In his October 2021 General Conference address entitled "One Percent Better," Elder Michael A. Dunn addressed how the British cycling team was able to turn its years of failure around to eventual success by employing a strategy entitled, "the aggregation of marginal gains" aimed at improving everything identifiable however small.

In the talk, he quotes from Elder Bednar:

Small, steady, incremental spiritual improvements are the steps the Lord would have us take. Preparing to walk guiltless before God is one of the primary purposes of mortality and the pursuit of a lifetime; it does not result from sporadic spurts of intense spiritual activity.

Elder Dunn asks:
Could aggregating small but steady marginal gains in our lives finally be the way to victory over even the most pesky of our personal shortcomings? Can this bite-sized approach to tackling our blemishes really work?
Then, he answers his own question:
Well, acclaimed author James Clear says this strategy puts the math squarely in our favor. He maintains that “habits are the ‘compound interest of self-improvement.’ If you can get just one percent better at something each day, by the end of a year … you will be 37 times better.”3

[In referring to the British cycling team] They continued to find 1 percent improvements in overlooked and unexpected areas such as nutrition and even maintenance nuances. Over time, these myriads of micro-betterments aggregated into stunning results, which came faster than anyone could have imagined...

Aggregation of Marginal Losses Instead of Gains 

Sadly, this process can also work in reverse and this is my topic for today - Why I am no longer attending Relief Society.

Instead of the aggregation of marginal gains, I've experienced the aggregation of marginal losses, small incremental negatives that have resulted in something rather large. Relief Society has become untenable for me.

I recently asked my husband what I'm like when I attend Relief Society. He said, "Spitting tacks and grumpy." I concur. This is how I feel afterward. It's been building for a very long time and occurred over multiple wards/branches in multiple areas.

Below, I document many of the losses I've experienced over time and explain why I think they are so damaging. I started intensely noticing some of them in the mid-1990s.

On the flip side. All of these can ultimately be reversed.

I will note that I am hard of hearing and many of my concerns relate to that. However, I don't assume that because I have trouble hearing that others do too. I check with them. When others tell me they can't hear or indicate somehow that they can't hear then I feel more comfortable with my conclusions.

I'll detail the losses from small to large, as I see them.

Accepted and Expected Losses

There is one thing that people automatically assume I'm complaining about but it is the one thing I'm willing to accept and overlook, no matter what.

Relief Society is populated by women and women have kids, often babies that fuss. This creates noise in the Relief Society room. So what. This is a fact of life and I'm willing to accept it. I expect and accept it. This is NOT part of any concern I have.

Obviously, I appreciate attempts to minimize the kid chaos and noise and am concerned about conditions that amplify it, like room configuration but overall, this is a given.

Small Losses

1. In the past, people who were asked to pray would stand and face the group in its entirety, or as well as they could, often going to the front of the room where the teacher taught. This doesn't happen anymore. People often don't stand. They pray from their seats in a normal voice that is often directed away from the group. This makes it hard to hear them.

2. This is related to the point above. In the past, people who were asked to read something would stand and face the group in its entirety or move to the front too. No more. Often it is logistically impossible to hear people who remain in their seats, aim their voices at the paper or phone they are reading from, and mumble.

This doesn't have to be. If you are ever asked to participate, you can usually do something to ensure that you are heard. Leadership and the teacher should try to make certain everyone can be heard.

3. There is often a questionable emphasis on gimmicks like handouts and treats. I don't mind a physical object that reminds me of the lesson and concepts discussed. However, if more effort went into the object at the expense of actual lesson preparation, I don't care for a reminder of that and it means little to me. Treats are always nice but they serve no real spiritual purpose and are badly overused.

Big Losses

1. Room configuration is a big issue for me. Having taught I know what can happen if you must teach in a poorly configured room or if you poorly utilize a good room. You should always try and minimize problems and maximize the good features.

For example, having your audience face a window(s) that has distractions outside is not good. Aim your audience away from distractions if at all possible. Minimizing audio distractions is more difficult but not impossible.

