Understanding others

I am suffering a bit from familiar foibles. You know what I mean: those foibles in other people and cultures – always easier to spot than one’s own. They make me grumpy – or, maybe I am already grumpy and therefore I notice how people in one country talk rather than listen, shout rude things out of their car windows as they cruise pass the puffing cyclist, or so overwhelm the vegetables with salt and strong taste that it is hard to know what the lump is under the coating of dark maroon sauce. (To be fair, this was in a university canteen – not the type of facility known for cooking excellence.)

I wrote the above paragraph over a year ago in a different country. And I came back to it because I am encountering the same problem, in a different place but with the same people.

I knew from the age of 12 that I was going to join the Quakers. I wanted to live a life that enacted values of kindness, equality, and mutual respect. And I most certainly wanted to be surrounded by other people living values of equality and peace.

The early Quakers disparaged ‘professors’, those who professed to have certain values but did not live them. I am now surrounded by Quakers, and it is the rare one who is any different from 17th century ‘professors’. No change of human nature is possible without a foundation of self-examination. And Quakerism today may inhibit rather than facilitate that first step to living a more aware life.

MexicoJulyAug05 519One reason is that some Quakers over time have made quite a difference in the world. And for that Quakerism became famous – for standing for human rights, for helping people leave slavery through the Underground Railroad, for being honest and showing integrity in business dealings. Some Quakers have acted to improve the world, along with people from all sorts of religions. But somehow the fame has stuck with Quakers.

And then some people today who are members or attenders at Quaker Meetings feel the brush of that fame. In fact, some people seem to feel this is sufficient: that Quakers are better than other people because some Quakers have done a lot to live our values. These same people would probably spot the fallacy of this conclusion if it were another group: imagine saying, white men are better than other people because of these famous white men…. or English… Quakers are no better than other people. We just commit to living from faith, living principles of equality and seeing that of God in everyone.

But do most Quakers make that commitment? Perhaps not. Some Meetings discuss silence and personal thinking. To many, it is mediation and quiet. These are valuable, but they are not faith. Only from faith can we live real equality, go beyond the annoyance of everyday life. Only from faith will be actually make a new world. Do you dare step out of your complacency and try?

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