People are strange

Why on Earth would I tell that story in that way?

I imagined explaining to Rachael why we could not agree to do some task, and beginning by disclosing how a number of Quakers decided that I am very bad indeed. But why say that? It is ridiculous!

-To be understood. To gain sympathy.

-To alienate. To push away sympathy, and be judged. This is not necessarily incompatible with the former motive.

-To prove what I am saying. I could merely say, “We can’t”. Like it or lump it. Instead, I imagined giving a long story explaining to force her to see it exactly as I do, a story, an understanding which I have rehearsed, myself,

possibly seeing it better, possibly reinforcing blind spots-

There is a useful goal in here somewhere. I want her to do the job herself, and not blame me. Possibly, though, I want to maintain my own self-concept, though that motivation is shadowy and I am not clear how it works. Whatever, there is a useful goal, but it is not my primary purpose.

Pat came to talk to me, of her Buddhist group having internal ructions and various people storming off. Not what you think of Buddhists, or Quakers, perhaps, but we are human. Andrew wrote, I find it ironic- and a little sad…that you and I, Quakers both, can be at loggerheads. But of course we are. We have different views, and I particularly resent that his solution to something I did not even see as a problem would be me walking more than ten miles in total, at particular times however inconvenient to me. Had I not checked with him, I would not have known of this brilliant plan even now.

Pat told me that because I had thrown a wobbly inside the Quaker meeting, and gone to sit outside in the sun. I would not have done that if I thought I would be harshly judged for it. I was sitting thinking of how I would respond to her, while she was talking, but the main message she got over was, “People are strange”. She repeated this several times, and only because of that it got through. Yes. Possibly others as well as me have fixed ideas about how people should respond, and get surprised. Rather than giving a long complex explanation about group dynamics, I said, “Sometimes a row clears the air”, which said all I needed to say.

So I resist experience, and resist my own responses to it, and that involves me in so much work. Instead being open might frustrate me less. This huge heavy framework of my responses to situations just gets in the way, but putting it down frightens me.

So I reassure myself.
I am learning.
I don’t get everything right, but I don’t need to; it is usually right enough.
I have been learning, all my life.
I am good enough.

I am away from the blog for a bit, but hope to be writing again soon.

Degas, little milliners

You statements

Sulking, Edgar Degas-You were angry.
-No, I wasn’t.

OK, you were in Brook No Contradiction mode. You stated The Truth, leaving no room for my thought or my perception or anyone else’s. From my position it felt like anger: there was the force of you, ready to push aside any other view, because it was wrong. So we could unite, where we should be, behind you.

Quite sexy, actually, definitely to my taste. Often, I am prepared to fall into line. It is so much easier, and it is so nice to have a single position we can all unite in- and- wearing, sometimes. Sometimes, I want to say-
steady on…
I tend to think…
er…

Or even, Now just you wait one damn minute. Though that is quite rare, obviously.

OK, you weren’t angry, you weren’t even confrontational, because no contradiction was stated so there was no confrontation necessary. You were just stating The Truth, in an entirely reasonable way- though from my position it felt forceful.

Non-violent communication values I-statements: I perceived X, and I felt Y. This is not a demand, except in the most passive-aggressive way: in confronting a demand with an I-statement, I take the moral high ground so you better do as I see fit. Sometimes You statements are a necessary preliminary to useful communication:

You are completely wrong
and it would be really good if you just stuck your head down the loo and flushed it
to save everyone else the bother.

Under the wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai

I am wary of I-statements. Sometimes they can be part of a joint endeavour to reach the best way forward, and sometimes they can be a fencing match.

God was not a fun one

ProspectI had this comment:
قل هوالله احد الله الصمد لم يلد ولم يولد ولم يكن لهو كفوان احد

Well. There is always Google translate: Say Hoallah one God Samad begets not and was not a fun one Kovan. From the context, I thought Samad meant LGBT, but in fact it is The Eternal, a name for God. Instead of cursing the gays, he is denying the divinity of Jesus, a doctrine about which I am agnostic. Kovan is more difficult. It is unlikely to mean the suburb and Underground station in Singapore; Google gives me no likely meaning.

