The Fallout Story is a rule of etiquette (that I made up) that I hold sacred for discussing breakups. The rule is: the dumpee owns the fallout story. The dumper is prohibited from making any disparaging remarks (henceforth and forever) about the dumpee, as a matter of courtesy. As a friend put it: “She keeps the ring; she tells the story.” This is where we get the phrase: “It’s not you; it’s me.” We all know that’s not true (c’mon, if it wasn’t them, why are you dumping them?), but it is good etiquette. The Fallout Story rule applies for all kinds of breakups: romantic, employment, loaning money or credit, and I would like to suggest, leaving the church (it’s usually called an “exit story” in this last case, but the rule applies).
There are rules of etiquette in polite society. Put the tea bag in the cup before the hot water. A used knife should remain on the plate, not be returned to the table. The person to the right goes first at a 4-way stop. But there are other unofficial rules of etiquette not yet adopted that should be. Don’t talk on the phone while you are going to the toilet (public restrooms or otherwise). Don’t use acronyms for the eff word on Mormon blogging sites. Never run over time when you teach a lesson during the 3rd hour. Don’t subject acquaintances to pictures from your mission or vacation without repeated requests to do so.
So, why is the Fallout Story rule just good manners? I realize that most breakups are not all one-sided. Often, it is mutually beneficial to both parties, and there may be blame enough to go around. But, as Sesame Street taught, when you divide a piece of cake, one person gets to cut the cake, and the other chooses which piece s/he wants. That way, the person will try to cut the cake fairly. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t get to cut the cake and also choose the first piece, and then tell everyone that you were forced to eat the cake when what you really wanted was ice cream.
I know, as a person who has been the dumper in a relationship, that being the one to make the call, to decide to walk away, can be deeply satisfying with its own intrinsic benefits. You are prepared to walk away on your own terms and (at least for the moment) may even be willing do whatever it takes to get out. Which is exactly why you should be courteous to the dumpee. The one with the most awareness in the situation, the one who is calling the shots, has an obligation to be courteous to those with less power or awareness. This idea goes to the heart of courtesy. In WWII, Winston Churchill was criticized for his deferential declaration of war written to the Japanese. As Winston Churcill replied, “When you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.”
So, in leaving the church, my rule would state that if the church severs the relationship, out of courtesy, the individual owns the rights to the Fallout Story (rather than the church). Obviously, an ex-Mo seeking reconciliation will have different motivation in how the Fallout Story is relayed. But if the post-Mo leaves voluntarily to pursue other interests, that person should only use the most courteous terms in describing the fallout and in referring to the Church they left. And if that person is antagonistic and vocal in attacking the church, the church would own the Fallout Story and be able to explain events from an official perspective.
A wise businessman I know once said (of individuals declined for credit): “We don’t decline people for credit; we only tell them what it will take to obtain credit, and they determine whether they want to do those things.” When it comes to parting ways with the church, some fallout (but not all) is like that. So, (under my made up rule), if you want out, but you want rights to the Fallout Story, you have to get kicked out. We’ve all seen breakups like that, where you make the other person so miserable they finally break it off.
Another reason for etiquette in these situations is that relationships between people (and organizations are people) is very subjective. Your “ex” may be a great partner to someone else. Even though you didn’t really mean it when you said, “It’s not you, it’s me” there is still some truth to that sentiment. As Yasmina Reza put it in the play “Art”: “If I am who I am because you are who you are, then I am not who I am, and if you are who you are because I am who I am, then I am not who I am.” So, assuming that you are right in your negative perceptions of the dumpee (company, church, or any other individual or organization you voluntarily disassociate yourself with) is inherently unfair because your experience with them is always subjective and about you as well as them.
So, do you agree that the Fallout Story rule is good etiquette for those leaving the church (and vice-versa)? Can you think of valid exceptions?
What other unofficial rules of etiquette do you feel should be adopted in the modern LDS church?