A Place to Stand

I have been a member of North Carolina Yearly Meeting conservative for over twenty years. I am currently the clerk of our small Monthly Meeting. I am a recorded elder and presently serve as the Recording Clerk of our Yearly Meeting's Ministers, Elders and Overseers. My name has been put forward to be the next clerk of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative. By trade I am a philosophy professor.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Two Stories about Integrity

The Plan: In my life as an academic I am often called upon to write or approve official reports. There are pretty strong institutional expectations of what you should say and how you should say it that often come into conflict with my strongly felt personal need to tell the plain truth. Recently every department in the university had to produce a strategic plan for what it hoped to accomplish in the next few years. We were told to write something that would fit smoothly with the documents already created and approved at higher levels. My problem with this was that these documents weren’t telling the truth. Our institution is full of very average American college students but the documents were full of inflated language which made it sound as if this were Harvard. But they wrote as if they were ashamed of being what we in fact are and felt they needed to pretend that we were much, much more. Like the rest of the University, the Philosophy Department was supposed to go along with this. After some grumbling we produced a plan that actually said nothing but echoed the grandiosity of the University plan. I would much rather have told the plain truth. “The Philosophy Department intends to teach our classes and conduct our research as we have always done.” With some misgivings I went along and voted to approve the plan. Afterwards I felt bad about it. I felt that I was not faithful to my leading. I should have quietly and persistently protested the dishonesty even though I would have been voted down.

The Trick: Over coffee with a colleague he told me that his student evaluations last term were the best they have been in twenty years. He had a theory as to why this was the case. It seems he has a very strict policy about late assignments. One student emailed him with a story about her personal problems that prevented her from handing in several assignments on time. She begged for an exception to the policy. My colleague explained that this would be unfair to the other students but he would ask them about it. The class is on-line so he posted the student’s email for the class to read and asked them if he should give the student an exception. Apparently the students enjoyed debating this so much that it resulted in the highest level of student satisfaction with the course he ever saw. This led him to the idea of repeating this event every semester. If no student actually asked for an exemption he would simply make one up. No difficult matter for an experienced teacher. He asked me what I thought. I told him that I would not do this. Although one might consider this a “white lie” that didn’t harm anyone I still considered it a violation of trust. Students should be able to believe what their professors say. Our integrity should be absolute. Since he is an atheist I could not make an argument in spiritual terms, but I did say that while the possibility of being found out might be small it was still possible. And that the harm done to the student’s sense of trust might be great if the deception were discovered.

Most Americans who live and work in business or the professions are inundated by language that is full of exaggeration, half-truth, pomposity, empty jargon and down-right lies. Most people understand that this is the way the world works. And they are OK with it most of the time. They consider it naïve to think that the adult world could function if people just told the truth. Quakers are peculiar people. We never get used to the disrespect the world shows for the truth. We protest and drag our feet over the most trivial and normal of lies.

Though the world thinks us painfully naïve what power we have comes first and foremost from individual members of the Society of Friends maintaining the highest personal moral standards. As we refuse to make war we must also refuse to compromise with the truth. Early Friends were a force to be reckoned with, despite their paltry numbers, because when they spoke truth to power they spoke with an integrity that was far beyond the ordinary. If we modern Friends are to recover the life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars we will need to go deeper and be more deeply transformed. We cannot hope to change the world by clever strategies. We can only hope to change the world by being different from the world.

14 Comments:

Blogger quakerboy said...

"We cannot hope to change the world by clever strategies. We can only hope to change the world by being different from the world."

Wow Richard! That is powerful. "Cleaver strategies" denotes control. It's not my job to control but only to be faithful. And that's the hardest part about being a Quaker for me. Thanks for a wonderful blog post!

-Craig

5:55 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...

I struggle too obviously. That's why my first story is one of my not being faithful. Some weighty Friends make it look easy and maybe a lifetime of practice makes faithfulness second nature. But for most of us it is hit and miss.

9:03 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Followup: The Chancellor sent around an email today asking for comment on the University's strategic plan. I quickly wrote a two sentence email complaining about the lack of realism of the plan. I am grateful for this opportunity to tell the truth on this matter.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Richard,

I have come across your post at an important time. A committee on which I recently began to serve has gone through a multi-year process of revising a document and will be presenting it to the meeting for approval. There has been something about the document that has been niggling at me and I am only in the past day or two beginning to understand what it is.

But since I'm now a part of the committee that has forwarded this item to MfWfB, I wrestle with how I might say my piece, either in the context of the committee itself, or during business session, or elsewhere.

The desire to be faithful is such a strong force to be reckoned with, despite having felt clear at the time to move forward with a thing...

Hrumph.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

4:13 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

I've encouraged people to share stories of faithfulness in little things. It seems that my story of unfaithfulness in a little thing hit the mark this time. Go figure.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Laurie Kruczek said...

Hi Richard,

I am out of the workforce these days, a stay-at-home mom with our two little ones. My husband works from home and that is truly God's great blessing! Seems his work has many the same "truthiness" issues yours does. Being at home, he can steer clear of the inner turmoil and protest from an outside perspective. He's not as prone to up and quitting as many of his co-workers that are office bound. As my husband makes our only income, you can see how God is carrying us through this. Some times the best way to stand tall is from a distance.

Glad you had the chance to apply your simple protest.

10:18 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Laurie,

In our working lives we have sometimes tried to manage two full time jobs but more usually I work fulltime and my wife works half or less. It means being more frugal but that's generally a good thing. At the end of last year I arranged to have my office moved away from the rest of the Philosophy Department. The relative isolation from departmental politics has been good for my peace of mind.

