Much has been made in the media of Willard “Mit” Romney laying his hand on Rick Perry’s shoulder during a recent Republican debate in Las Vegas. Commentators were quick to condemn my former missionary companion (what a wonderful 2 1/2 years we spent together in Paris, France!) for what they interpreted as an aggressive incursion into Brother Rick Perry’s personal space. It was even suggested that the verbally challenged Texas governor would have been fully justified in hauling off and belting Mit in the nose.
Given all the hysteria about the incident, I feel duty-bound to come to Willard’s defense (his closest friends refer to him by his first name, but to avoid confusion I will use Mit, the moniker by which he is known by his legion of admirers). Let me say, first of all, that those unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of our faith community might very well interpret the hand on the shoulder as an act of physical aggression. For them, the fact that the petulant Mr. Perry was hectoring Mit about employing illegal aliens to beautify his Belmont estate does not justify Mit’s action.
But those anti-Willardians always want to think the worst of Mit. I’m here to say that the public image—his wooden persona, his fake laugh, his testy temperament—is not the real man. (He has been unfairly pilloried and vilified for tying poor Seamus, the faithful family pet, to the top of his car for a trip across the windy wastes of eastern Canada. You know what dogs are like—they love being in the wind!)
At this point, I realize it is an uphill climb to acquaint the public with the real Mit, my good friend Willard. But we can go a long way toward that end by telling the real story and the true facts behind laying his hand on Gov. Perry’s shoulder. To begin with, it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that Mit’s gesture was not an act of aggression, but an act of Mormon and, yes, Christian love. (I’m sick and tired of the anti-Willardians saying Mormons aren’t Christians, but that’s another story.)
Anyone familiar with our faith community will have seen the shoulder touch, or some variation thereof, hundreds, yea, thousands of times. Mit, as the perhaps most illustrious member of our faith community, has utilized the gesture thousands upon thousands of times. (As we now know from research into the science of mastery, any art requires a minimum of 10,000 repetitions to achieve mastery.)
At first, one learns from observation, and then advances to the recipient stage, getting the hang of hand laying from experiencing in a tactile fashion all the gradations, combinations and permutations of the priestly gesture. (We should acknowledge that the laying on of hands is exclusively a masculine prerogative; the female equivalent is limited to two, or at most three, fingers gently applied to the forearm of the target audience.)
Initiation into the art of hand laying begins in earnest during the ecclesiastical adventure known among the laity as a mission. I’ll never forget Elder Romney’s first fumbling efforts to apply what is known in the handbook as the patriarchal squeeze. These efforts resulted in bruising and hematomas in the upper-arm region and often dissuaded investigators from pursuing further instruction. But in no time, Mit learned to moderate the squeeze and moved on to master the art of the neck massage (or technically known as the intermittent deltoid pinching maneuver).
The neck massage is, of course, a more informal variation of hand laying, usually employed during casual meet-and-greets, such as ward picnics and grocery-store encounters. Unless otherwise specified, the deltoid maneuver is reserved for members of the priesthood, of either the Aaronic or Melchizedek variety. (It’s much too complicated to delineate such hand-laying combinations as the shake & squeeze, the shake & shoulder drape and the difficult to execute anterior pat & rub.)
Through the years, Mit has so mastered the practice of laying on of hands that the full arsenal of the art has become second nature. What occurred during the Las Vegas debate was something rarely glimpsed in the secular sphere. That deft touch—delicate, but supremely dominant—to a subordinates’s shoulder is known among the cognoscenti as the Sure Sign of Authority. Recipients, to a man, experience a perplexing feeling of complete submission. So masterful, and so precisely calibrated was Mit’s execution of the Sure Sign of Authority that we can be certain that Brother Perry is forever toast.
D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.