Honorable Enforcement

With the creation of the @honorcodestories Instagram account, there has been a ton of talk around the honor code office of Brigham Young University (BYU). In the last 72 hours or so the account has surged from 80 followers to over 12,000 (15,000 at the time of posting) and the owner of the account has been interviewed by a number of news channels and is preparing to give interviews for newspapers including at least 2 out of state papers. Suffice to say it’s quickly grown into quite the topic of discussion here in Provo and may become a talking point to even larger audiences as the week continues. I obviously want to get my two cents in because I’m just an opinionated punk who can’t help himself. It’s also something that I feel very strongly about.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the ins and outs of the honor code. You can read it for yourself here if you’re curious. All I’ll say is that most of it is already in line with teachings and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and with the vast majority of students at BYU being members so most of that stuff shouldn’t be all that controversial. I don’t have a real problem with the honor code itself, if it were up to me I’d tweak a few things but nothing major. My beef is with how the honor code is enforced and the office that does that enforcing. So let’s remember that going forward. Honor code? weird but OK. Honor code office? Terrible and in desperate need of change.

Let’s also get something clear, one of the central ideas, in fact, the central idea of The Church is that Jesus Christ suffered in Gethsemane and died on Calvary so he could atone for the sins of humanity. This means that we can all repent of sin and be forgiven. Forgiveness and mercy are what’s emphasized in Church teaching. It should follow then that an institution like BYU and its enforcement of their honor code should emphasize forgiveness and mercy, but forgiveness and mercy are not what is emphasized by the honor code office. The honor code office is one that seeks to mete out punishment and what they view as justice at every opportunity. It is not a place where merciful solutions are sought out. This massive difference in approach is at the core with my problem with the honor code office. Nothing about what I’m reading feels like they have any love for the students they’re supposed to be helping.

I should also mention that I have no personal history with the honor code office. I’ve never been asked to come in. No punishment has been given to me or anything like that. I’ve been somewhat aware of the absurdities of the honor code office, but never in a direct way. It was just this week where I started to learn more about the specifics and these stories are what’s really got my stomach turning.

One thing about the honor code office that honestly just boggles my mind are the stories of students who have done things before they attended BYU (and therefore before they signed the honor code) that would be considered against the honor code and the punishments handed out for such actions. We all get why this is backwards right? How it’s totally unfair to punish someone for doing something BEFORE they agreed not to do it? Right? So we can all agree that’s messed up.

Another frightening practice I see in these stories that very much bothers me is how honor code office will call mental health clinics and demand confidential information about students who have used their services.

That is beyond a yikes from me. It’s disgusting.

It’s just a horrible thing to try and violate the confidentiality of a patient and their therapist. For some students, their therapist may be the only person they feel like they can trust with this sensitive information regarding deeply personal and potentially traumatic events in their lives and the expectation of confidentiality is one of the things that can help these students feel comfortable enough to talk about their traumas and begin to work through them and heal. I can’t imagine how much of a setback it could be for someone working through trauma to not only find out your therapist gave away your secret but you now have the added stress that you may be kicked out of university for trusting a therapist. Not OK.

Then there’s the difference in enforcement by the honor code office between women and men. A horrific theme that emerges is of women who get assaulted by their boyfriends or guys they’re on a date with. They (The women) then report themselves to the honor code office and are punished whilst the men get off Scot-free or perhaps a slap on the wrist. It’s totally unacceptable under any circumstance. Even if you think the honor code is totally backwards you would agree that the insanity should be applied evenly to all who agree to it no? If there is was even a single instance where this has happened in a place like a corporation or other professional environment heads would roll for something so terrible.

I don’t want to just sit here and complain about all the things I think are awful about the honor code office. I want to try and offer the bare bones of what a solution would be for them. It’s really rather simple. You need a dramatic culture shift within the honor code office. Remember earlier when I pointed out that The Church preaches forgiveness and mercy through Jesus Christ and his Atonement? The honor code office needs to reflect those teachings, not strive against it.

Students who make honest mistakes should not worry about whether they’ve jeopardized their entire academic career because things got a little hot and heavy with their girlfriend/boyfriend or they let peer pressure get the better of them and had a few drinks. When students feel this way their instinct is going to be to hide from their actions, and this develops a culture of secrecy that can only lead to worse problems.