7:23 AM  
Anonymous josephhcondon@gmail.com said...

An archaic and peculiar meaning of 'peculiar'.

The word 'peculiar' appears seven times in the KJV of the Bible; it occurs zero times in the RSV.
That is the clue that the translation committee of the RSV thought that the meaning of 'peculiar' in the KJV was no longer current. The Oxford English dictionary is a good place to find archaic meanings. It has:

| A. adj
| 1. That is one's own private property; that belongs or pertain
| to, or characterizes, an individual person, place, or thing
| or group of persons or things, as distinct from others. Const
| with preceding possessive (my own, the king's own), or with to. peculiar
| to now always denotes `belonging exclusively to'; formerly it
| might denote `belonging specially to'.
| †a. Of property, material possession, etc. Obs.
| 6. peculiar people:
| a. a name applied to the Jews as God's own chosen people;
| hence transf. in religious sense. (Also p. race, nation, etc.)
| ... 1535 Coverdale Deut. xiv. 2 The Lord hath chosen the to be
| his awne peculier people from amonge all the nacions.
| Titus ii. 14 To pourge vs to be a peculiar people vnto himselfe.
| ...

Here is a comparison of the KJV and RSV:

EXO 19:5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
EXO 19:5 Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine,

DEU 14:2 For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

DEU 14:2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth.

DEU 26:18 And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments;
DEU 26:18 and the LORD has declared this day concerning you that you are a people for his own possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments,

PSA 135:4 For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.
PSA 135:4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.

ECC 2:8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
ECC 2:8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, man's delight.

TTS 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
TTS 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

PE1 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;
PE1 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

The PE1 2:9 verse is the basis for Quakers to call themselves "peculiar people".
Penington writes that Quakers are the new chosen(peculiar) people.
I believe that us Quakers, in our funny suits and broadbrim hats and our funny speech, being called peculiar is some time past lead to the newer meaning of the word; strange, weird, unusual.

12:19 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

You're right that words subtly shift in meaning over the years. I can verify that Quaker history plays a role in the shift of the word "peculiar" in English as a whole. I'll leave that to the professional linguists! Even though in common English the word has largely lost the connotations of the KJV I think that those who are well versed in the Bible will still hear that older meaning when I use the word in the context of an essay about religion. Traditional Quaker speech and writing is loaded with biblical language and allusions with only rare use of direct quotation. So I would say that my rather old-fashioned use of "peculiar" in this essay is very traditional.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Suzy said...

"We cannot hope to change the world by clever strategies. We can only hope to change the world by being different from the world."

Thank you for that.

A quick comment on Laurie Kruczek's comment and your response. It's great if you can remain separate from the world and make it on one or one-and-a-half incomes, but I'm a little offended at the "virtuous" label that is put on it. Some couples have no choice except to work full time, and in less than ideal environments. And I'll add, it's easy to be a Quaker when you're not challenged, far harder to live by the testimonies in the public sphere.

6:34 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Suzy,

Parents really get squeezed these days. Mothers get criticized if they go to work and criticized if they stay home. The decision always has to be made with sensitivity to the particular situation. If my wife hadn't worked I wouldn't have been able to get through graduate school and a little later she had to work full time so we could afford to buy a house and raise a family. I hope you didn't feel that I was criticizing people who need two incomes to keep the family going.

The decision as to how much to be in the world and how much to separate yourself from it is similar. I think that the Amish withdraw too much from the world, but I understand the motive. I think we have to sufficiently in the world so that we are in contact with others and they can hear our message but I think we also need to be sufficiently apart from the world that our message doesn't get overwhelmed by the world. It's an everchanging balance and the right spot doesn't stay the same for a whole lifetime and certainly isn't the same for every person.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Forrest Curo said...

This year I was on the State of the Meeting report committee, the only member of it combining long acquaintance with the Meeting and writing skills. The result, which I presented today, was said to be "beautifully written" and "thought-provoking" but essentially a statement the Meeting would not approve because it included some negative criticisms. Thinking of writing about how this relates to the history of Friends and what we have become, I searched on Quakers, peculiar people etc.--and there you were, with this piece!

So we seem to have two Modern Quaker taboos: no unpleasantness and no individual discernments (even by members of Ministry & Oversight)--Groupthink & Goodstuff all the way! This has always struck me as a considerable obstacle to truthfulness... not asking thee to judge between me & my Meeting, but maybe a guess at how this comes about?...

(I'm going to not log in to the blogger system this time, lest it lose the message or crash this computer as it has in the past. But to anyone who wants to know, I am in fact Forrest Curo, at it again.)

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

China and Russia put the blame on some screwed up experiments of US for the earthquake that happened in Haiti.
Chinese and Russian Military scientists, these reports say, are concurring with Canadian researcher, and former Asia-Pacific Bureau Chief of Forbes Magazine, Benjamin Fulford, who in a very disturbing video released from his Japanese offices to the American public, details how the United States attacked China by the firing of a 90 Million Volt Shockwave from the Americans High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facilities in Alaska
If we can recollect a previous news when US blamed Russia for the earthquake in Georgio. What do you guys think? Is it really possible to create an earthquake by humans?
I came across this [url=http://universalages.com/hot-news/what-happened-in-haiti-is-it-related-to-haarp/]article about Haiti Earthquake[/url] in some blog it seems very interesting, but conspiracy theories have always been there.

9:40 AM  
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3:18 AM  

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