I understand that some Muslims believe that the Koran should not be translated: the revelation was in Arabic, and translating it changes the words. Revelation says, If anyone adds anything to [the words of prophecy], God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. In Oldham, the Asian children go to Koran classes after school, and learn the alphabet and how to read it by rote, with little understanding. The trouble is that I do not understand it. If you speak to me, please make some effort to help me understand. I am doing all the work here.

I replied that Jesus is God’s son, and we are God’s children. He said,
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاتة يا اهل الكتاب تعالو الي كلمة سواء بيننا وبينكم الا نعبد الاالله والانشرك بة شيء فان توليتو فشهدو بانا مسلمون المسيح علية السلام رسول عظيم من رسل الله وفقك الله الخالق لم يحب ويرضا

Google translate gives “Peace, mercy and blessings of God, O People of the Book ĘÚÇáć word to both you and us, but we worship and Alllah Alanscherk expe something the Tlito Vhhdo PANA DurgaMuslims Christ peace be upon him a great messenger of God’s messengers of God the Creator and enabled you did not like and Aarza”. Unhelpful.

They deny that I am a follower of Jesus. Oh. OK. Well, the Koran has Jesus deny his divinity: God will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, “Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God”? He will say: “Glory to thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I have not known what is in thine. For thou knowest in full all that is hidden.

More googling. I found a page which says how Muslims should address Christians: dispute ye not with the People of the Book except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say “We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow. So, perhaps this commenter only wanted to say what he was commanded to say, in the way he was commanded to say it- “I’m right, and you are wrong”. And, having said it, he is absolved from any responsibility for my descent to Jahannam. Oh well. At least he wanted to say something.

Americanisms

I have been playing among the variations in our common language.

Fall/ Autumn is fascinating. Wikipedia says Fall was, originally, the English word in England, and “Autumn” superseded it. It is the time the leaves fall from the trees. “Autumn” is clearly related to the French “automne”, so our linguistic nationalism may be misdirected: we have abandoned our Anglo-Saxon heritage. But The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED) dates “Autumn” to late middle English, before 1500, and “fall” in this sense to the middle 16th century. So, perhaps, the US stuck with its linguistic nationalism, but the English reverted to our beautiful French word. Why should we not decorate our language with French? There is no shame in it, now, because we are no longer forced to.

Pavement/ Sidewalk. “Sidewalk”, the place where you walk down the side of the street, is etymologically more sensible. The “pavement” was that part of the street at the side paved with stone, or concrete, or tarmac, different from the middle of the street, which was bare mud for the carts. Now the whole road is “paved”. But our word preserves the link to the past, and no-one has difficulty understanding it.

Fortnight. 14 days, a useful word rarely used in the US. Like “Septante” in Français canadien rather than soixante-dix. We could learn from each other.

Elevator/ Lift. But, you know what a lift is- don’t you? More serious for failure of communication is the difference between the ground floor and the first floor, which may or may not be the same thing.

Butt, Ass/ Bum, Arse, the more embarrassing something is the more euphemisms and dysphemisms we create for it. Both butt and bum are late middle English- used here first; ass and arse are both Old English, before 1066. Being linguistically nationalist- oh, yes- I cling to “arse” and “bum” and would deride and object to someoneFile:Andrew Stevovich oil painting, Bus Stop, 2001, 24" x 24" .jpg here using the alternative. And “Fanny” is something else entirely, talking of a man’s fanny is just weird. But for this word, the Army Rumour Service might have a different name.

Durex- in the US, a roll of cellophane and adhesive, like Sellotape; in the UK, a brand of condom. Leave a comment if you knew that. Still, better to keep repeating it, to avoid embarrassment.

