A relative of mine was recently on a flight to Denver enjoying a conversation with a woman who frequently traveled to Salt Lake City. When she learned that my relative was on her way to Salt Lake, the woman complained about those Mormons in Utah. “None of the Mormons I’ve met are nice,” she said. All bad people. My relative then explained that she was one of those darned Mormons. “What? You’re a Mormon? No way! You’re not like them – you’re very nice and not mean at all!”
My relative inferred that the woman’s experience with “Mormons” might more properly be called her experience with Salt Lake City business people in a narrow business area. Surely her sampling of “Mormons” was not representative of typical Mormons – and might have included a lot of people who aren’t practicing Latter-day Saints as well as some who have never been associated with the Church.
In any case, when someone makes sweeping negative statements about the members of a religious group (or civic, political, ethnic, regional, and other groups that aren’t inherently murderous), they might be telling us more about themselves than their actual experiences. Most people are nice, at least in superficial social and business settings. And even those I bitterly disagree with, such as some of the most outspoken anti-Mormons or advocates of disastrous social policies, can be wonderfully nice people with a great deal of social grace and kindness, in spite of some very unkind things they might do or advocate because of their ideologies. So when someone says they’ve met a lot of people in Group X, and have never found a nice one, this may be a signal that we’re dealing with a bigot. And perhaps one who is not always very nice.