Today’s post is by The Chorister. I’m an education professor. In academic research, we talk about quantitative research and qualitative research. In order to avoid boring you to death, I offer a simplistic definition of each to explain the difference. Quantitative research is about statistics; it’s about cold hard facts (of course, there’s no such thing, but that’s a discussion for another day). Quantitative researchers use test scores, statistics and surveys to explore research questions. Qualitative research is about words, stories, narratives, meaning, and context. Qualitative researchers use case studies, observations, and interviews to explore research questions.
I often wonder whether sometimes we at church focus too much on quantitative things. It’s the last day of the month and so we call the people we’re supposed to home or visit teach and ask them if we can come over. And we’re relieved when they say yes, because that means we can go visit them and then check that box off of our to-do list. Have we really fulfilled our calling if that’s the way we do it? Quantitatively, I guess we have, but qualitatively, I would say we definitely missed the mark.
I have known people over the years who, when something bad happens in their lives, will say: “I don’t understand. I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. I read my scriptures, I say prayers every morning and night, we got married in the temple, we attend the temple once a month (or whatever the number might be), we have FHE every week. So I don’t understand how this bad thing could happen to me.”
I’m not even going to begin trying to understand why bad things happen to people, but I find this tendency that we have to make lists of all the things we’re “supposed to do” curious because it seems, to me, to miss the mark. It seems to be more quantitative in nature. It seems like the kinds of qualities we are supposed to be developing cannot be surveyed; they cannot be checked off on a box or scratched off of a to-do list. They’re not things that we are ever done with. They’re things that are a process and they are difficult, it not impossible, to measure. They’re messy. They’re complicated. Christ did not come to earth and deliver a checklist to us and suggest that once we had checked everything off, we were finished. Sure, he gave us an example to follow and we have commandments that hopefully help us make good choices, but I prefer to think of things as much more of a process of becoming, rather than arriving at some point at which we have done all the right things.
Don’t we sometimes judge people with a checklist? Does he come to Sacrament meeting? Check. Does he do his home teaching? Check. Does he go to the temple every month? Check. Does he keep the (outwardly obvious parts of) the Word of Wisdom? Check. Does he wear a white shirt and tie to church? Check. If you don’t judge people like this, then good for you, but I have been in church meetings and have participated in such conversations about people. It’s not our place to pass those kinds of judgments on people. We don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives and in their hearts. There are some things we can see, but there are so many more that we can’t see. And I think often, those things that we can’t see are what matters most.
So what do you think? Are we (Mormons) quals or quants?