Bangs/ fringe. I heard the word “bangs” and had no idea what it meant. Fall/ Autumn everyone knows, “bangs” is a word which may fail to communicate meaning. That is a problem.

On the trains, I understand Americans go to “track 1” rather than “platform 1”. I would not want to wait for a train on the track, I might get run over.

Period/ full stop. This was one of the fifty most objectionable to the British, according to the BBC. Either might fail to communicate on the other side of the pond, but why “Objectionable”? Time magazine says Americans could not care less. Or could care less. Or something. Objectionable, because we feel weaker, and we wish to maintain our independence. Indeed. Some of the objectionable words seem to be neologisms rather than Americanisms- “the old is better”, people say. Er, why?

What is the best word? The word which communicates an idea most clearly and elegantly. It is probably better to avoid using an americanism if it will cause apoplexy in the hearer and divert the discussion to the proper manner of communicating rather than the idea expressed, or if it will be misunderstood- which is a shame, if it really is the most expressive word.

Second picture copyright Andrew Stevovich.

John Perrot’s hat

Part of the Quaker testimony to equality is a thrawn insistence on showing only the respect of an equal, even to the monarch. When a man addressed a superior as “you” and an equal or inferior as “thou”, we called all men “thou”; and where an inferior would take off his hat to his betters, we took off our hats to no man, no Lord, no judge. Our founders were put in prison for this lack of respect.

Men worshipped wearing their hats, a custom we in Britain have dropped only in the last century. A friend wanted to get a Quaker hat, but the problem was that there was no one design: the Quakers’ hats and bonnets were visibly different from those of outsiders, but their fashions changed over two hundred years.

Fashions change in Ministry, as well. I have only ever heard ministry which is addressed to the gathered congregation. People talk of God, of right conduct or of politics with a moral slant; but I am aware that there is a convention if anyone in ministry prays to God. The minister in that case kneels down, and everyone else stands. And, when the men wore hats, they would take them off.

John Perrot, who still does not have his own Wikipedia article, wished to keep his hat on during prayer. He argued that if taking off the hat was no true honour to another man, it was no true honour to God either. George Fox imposed his authority, and Perrot was driven out of the Society of Friends.

Where we have ritual- shaking hands to end a meeting, or the guidance on what is appropriate Ministry- it helps that it is the same across the country. We seek the leadings of God in making our decisions, but the orthodox Quaker custom had evolved in worship and been affirmed by decisions made in worship. Perrot sought to go his own way on this.

My own refusal to obey authority led to a minute of disunity from my area meeting, condemning me. That minute was reversed when it was considered by wise Quakers from outside the AM, but  that process was incredibly painful for me. As a lawyer, I want to distinguish the imposition of authority on me from that on Perrot. When I made a stand against my friend being scapegoated, I was myself scapegoated, wrongfully. I absolutely refused the ultimatum imposed on me. I was always willing to meet in Worship to discern a way forward, and promote reconciliation between my friend and her persecutors. Fortunately, I am happy in my current area meeting, and I have a role in which I serve it.

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Ours is a Society without a hierarchy. We make decisions together, seeking God’s loving purposes: what is the right thing for us to do, here, now? Our Quaker roles, of Elder and Overseer (from Greek “Episcopos”) circulate among the members of the meeting. 

Retreating together is a powerful thing, able to build community, and that is why it is an excellent thing for Northamptonshire AM or Central Manchester LM to do, and in this case such a toxic thing for South Wales AM elders and overseers to do. It was in one of their retreats that they considered a conflict between one of themselves and a vulnerable but committed Friend, and decided to exonerate themselves, and scapegoat her. Seeing that it was a conflict between themselves and one Friend, H, they should have sought outside help and reconciliation: but they did not see that. The outside helper already involved was asking them uncomfortable questions, so they rudely told her that her assistance was no longer required, and started a sustained campaign of bullying and vilification. That has led, two years later, to H’s exclusion from the Society of Friends.

