while I did the dishes with my brother. I also look back on those moments with chagrin — our serenades were usually limited to “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells,” and the theme songs to our favorite TV shows.

I hope, for my parents’ sake, that we had a larger repertoire than I remember.

Now, as a parent, I still like Mary Poppins’ philosophy for dealing with children. “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” She really listed to the kids and helped them know that they were loved. However, the sheer brilliance of her strategy was that along with her “spoonful of sugar,” came the medicine. She got the kids to behave better than a stern disciplinarian ever could.

I’ve often seen this strategy employed in teaching the youth of the Church. Doctrinal medicine is mixed with sugary analogies and personal stories. This is usually effective at getting the point across.

It can be hard for us mortals — especially teenaged mortals — to fully understand the ways of God. Christ, himself, taught in parables. However, we do have to be careful when we use our mortal understanding to explain eternal truths.

For example an article about BYU’s honor code written for Cosmopolitan Magazine made waves on the internet a few months ago. It featured Keli Byers, a BYU student who complained about the “slut-shaming” policies of BYU and the Church as a whole.

In a blog post commenting on the article, another BYU student, Emily Sarah Brooks wrote,

Within the first paragraph Byers talks about how her Young Women's [sic] leaders (Young Women's [sic] is a program within the church that is for girls ages 12-18) gave her a lesson on sex and morals.

This was poorly explained. Allow me to clarify as I had this same lesson as a girl. The teacher comes in chewing gum, and then offers it one by one to all the girls, asking if they would like some. Naturally, we all refuse.

The lesson is then applied to sex. We should keep ourselves clean and pure because no one (in this case, our future husbands) wants something that is already used. AKA, if we have sex before we're married, then we're tainted and no one will want us.

Let's stop there for a second. That is wrong. Byers is right in the sense that it is not okay to teach girls, especially young girls, that sex/sexuality is wrong. Because it's not. Sex doesn't make you dirty, it doesn't make people not want you, and it certainly doesn't diminish your personal worth. What is wrong though, is the abuse of sex.

Brooks went on to explain the doctrine behind the law of chastity and the eternal significance of the powers of procreation.

These two women had both experienced sexual assault, but their reactions were completely different. I think the difference came from their own personal understanding of the law of chastity. Keli Byers had a chewing gum analogy, while Emily Sarah Brooks had guidance from a bishop who helped her understand that what had happened was not her fault.

In other words, Keli had been fed a spoonful of sugar, without the medicine that was supposed to come with it. Obviously, I don’t know all the details of either situation, so forgive me for oversimplifying while trying to prove a point.

Sometimes, God’s laws — medicine — aren’t easy to swallow on their own. We all know this from personal experience, and so we try to help the youth with our own explanations. The problem comes when, in our eagerness to provide the sugar; we turn the focus too far away from the medicine.

We cannot expect the youth to gain an unshakable testimony when we teach our own explanations more than pure doctrine. I’ve read studies claiming that the consumption of red wine and/or coffee can decrease the likelihood of cancer. If a young man who is taught only that the Word of Wisdom is a good law of health, a study like this could have a devastating impact on his testimony.

On the other hand, a young man who has learned about the principle of revelation, and has gained a personal witness that God speaks to His prophets, will be in no such danger.

In giving our kids a spoonful of sugar, we must not forget to add the medicine. The sugar provides temporary satisfaction, while the medicine is the cause of long-term health.

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