Students who break the honor code rules should not be immune to consequences for their actions, and I would never suggest that, but those consequences should be structured in a way that reminds these students that even though they’ve fallen down that their school is there to help them back up, not kick them while they’re down. Shaming those who are trying to do good has no place at the Lord’s university. People in need of help should be directed to their church leaders who love and care for them, and if those leaders aren’t able to show that love for them we need to find the leaders that will. The Savior taught with an unending love for all of mankind, sinners and saints alike. If BYU really is his university the people who watch over the students need to go forth with that same love.

I love so many things about BYU, but reading these stories just makes my heart ache and my stomach turn. I hope things get better at the honor code office, I hope they change into an institution that people praise for love and understanding. That’s not up to me though. I’m just one student that believes things can and should be better. Later

Image sourced from BYU, I claim no ownership over it.

Belated Birthdays

It’s been a busy couple of days so I haven’t found the time to get a birthday blog post written out.

Ok, let’s talk about my year. When I turned 25 last year the reality was that I was not in a really good place. Turning 25 was a point where I made a realization that I really wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing with my life. I felt creatively stunted, burnt out, and easily worst of all totally unmotivated to even bother trying to change things.

Luckily this didn’t persist. I got back into writing with a determined focus to find my voice in words. I still think there’s a lot of room for refinement, but I think this whole informal, conversational tone I’ve been doing lately has been a really good fit for me and it’s shown itself in the outstanding improvements to my writing over this past year.  I’m honest to goodness stunned with how much progress I made as a writer in the past year, and also with how much room I still have to grow. I’m really excited to keep improving this blog and the rest of my writing in general.

Life didn’t change just in terms of writing through this last year either. I’ve made it abundantly clear in my blog that my relationship with religion, for the most part, has been pretty casual, there was a brief moment where I took it real serious and it didn’t pan out well so for a very long time I kept it at arms distance. Maybe enough time had passed and my heart had softened, or maybe living in Utah for two years has just worn me down, but religion has taken a much more prominent role in my life again. I’ll never be one of those Peter Priesthood types that really push religion out of every orifice of my body but it definitely matters to me in a real way again. Weirdly enough it was all the little social things the church does that got me actually taking my religion seriously again. So even though I like to make fun of things like FHE, Ward activities, Break the Fast, etc. (sorry if you’re not up on your Morm… Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint’s lingo)  I have to admit that those things played a big role in actually getting me back to church on a regular basis.

Combining with a newfound sense of focus and pride in my writing and a renewed faith, I also found it in me this year to actually try and be a social human being again. I felt like I actually had the confidence to put myself out there, I mean I’m still pretty introverted so it really worked out more like I fell into a social circle but hey, take those W’s where you can find them. I did actually put myself out there in the world of dating and experienced legitimate success. What the F… That still strikes me as utterly and totally bizarre. Maybe I’ll get used to that at some point, but it’s probably more likely that I’ll continue to be in total bewilderment for the time being.

So long as I remember to take deep breaths and not act like a total weirdo I should be fine. Wait I do act like a total weirdo like all the time… oh boy…

Weird rambling about dating that I’m definitely going to get flak for aside, my 26th year on this planet turned out pretty great. I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out. I’m not satisfied though, I need to build on the successes I had last year and continue to refine myself and what I do. That should be a lot of fun. Later!


I swear this is the last one of these things, we’re going back to random stuff like movies real soon.

Going through the message my uncle sent me several weeks ago and taking the time to think through some of the ideas presented in it has got me thinking about identity. How do we see ourselves? For a lot of people, it’s a really tough question, not because we don’t know how we see ourselves, but rather that we can’t be totally sure that the way we see ourselves is accurate.  Do we overexaggerate our strengths and underestimate weaknesses in character? Do we do the opposite and consistently underestimate our own abilities whilst downplaying personal failings.

Are we at times delusional about who we are at our cores?  Do we think we’re really funny when that’s just not the case? Do we think ourselves bland and basic when in reality we’re fascinating and unique individuals? Who knows?

Here’s what I know about my identity. For most of my life, I’ve felt very clearly split into two separate identities.  Not in like a mental disorder kind of way where my whole personality shifts. It’s more like I can pretty clearly see that based on what decisions I make I can go down two radically different paths in life.

Let me elaborate.

On one hand, is JonnyT the entertainer. He thinks only at the moment and never about what path his life might take. He’s creative, he’s funny, and he loses his mind every day sitting through lectures for classes he has no care for at a university he doesn’t really want to be at. Every day he dreams about dropping out, moving to LA and making a go of it in entertainment. He knows full well the odds of that working in his favour are well below 1%, but he still really really wants to do it. He’s decided that it’s ok to work random jobs for the rest of his life so long as he gets to keep expressing himself in a creative way. It’s not that he doesn’t believe in God, it’s just that he doesn’t think about it ever. It just doesn’t matter to him.

