I loved Muriel Edgerton’s article (“My Year of Living Eschatologically,” FJ Sept.), and it made me think of a humorous comment a friend of mine often made whenever we spoke of medical ailments: “organ recital.” In the same issue “A Quaker School’s Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse” got me thinking of the impact silence has in our lives. The article mentioned the value of silence in their deliberations about their right response and transparency. Elie Wiesel once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Silence often keeps survivors from coming forward to report their abuse, maintaining the power structures that continue the abuse. In my professional work (gender equity educator) I do presentations on sexual harassment prevention to break this silence and encourage all of us (victims/survivors as well as bystanders) to speak up.
Niceness, kindness, power, and outreach
Niceness and kindness are not the same thing (“Selling Out to Niceness” by Ann Jerome, FJ Sept.). Niceness gets in our way. Kindness makes room for seeking, vulnerability, and truly embracing difference. Let’s lead with love, not niceness.
The article is an important message in a world where many leaders are teaching the terrible theory of following without questioning. When we respond truthfully, albeit kindly, we can never walk without thinking.
I am so tired of chat. I welcome the insight that our theological relativism “fit(s) neatly with white, middle-to-upper class, liberal culture” (quote from Adria Gulizia in FJ Jan.). I write as one who left Friends in my teens because of its theological indistinctness and embraced Evangelical Christianity. This gives me an inside knowledge of the creed, from which I want to say something. I eventually found that the image of God enshrined in this creed does not accord with my understanding. I returned to Friends in my 50s, specifically valuing its theological relativism.
I long for inclusiveness. I am saddened that my liberal stance is off-putting to others. As a Friend, I am committed to seeing God in everyone. I think this means I have to accept that they believe as they do, never mind if I believe differently. Can an Evangelical Christian say the same? Embedded in the Evangelical creed is an imperative to save souls. There can be no equality between the Evangelical and the one who needs to be saved. The Evangelical has the answer that they need. It is a theological arrogance (how I used to hate being called arrogant!). The Evangelical can’t accept that I believe as I do if my belief is different from theirs. My conclusion is severely uncomfortable. I cannot embrace Evangelical Christianity for itself, nor for the sake of inclusiveness.
The problem is both deeper and wider than theology. Niceness pays dividends to those who practice it. They are seen as likable because they never create any sense of disquiet or challenge to those around them. In my meeting, truthful disagreements and plain speech about them can often be seen as a negative personality trait.
Let us never forget that early on Quakers called themselves “Friends of the Truth.” In telling the truth about the evil of slavery in plain language, Woolman was not being nice to slaveholders.
james e kalafus
Modern Friends have a common praxis: we ask to be led; we open ourselves to leadings; we work at fully experiencing those leadings; and we take action based on those leadings. Our diverse theological perspectives inform us as individuals. We are free to bring our own names and understandings of the source of our leadings, which we broadly call Spirit. Our common praxis turns that cacophony of theologies into a rich harmony of everyday mysticism in our lives, at best. “At best” because the “necessity of niceness” often prevents us from going wherever Spirit leads.
Niceness from leading enriches the giver and the recipient. Niceness from middle-class habit deadens the soul of both giver and recipient. Those of us raised in the middle class would do well to remember, perhaps revisit, Sinclair Lewis now and then. The middle class seeks to avoid upsetting or offending. We’re good at comforting the afflicted and conflicted about afflicting the comfortable, especially in our meetings. Niceness is a useful symbol for the lack of spontaneity and integrity we exhibit in our lives and in our meetings.
Early Friends attracted the name Quakers because of their tendency to tremble or quake when delivering messages. Being nice does not cause quaking. It is speaking with passion and conviction, even though it may not be what is currently politically correct, that is more likely to start the heart-pounding and subsequently cause the limbs to quake.
If we wish to increase our numbers, we need to be so intense about our opinions and express our beliefs with such fervor that we touch the hearts of our listeners.
San Jose, Calif.
I’m an attender that is feeling called to join the Society of Friends, and I often feel I’m joining an organization in its twilight years. There’s a vitality in the early Friends that I read about that I struggle to locate in the meetings I’ve attended. I think this piece dives into the heart of the matter. I’m starving for spiritual depth. I want more than one hour a week of meeting for worship. I leave feeling satisfied but ravenous for more. Was it nice people who trimmed meetings down to an hour a week to satisfy our busy outside lives? I pray for increased vitality.
San Francisco, Calif.
“Being nice” is especially prevalent among women and even more so in the past year when so much very-not-niceness has been spreading in quite malignant ways. The opposite or antithesis of niceness is not meanness or cruelty but authenticity—authenticity with kindness at its core: not easy to be or find, but possible for all.
Nice to me is a very weak and flimsy word. It often refers to people who are seemingly polite in an effort to please: people who placate others while hiding their true emotions. Although we can all be nice, the real truth is that sometimes we’re not. I don’t know any really nice people who never disagree and always do whatever is necessary to fit into society no matter what the circumstance.
It is important to remember that we are all more than nice people expected to behave in forced, unnatural ways. We have the power to replace superficial niceties with genuine acts of love. We must always be mindful of the ultimate goodness that surrounds us because that is how and why we were created and who we truly are.
I am writing from the Philippines. Where I live, people will usually take pains to give you directions when you ask where a certain house is located—a stark contrast to my experience in asking for directions among strangers in a London train station. Quakers’ niceness is a blessing in such environments where smugness or indifference rules (and mind you, London Quakers are nice).
I understand the author is advocating for some kind of deepening. I agree. But it is not the fault of “niceness” that we sometimes lack depth. Perhaps our numbers are dwindling not because we are too nice, but because we seem to be timid in announcing to the world that there is such a thing as Quakerism. We no longer have the evangelical enthusiasm of George Fox. We always avoid looking like we are proselytizing. Fair enough. Nevertheless, let us continue to be nice; even as we speak truth to power.
In the October issue Quaker Works column, under the entry for American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), we incorrectly identified AFSC’s partnership with the Quaker Palestine Israel Network (QPIN) to work for the passage of the No Way to Treat a Child bill as part of AFSC’s Quaker Social Change Ministry program. In fact, AFSC is one of two lead organizations behind the bill, and QPIN is supporting AFSC’s work to get the bill passed.
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