Many Relief Society rooms are large rectangles. If you teach from one end you can generally project your voice throughout the room. Too often, these rooms are configured so that the teacher must face a class from all sides because they are trying to mimic a circle as much as possible.

I have no problem with configuring a class in a circle if the numbers of sisters and room size lend themselves well to it. Not all classrooms do. Trying to force it results in the teacher having to project their voice to all sides of a rectangular room in turn often leaving out people on one side while directing their voice towards the other. This does not work well.

2. In reflecting on this, it occurred to me that there is nowhere in this room configuration where the teacher can stand while using visuals that don't obstruct the view of some side of the room or the other. This is not good.

Well, that is assuming that the visuals can be seen at all. Often, they can't be. Too often, the writing on the visuals or the pictures themselves is simply too small. The best way to ascertain and correct this is to position yourself in the furthermost reaches of the room and determine if your visuals can be seen.

Obviously, it is best to do this ahead of time. Determine how large your writing has to be on the chalkboard and elsewhere to comfortably be seen anywhere in the room.

3. Unfortunately, the misuse of technology is getting more and more prevalent. The Church tells us that using technology should not distract from the Spirit. Ideally, the use of technology should be so uneventful and smooth that your audience is barely aware you're using it. This isn't happening.

These days, it seems any use of technology is fraught with distraction. Often, teachers don't know how to use it properly and spend a great deal of time fiddling with it, if they can even get it to work at all.

Sadly, the problem is often at the stake level because the technology is not serviced and checked enough to be operable. Often, teachers only find this out after the fact.

There is only one way around this problem. You must try out your media on the technology ahead of time outside of church hours and work out any problems and bugs. Yes, this means you have to be prepared significantly ahead of time. Trust me, It's worth it.

Some uses of technology maximize distractions. This is mainly from teachers using personal cell phones hooked up to church media. The audience is regaled with multiple images on people's cell phones before the desired media can be located and presented. This is very distracting. It's referred to as visual noise.

People would never project audio media in this way. Can you imagine cycling through a variety of audio clips of various musical genres before finally accessing the desired religious audio selection? It would obviously be jangling to the audience. It's just as bad with visual media as it is with audio media.

I have been regaled with a variety of distracting images and media in church lessons, including one that played during the closing prayer telling the cell phone owner that her child needed his medications.

What's the solution? This could depend on what media and technology are available to you. However, I think the best solution is downloading media ahead of time on a flash drive.

All new church televisions now have the capacity to handle this. Old ones can with an adapter.

The Church instructs us to download media ahead of time and not stream it. It warns that many meetinghouses don't have the bandwidth for streaming.

Anyway, there are no distracting ads, commercials, or anything else with downloaded media on a flash drive. The new televisions make it easy to select and play this media. Flash drives are cheap.

If people used the Gospel Media App on their mobile devices, this could also cut down on all these distracting technological glitches. However, it doesn't seem to be happening.

4. I almost hate to bring up this next issue because I don't want people to think I'm hostile to non-English speakers. I'm not. We've had a substantial Spanish language population in some of my wards. However, how the interpretation is handled can solve some problems but create others.

Having someone talk in any language at the same time as the teacher is a problem. It can make it difficult to hear anything. Care needs to be taken to minimize the noise that this extra voice creates for everyone in the room. The interpreter needs to aim their voice away from the majority of the classroom if at all possible. Again, this comes down to room configuration.

Sitting in the back of the room and interpreting is generally a big problem. Sitting on the front row and speaking towards the teacher and a wall, especially if the wall is covered in a soft material to absorb the noise is best. However, it might be a problem if the teacher is using a microphone.

These problems need careful consideration. See:

Instruction for Interpreters

Interpretation: Instruction for Priesthood Leaders

Bigger Losses

1. Somewhere along the line, the emphasis in Relief Society seemed to change from reverence and spirituality to having fun. Now, everyone wants to laugh and joke. This happens before and after and now throughout the meeting time.