On the other hand is Jonathan Tollestrup, member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He’s a deeply religious person who can relate just about everything that happens to him to the gospel. He goes to BYU because he wants to get a degree that will allow him to get a 9-5 job so that one day he can provide for a family. He does this because he knows that’s what he’s supposed to do and its definitely what his parents want him to do. He knows that he’s about to turn 26, and if he’s not careful he might end up being that weird uncle that lives on his own forever. He looks constantly to the future, and he worries about if he’ll measure up to his potential. Religion is the absolute center of his life and even though sometimes the culture of the church frustrates him he loves being a part of it.

Together there is Jonny Tollestrup. He still identifies as a member of the Church, though he’d have to admit he doesn’t think about it as much as he ought to. He’s pretty sure he could make a gospel comparison for just about every situation but opts to make jokes instead usually. He does attend BYU but holy does he not like it. He knows what he wants to do with his life and he knows that there isn’t much room for him to work on it at school. It’s not like there’s a major in stand-up with minors in blogging. He’s there because he’s too afraid to take the plunge and really shoot his shot at his dreams. He doesn’t really want to drop everything and move to LA either though. He just wants to have more time to actually try out all the whacky ideas in his head, but he worries people won’t see it as an authentic expression but rather a desperate plea for attention.

He’s all too aware of his age. 26 isn’t old for most people, but for an unwed fellow in Utah is concerning to him.  also knows that being able to provide for a family is important to him because at some point he does want that. Not in the immediate future, but definitely at some point and if he’s going to do that he’s probably going to need a degree of some sort. He also realizes that he might be downloading his own insecurities onto a blog post at this very moment and that he should probably not be mentioning this stuff out loud. Too late. Later.


The Narrative

The next thing my uncle asked about in his message to me was about writing against the popular narratives in my life. Within the context of Fiji to Provo that’s about talking about losing my faith in a church I was raised in and how this loss of faith unravelled me and forced me to reconsider who I even was.  This process was even further complicated by the fact that my loss of faith was not permanent. I’m now a fully active member of the church again, even though I must admit that doubts still linger. Honestly though if you don’t have any doubts about your faith I would call that a little suspect. I’m not saying that every religious person needs to seriously reconsider their faith for the sake of reconsidering it. Even if it’s just really small things people should at least some level be willing to question what they know. You certainly don’t have to abandon what you know as you go about with questions, but I believe that being willing to question is an invaluable trait to possess.

There are other major narratives in my life that I feel I run contrary to. Actually contrary is a poor word to use there. It would be more accurate to say that I just never feel like I run parallel to these narratives. Let’s take the big kahuna for example. Marriage. At this moment in time, and throughout the majority of my adult life, I have had pretty much no desire to be married. There were brief flashes where settling down sounded really appealing, but they were puddles compared to the ocean of time I’ve spent thinking marriage is a ludicrous concept.  It is the most insane gamble any single person will ever take in their life, you make a bet that this person whom you’ve fallen madly in love with will remain a person you love for the rest of your life AND that you’ll remain a person they’ll be in love with. Do you know how long people are living these days? Holy crap it’s a long time. The most committed relationship in my life has been to World of Warcraft and even then I’ve taken a number of year+ breaks from it, you don’t really get that option in a marriage do ya?


Jeff Confused.gif
Every time I hear about a new couple getting married. Every. Time.


I know that within my culture as a mid-twenties male who is active in the church and living in Utah county I’m supposed to be seeking out a wife and aiming to settle down and start a family.  I’m just not there. Honest to goodness what I’m banking on is that one day I’ll meet a nice (not too nice, she’s gotta push back on my sarcasm) women, fall head over heels and then things will just “click” and I’ll like understand why people get married. if that doesn’t happen, then I’ll just settle for being a good uncle or something. Only time will tell how this story will play out.

The next narrative I want to tackle is a more odd one. Alcohol. I don’t have a narrative in my life around alcohol, but I’d be lying if it didn’t dwell on my mind more than I care to admit. I’ve definitely joked a bunch in my life about how I’m curious to see what kind of drunk I would be. Would I be an angry fellow? Super energetic? Would I suddenly become really really social? I don’t know, but my best guess is that I’d be that guy in the corner of the bar bearing my soul to whoever/whatever I thought was listening to me. Also, there’d probably be a lot of crying involved. That’s just my best guess though. I’m unlikely to ever get a firm answer.