At area meetings discussing this, where Friends are supposed to attend “with hearts and minds prepared”, elders and overseers have worked very hard to prevent the facts being known. Only their interpretation could be heard. They directly accused me of lying, behind my back, when I could not be present and had no chance to respond, and on the evidence of one witness, which was contradicted by her own writing. When I complained their accusation was false, they silenced me: I was impugning the word of the one of them who called me a liar. One reason they gave for silencing me was that she was not present to answer me, a rich hypocrisy. Thereby, they forced through the minute of disunity with me, which was only reversed on appeal six months later. Because I had moved, they sent a letter to my new area meeting. Perhaps fortunately, it condemned me utterly, and portrayed me in an entirely negative light: it was therefore belied by experience of me. I am accepted and happy in my Quaker meeting, no thanks to the liars in South Wales.

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The appeal panel overturned the minute of disunity, which is now void. They specifically criticised South Wales elders and overseers for claiming that I alone was responsible for the conflict. Having more delicacy than I about the use of the word “lie”, they call this an “oversimplification”. In the meeting of the AM which received the appeal panel’s report, elders and overseers prevented this criticism from being read out. And so they continued their campaign of mendacity to force through the humiliation of my Friend H.

My current area meeting show their regard for me by appointing me assistant clerk. I am unsure of the current situation in South Wales and Cardiff Meeting. Sometimes, scapegoating and expulsion of an innocent victim, and the creation of an out-group, can make a community bond more closely. Quakers should have a more excellent way of building community.

Community Building

“Community building” following the ideas of Scott Peck is a theory of group work. We sit in a circle and speak as moved, for a weekend. Peck’s theory is that we cycle through four stages:

Pseudo-community, where we behave to each other as we might at a party with people we know slightly. We are on our best behaviour, showing a mask to the world.

Chaos, where we explore our differences frankly and openly. We may try to “fix” another participant, making them how we know they ought to be. We argue, we express hurt which is often not heard. If we participate in this to the edge of the comfort zone, showing ourselves completely, we may proceed further. If it just gets too uncomfortable we may retreat to pseudo-community for a sense of safety.

Emptiness, the stage of shedding the parts in me which block the process. I shed my illusions and demands on myself and others. If there is more of the work to be done, we may return to chaos. If enough of us do enough of the work, we move forward to Community.

Community, in this scheme, is a sense of being in the moment together, accepting each other and ourselves, able to share deeply.

Rather than moving forward from Chaos to Emptiness, we may escape it into Organisation, where we explicitly or implicitly accept rules for working and being together. This prevents forward movement. This part of Peck’s theory directly contradicts the tag, “Storming- norming- performing” where chaos leads to rule-making, which leads to productivity. There can be wise, creative and liberating rule-making, but it is less than is possible for free human beings.

Ideally, Quaker worship, including our decision making which is done during a meeting for worship, cycles between Emptiness and Community. In decision making we may disagree, but we are attached to The Good rather than our own understanding of it, so the group uses the wisdom of all its members. Unfortunately, this is very difficult. Quakers’ deep discomfort with chaos means that if we cannot empty properly we flee to increasingly shallow pseudo-community, with all conflict swept under the carpet until it explodes.

Peck started the Foundation for Community Encouragement in the US, to organise workshops around this model. In the early 1990s, people from the US came to train people in Britain to facilitate this work. In 1999, a friend who had done one of the weekends recommended it to me, and I went to a Christian CB weekend facilitated by an Episcopalian nun, ES. I went to a further weekend over new year 2000, and the facilitation training in May 2000. I then joined the Facilitator Training Group, which met for weekends three times a year, and which merged with the “Holding Group” to form the “Core Group” a few years later.

Here, I feel, the difficulty of making decisions using this model caused it to collapse. We got stuck in old patterns of conflict, no-one “emptying” enough to resolve them. Knowing and liking each other, we made decisions from what I call deep pseudo-community: we have the friendship, we can make a decision good enough to get by, rather than the decision from the basis of our wisdom and love.