I'm not against fun, but I think it crossed into light-mindedness a long time ago. The whole tenor of the meeting is now quite different than what it should be and what it could be.

It's a church meeting. Reverence and spirituality should be prime.

2. Teachers shouldn't perform. People should experience and emerge from a lesson not thinking that the teacher is wonderful, but that the gospel is. Teachers need to focus on the gospel rather than their performance as a teacher.

As a teacher, you are a conduit, you are not the light. You should not be drawing attention to yourself. The gospel should be your focus not your performance as a teacher. This is a problem in Relief Society as well as other gospel-teaching situations.

It is nice to be considered a good teacher. We all like that recognition. However, it's a strength that can also be a weakness and work to our detriment.

3. You cannot teach in your normal speaking voice. I am mystified as to where this idea got started and perpetuated. You can't. Nobody can. As a teacher, you MUST project your voice throughout the room, regardless of what type of room you are in.

This is the main reason why I can't hear what's going on anymore. I suspect it is the main reason why others can't hear as well.

How do you expect anyone to hear you over the person seated next to them who is also talking in their normal voice? This is insane.

What's more, you need to project to the room you are in. If you are teaching in the chapel, you should use a microphone. Church instructions used to include this caveat. I can't find it anymore. In a big cavernous room, you need that microphone.

Depending on how your Relief Society room is configured, you will need to adjust your voice and project so that everyone can hear you.

There is an added benefit to this. When teachers project, audience members don't tend to talk among themselves as much and they focus on the teacher. This is what should be happening.

It is folly to think you can teach in your regular voice. You are competing with kid noise/chaos, hallway noise, chatter among the sisters, and everything else. Project your voice above this. You must.

Massive Losses

1. I think back to the book Daughters in My Kingdom which narrated the history and purpose of the Relief Society. I wonder where it all went. I see almost no emphasis on service and charity anymore. The emphasis is all on recreation and fun.

The only remnant of service seems to be the Relief Society Service Coordinator calling where a sister or sisters provide meals for those in need. As a recipient of some of these meals on occasion (broken arm/leg, major heart incident, debilitating illness, etc.,) this is much appreciated.

Now, this seems to be ancillary to what the Relief Society does, not its main focus. Why so little emphasis on service and charity?

2. This also begs the question of where is the emphasis now? I'll answer it: the emphasis is on social activities. Everything is recreation and everything has to be fun.

Granted, sometimes a token service activity is worked into the agenda, but that's what I would call tokenism. It's a symbolic gesture with little substance that often gets touted but doesn't really amount to much.

We socialize, consume voluminous amounts of food paid for with tithing money, and have fun. That's about it. Would Jesus approve? I don't even want to think about that one.

3. All this emphasis on social activities naturally results in social clubs and cliques being formed. There is rarely a serious attempt to recruit and include all sisters.

Publicity usually reaches only a small contingent of sisters and the rest are left out. Often, the events cost money ensuring that only a small contingent of wealthy sisters can participate.

So many sisters ultimately get left out.

Usually, it's just a handful of women who are generally good friends planning these events that they like and often making it difficult for all women to be involved.

Sadly, I've even seen overt attempts to minimize the possibility that marginalized sisters will know about activities or be able to participate in them. Sometimes, when they do show up, they are ignored by other sisters and even sometimes by the powers that be. Usually, these marginalized sisters don't show up again.

4. From what I've seen over the years, all these social activities eventually take precedence over sanctioned and official activities.

I'll give you an example. About 20 years ago, I was in a ward that had a Relief Society lunch group that met monthly at a local restaurant. I objected to this on principle but decided I needed to attend just once in order to feel justified in criticizing it.

So, for one month I planned on attending. However, one of the ladies that my companion and I Visit Taught was only available on the day and time of the lunch group.

