Mormons on a Plane: Your Behavior Matters More than Your Belief / by Sophia Chang

I'm a fan of Mormons.

I try to go back to Taipei every year to see my beloved grandma who helped raised me. On one flight several years ago, I was joined by a large group of Mormons on their missions trip. 

I watched these young, extremely pale kids dressed in ties and long skirts shuffle politely into their seats. I'm used to Westerners pushing about loudly in other countries, being rude to locals and making an overall embarrassing example of Amurrica. (In fact, whenever my college friend and I are in Europe and see or hear Americans, we immediately switch to speaking Chinese to avoid being associated with them.)

So it was a treat to see one of these blonds help a woman with her suitcase. Then he opened his mouth and fluent Mandarin tumbled out. I almost died. 

"Where did you learn to speak Chinese?" I asked in English.

"Utah," he responded in Mandarin. I hadn't even known we had a word for 'Utah' in Mandarin.

Americans have, hands down, the worst accents in Mandarin - it's as if our culture makes people quite literally tone-deaf. Even the king of Facebook - a fellow Harvardian - had the best trainers and still couldn't master it, so to hear these mild-mannered Mormons trilling my mother's mothertongue that they learned in the middle of a snowblind desert garnered massive props.

I wasn't a believer then, so I didn't think much of missionaries, but the fact that they took the time to learn the language - and learn it properly - and were behaving with such decorum and grace impressed me to no end. When we landed, I felt bedraggled and cranky in my yoga pants, but the Mormon kids looked just as patient and pert, not a dress shirt untucked or belt buckle loosened after 16 hours of trans-pacific flight.

There's a huge Mormon contingency in Hollywood so I've had acquaintances and co-stars throughout the years and I can say I've never met a mean Mormon in my life. It's true, I don't know what goes on behind closed doors, and their community is not without scandal or controversy just like that of any religion or culture. But on a daily basis I have always encountered good manners and good attitudes.

Even when I was an atheist I respected Mormons because it mattered little what they believed and very much how they behaved.

I'm not saying belief doesn't matter at all. It does. 

But long after everyone has forgotten what you espouse, they will remember how you treated them, how you acted when they were in need, and how that made them feel. 

So, my brothers and sisters, how do you behave?