If you wanted something done, you had to do it yourself. I just did not. Each time the core group came round, I would assess whether I could contribute anything to it in the state I was in, and regularly concluded that I could not. When I was nominated to facilitate it the first time, I and my co-facilitator did not do the work to get into community together beforehand. We established a very shallow working relationship which broke into chaos in the middle of the weekend. Later he phoned me and told me that he had found me attractive, and that he had found this a threat to his masculinity. When, later, I had my operation he sent an email to the whole group including the words, “Ah, Clare. Welcome back- what’s left of you.” He left the group.

I finally left the group over irreconcilable differences with Mike, perhaps our most creative and hard-working member. He organised the first week-long “Facilitating Ourselves” gatherings, where thirty of us would have a CB circle each morning and evening, hang out together in the evening after, and spend the day in Open Space. Open Space is a format where any person may propose a topic for a sub-group, the whole group then negotiates whether any of these can be amalgamated and which will go ahead, and “butterflies” can move between the sub-groups.

Mike also came up with a model for conflict resolution, where two people could state a position on their conflict, and then go away with supporters to discuss what the other had said, and decide what they wanted to say next. His latest idea for circle work involves a group who seek to get to Community, and discuss how they are trying to get there and where they get instead.

Seeing the person

File:Macaque neonatal imitation.pngIf I do not hear what other people say, do I see them? I understand there is an NLP tag, “perceiving is projecting”- so, No. Is it that bad? Well, it is my mirror neurons firing off when I try to understand another’s feelings: it is something in me, with my blind spots and my over-emphases. This might be most difficult when I know the situation, but not the reaction: Others may react to their particular situation differently: it is worth pausing to see the actual reaction not the reaction I would have imagined.

Those whose glass is half full find it easier to empathise with those whose glass is half empty than the other way round. The pessimists do not quite get what it is they are missing, and may not see that there is another way. Similarly, those operating on Fear do not quite get those who operate on Love, though when operating on fear I found that other kind, on rare occasions when I could perceive it, powerfully attractive.

It may be most difficult to see another’s reaction to myself. My own experience of myself is so intense it is hard to imagine that others do not experience me the same way: I project my judgment of myself onto others. Being aware of the issue is a good step.

Communicating

It was thoughtful, though hardly “Benzine is a ring” thoughtful; it was kind, though not the sort of kindness which actually put me out or cost anything. I said, that is not the most important thing in your father’s life, and my friend said that I had given her a new and liberating perspective. Ten years on, after I said that she said “I want to tell a different story now”. Cue girly screams of delight: this pleased me as much as anything last week. And, as so often, I was talking to myself. The other thing need not be the most important thing in my life, either.

Another friend told me something which really pleased me, though when I asked what she had meant it sounded subtly different. What I had heard was that she had been unable to see me as a woman (yes, that thing, still the most important thing in my life, I am working on it)- she had been unable to see me as a woman until she had wept over her own upbringing in Spain, before the death of Franco- and then she could see me as a woman. So I checked with her, and she told me, “Connecting with the grief of having being brought up in a Catholic, narrow minded and reactionary environment allowed me to fulfill your desire that I address you as a woman. After you revealed that you have been born a man I was conscious of something blocking me verbalizing that you were a woman, so I self-enquired and found that a conservative upbringing was the issue.”

I told another friend I had been hurt, and later she referred to “the man who had been really horrible to you”. But that was not what I had meant at all: I had been hurt by circumstances, and blamed no-one for it. Perhaps I should not ask, just imagine I have got over what I wanted to, it does not do great harm.

A Verse

Oh I cling to things
and I hoard things
and I fear loss
and I need not
for there is more where that came from

Oh I hide and I watch and I withdraw
I so fear if I touch, and I withdraw
and I fear hurt
and I need not
because I heal

Oh I seek to control
and I seek to understand
and I seek to name things
and I seek to force things
and I fear Unknowing

and I need not

because every thing is all right

I have hidden away
for I feared being seen
but I can relate
because I am all right