When I told my companion, she declined to Visit Teach because she was going to the lunch group. I decided that nothing should take precedence over Visiting Teaching and I visited this sister by myself. I never did make it to a lunch group.

5. I'm reaching way back with this term, but Elder Jeffrey R. Holland used it in his address entitled, A Teacher Come from God” back in 1998. People need spiritual nourishment from gospel teaching not "theological Twinkies".

... are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching “fried froth,” the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied.18

I'm tired of theological Twinkies which are nothing but spiritually empty calories. Relief Society is hardly alone in this regard. Elder Holland obviously thought it was a church-wide problem to address it in General Conference.

Elder Holland continues his advice:

Avoid self-serving performance and vanity. Prepare lessons well. Give scripturally based sermons. Teach the revealed doctrine. Bear heartfelt testimony. Pray and practice and try to improve. In our administrative meetings let us both “instruct and edify” as the revelations say, that even in these our teaching may ultimately be “from on high.”20 The Church will be the better for it, and so will you, for as Paul said to the Romans, “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?”21

6. I've saved this last loss to the end, but it's one I've addressed before over ten years ago in a post entitled, "Relief Society is Raucous." [Be sure and read the first comment]

Nothing has changed, really. If anything, the problem has gotten worse. Women talk incessantly throughout the meeting.

It runs counter to scriptural teaching:

Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.

What really solidified this in my mind was when I was in library school about 20 years ago and attending class in Salt Lake City, Utah. We had three different teachers call us out on our behavior because women were incessantly talking among themselves as the teacher was trying to teach.

Each teacher strongly suggested that this behavior was unbecoming mature adults, rude, and totally beyond the pale. The last teacher I remember addressing this strongly suggested we carefully consider how we were behaving.

Mortified, I knew it was the Latter-day Saint women who were engaging in all this objectionable behavior because I knew who they were. The teacher didn't.

My Catholic seatmate at the time of the third incident remarked to me, "This is so rude and it happens all the time here. It's a Utah thing." "No" I sadly assured her, "It's a Mormon thing."

She gaped at me, obviously astonished I was criticizing aspects of my religion rather than staunchly defending it.

I was actually condemning the culture and it deserves to be condemned. Talking incessantly through Relief Society and other meetings is rude, immature, and totally beneath us.

When will it stop?

An additional problem with this is something I personally experience and one I've confirmed afflicts my older friends. When someone is talking, if there are other voices close, I can't hear anything. Competing voices make it impossible for me to hear any of them and I know I'm not alone in this.

Isn't Satan at the Core of This?

I think Satan is trying to corrupt our meetings using these techniques and others. What better way than to use tiny incremental steps to corrupt us that eventually turn into accepted habits and procedures that we fail to question?

It fits what Nephi remarked on in 2 Nephi 26:22:

... yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.

A single flaxen thread is weak and can easily be broken. A group of flaxen threads makes for a very strong cord, one very difficult to break. 


Shortly before I made the decision to stop attending Relief Society altogether, I stomped out of it one Sunday and stomped into Priesthood, mad as a hornet. I plunked down next to my husband who apparently didn't dare ask me at that time what was wrong. He wisely decided to postpone that discussion.

I loved Priesthood. I could hear, there was reverence, a well-crafted lesson, pertinent discussion, and obvious spirituality.

What's more, I could hear in a room that had more room configuration problems than the Relief Society room I'd just left.

It was heaven.

Obviously, attending Priesthood is not a viable long-term option. I now find a quiet place to sit in the building and read the digital-only articles in the Liahona.

My husband fetches me after Priesthood and we discuss what happened there.

I'm much happier. I'm no longer grumpy and I'm no longer spitting tacks.

If you are prone to blow off my concerns as unimportant and just instruct people like me to adapt and accept, I think you need to reconsider.

I believe Heavenly Father cares very much about how His gospel is being taught.

This aggregation of marginal losses in Relief Society could be reversed using the principles Elder Dunn addressed and culminate in an aggregation of marginal gains.

This could happen. I hope it does.

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