There is another bit about alcohol that I don’t talk to people about. It is that I’ve for a very long time had a sort of romantic view of the stereotypical “tortured writer”. Some version of me that has to reach for the bottle every day just to make it through and is forced to take all of my pain and make it into some profound writing. This partially extends back to my time in Fiji, in those lowest of low moments on that island I turned my pain into just so much writing. I’ve never written as much as I wrote in Fiji, though thankfully I’ve improved a fair bit since then. I’m perpetually jealous of how much I could write then though, it’s one of the few silver linings about my mission honestly.

Now I know that objectively being a tortured soul like that would be just an awful existence, but I cannot deny that there a part of me that wonders that if I was so miserable and tortured could I be a truly great writer? Am I gated in some way by my sobriety? It’s a terribly dark part of my mind that I am working on quieting each and every day, I’m working on believing that a truly happy version of myself can write just as well as the miserable version, but being totally true to the goals of this blog I must say that part of me still exists.

If you’ve never heard City and Colour “Death of Me” the song pretty well sums up this weird romantic view on tortured souls and alcoholism.

Also since we’re on a somewhat related note I want to say that psychedelics really interest me and if it wasn’t for my faith in the church I would 100% have tried them out., but I’m not going to, so please don’t offer.

I think that about sums up the major narratives I feel I mostly run against. This was good, I’m glad I got to talk about some of these things out loud, feels good. Catch Y’all later! Make good choices, unless you don’t to, it’s your choice really.


Wagering on the Afterlife

What happens after we die? For some people this is a really easy question to answer, others struggle with it greatly. Personally, I subscribe to the belief that after I die I can return to live with a loving God in another life. I know a lot of people don’t subscribe to such a belief and in fact, may believe me a ridiculous human being for believing in such a thing, but I do. I didn’t always though and I’d be lying if part of what influenced me to return to being a believer was Pascal’s Wager.

For those who have yet to take introductory philosophy courses, Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician and philosopher who lived in the 1600’s. He suggested that human beings make a wager on whether or not God exists and live their lives accordingly. Pascal also suggested that a rational human being would live their life as though God did exist because if God existed (and therefore an afterlife) you would be rewarded for your belief and if you died and there was no God well… none of this really matters then does it? The basic idea is that if you’re unsure of the existence of God you should “hedge your bet” by acting as though God exists.

Simple right? Obviously not. There are some pretty clear problems with Pascal’s Wager, right off the top of my head Pascal’s Wager does not account for the huge sum of religions and interpretations of God (or Gods) that exist. It’s one thing to believe in a deity, but another entirely to believe in the right one. This is exemplified by the fact that Pascal himself was a staunch follower of a niche sect of Catholicism, a religion like my own that believes that they are the one true church. Sure Pascal thought he was doing the smart thing but this wager doesn’t really account for what happens if you believe in the wrong God does it?

Pascal’s Wager also doesn’t really account for what experiences/aspects of life a person can miss out on because they deny them on account of their religious belief. Like I won’t ever know what it’s like to get drunk because it’s part of my religion to abstain from alcohol. It might be a lot of fun, I might’ve done things I would never do sober and there is surely a chance that my mortal life could be diminished by not having those experiences but that’s what I’ve chosen to do. (or perhaps more accurately not do)

The final area where Pascal’s Wager comes short (at least in my mind, I’m sure more philosophically minded people can think of other things) is the idea that heaven can be diminished by not having friends and family there with you. Could there not be an argument constructed that if your religious beliefs could separate you from those you care about in a mortal life it may not be necessarily worth it to hedge your bet on an afterlife then? Maybe, luckily for me, I haven’t ever been put into that sort of a situation. I’ve yet to have to disavow someone in my life because of religious belief and I sincerely hope I never have to, but it’s something to be aware of I suppose.

Why am I bringing this all up though? Talking about religion has never been something I’ve done much of on this blog.

I bring it up because I stumbled onto what I consider to be a pretty interesting article (Right here btw) that talked about how it relates specifically to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints members. (This whole moving away from using Mormons thing is starting to get real exhausting honestly) In the article, the author brings up another wager that in my mind works a little better. He refers to it as Mr. Rogers’ Wager and the basic idea of that is that if we simply act the best we can while loving and respecting those around us. This is also taught in the Bible in Matthew 22: 35-40 with the addition of loving your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. It’s also in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, “Be excellent to each other and PARTY ON DUDES!”. It’s a pretty common thought honestly, but it is one I think has a lot of value and with that thought, I’ll wrap up for the day. Thanks for reading, later.