Sunday, 6 February 2011

Truth, Justice and the (American) Way

Another of the Quaker Testimonies is the Testimony to Truth and Integrity. According to the leaflet Living What We Believe Quaker Testimonies: A way of living faithfully:

Quakers try to live according to the deepest truth we know, which we believe comes from God. This means speaking the truth to all, including people in positions of power. Integrity is the guiding principle we set for ourselves and expect in public life.

One of the distinctions that marked out early Quakers was their plain speaking. They believed, Let your yes be yes and your no be no”. There is a story about a little girl who visited a Quaker household. The child was offered a piece of cake and said no and so none was given. She was expecting the usual bit of role play where the hostess would say “Oh but you must, I insist” and then she could say, “Well, alright. Just a small piece then.”  She was perplexed and saddened until her mother explained that Quakers don’t believe in all that artificial nonsense--if you want it say yes, if you don’t say no.

This is a good lesson for us all. Especially me. Are you paying attention, Spidergrrl? Of course you are because you are typing the words. Duh. How many times have you said yes to something you did not want to do because you felt guilty? How many unpaid extra curricular activities can one Spidergrrl take on? Frankly, I’ve lost count. How many times have you said no to something you desperately wanted but thought it would reflect badly on you if you said yes. I find women at my school do this with food. If you want cake, have cake but don’t sit there miserable about it.

I was raised in a family where what you said was often not what you meant. There was lots of subtext you had to look for. Reading between, around, under and sometimes everywhere BUT the lines, if ya know what I mean. When I got married I found it really hard to communicate with Spiderman. I’d make some vague comment that to me spoke volumes but did not address the actual issue that I wanted. He’d never get it--even when I cried and beat him with a sledgehammer of hormones and angst. And then he’d say something and I’d say, “What do you mean by that?” and it turned out he meant exactly what the words said. Confusing, huh? How am I supposed to know if you spell it out in black and white and there is no subtext? Where’s the fun in that??

Quakers (and an exceedingly patient husband) have helped me to actually be more honest in my speech --both to myself and others. I see women at my school who talk about lying to their husbands about the cost of clothes and shoes. Hiding, even forging receipts How do you even do that?  Putting the most expensive item in the bag from the cheapest shop. This types of untruthful communication makes my childhood look like a walk in the park.

Quaker Advices and Queries 37 says:  

 Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organisations? Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility? Taking oaths implies a double standard of truth; in choosing to affirm instead, be aware of the claim to integrity that you are making.

This is one of the things that set early Quakers apart. They refused to take oaths. It implied a double standard--as if what I say normally can be full of lies, but now that I’m swearing on the Bible I will tell the truth. Shouldn’t we tell the truth at all times?

So when Spiderman and I (God willing) get our citizenship there is a nifty option for the swearing in ceremony. We could take an oath or say an affirmation. Hooray for an affirmation and may we get the chance to affirm our love for this country in a fancy-shmancy ceremony in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Man, the communication (subtext within subtext) problems hit home to your old mum here-------have lived through the same scenario you described in young marriage-----took years to work out of it. Learned the lessons of that kind of doublespeak well at my mother's knee. I have also perpetuated it and taught its machinations to you----add the the fact that your father's side of the family was also full of subtext and coded phrases, and you were doomed to inherit.

    sad. shame. but hopeful that we're better now.