Time for a "Station I.D." - When speaking of personal experience

Personal experience is, really, all I have.

 

While speaking of my own experience, I sometimes begin an observation with a blanket statement that is more than just imprecise.  Depending upon the medium and the audience, it could be unhelpful.  I pray that I remain mindful that my words be seasoned with salt, that they be spoken clearly, and be acceptable in the sight of the Lord.

 

Mom used to call it painting with too wide a brush (and slopping paint all over where it doesn't need to go).

 

Apparently,  this is something I am concerned about.  Since it pops up innocently with some regularity, I feel that a brief mention on my blog about it will be appropriate, and help me be more mindful in the future.  I also hope that those who have been painted with the sweeping edges of the too-wide brush will recognize that this has happened and be able to forgive and proceed unhindered in seeking and doing the Lord's will.

 

Sentences that begin with "Quakers do" or "Quakers believe" or similar, and then proceed to fill in with their observations are very likely painting with too wide a brush.  Those who identify themselves as Quakers are a large and complex bunch of groups and individuals.  I understand that trying to be precise in language can be cumbersome and frustrating.  But it seems to me that going to the trouble of adding phrases such as, "in my experience," "Quakers I have met," "I read in an article by so-and-so," gives more integrity to the communication.  Friends I have met who belong to certain monthly or yearly meetings don't fit neatly together in one theological or cultural lump.  

 

I can make this error on both the negative and positive sides, by the way.  It's human nature, after all.

 

Still, I want to publicly resolve to be more careful in my speech, especially any that carries any sort of representation of others.  I recall Seth Hinshaw's "Detraction," a very helpful tract to consider on a related topic.

 

Hanging on the wall in my Mom's kitchen for many years was this little rhyme:

 

Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff

and nudge me when I've said enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Views: 80

Comment by Raye on 1st mo. 20, 2011 at 12:18pm
P.S.  I use the term "station i.d." because I have written a related post (or three) before.  Since I keep coming back to this, it seemed similar to top of the hour radio station i.d.'s.  We could also call it a broken record. (c;
Comment by Raye on 1st mo. 20, 2011 at 12:20pm
Anyone know where the term "broken record" came from? (aside from us older folks)
Comment by Micah Bales on 1st mo. 20, 2011 at 1:05pm

Hi Raye,

 

I guess I personally feel that the Quaker faith is bigger than the beliefs of individual Friends or even Meetings, and I think it can be legitimate to say that "Quakers believe..." in the same way that it is possible to outline the basic tenants of Christianity in general.

 

I do agree, though, that we should be careful not to conflate our own idiosyncratic beliefs with the orthodoxy of the Church. I guess it helps if we can stay humble - focused on Christ, not on ourselves.

 

Micah

Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 1st mo. 20, 2011 at 2:01pm
I have been feeling the need to append my "branch" to discussions of Quakerism where I am speaking to the specific practices and experiences of that branch. I know that I can be troubled by someone, particularly professional someones being paid money to express themselves in writing, who talk about Quakerism this and Quakerism when they are specifically describing the practice and experience of a particular branch, some practices and experience and language which do not translate across branches and end up being offensive to me. When I am feeling particularly unloving, it can feel they are trying to "steal" Quakerism or deny the existence of the other branches and their language, experience and practices. I can imagine someone would feel the same about what I write about Quakerism, if coming from a different perspective, and so I have started being more precise, in my own way, as thee suggests. I have attempted posts on this thought in the past but never got one to completion. Thanks, Raye, for echoing thy similar concern.
Comment by Raye on 1st mo. 20, 2011 at 5:04pm

Micah, I agree that staying humble and focused on Christ and not ourselves is the way to go, always.  I am not so sure that my experience, hearing from several Friends with a variety of understandings, would make me comfortable finishing that "Quakers believe" sentence with anything specific to Friends.  For example, Quakers believe in doing unto others as we would have others do unto us, is probably pretty safe for accuracy.  But I don't think it is a distinguishing characteristic.

 

Isabel, sometimes it has felt awkward to me (and I acknowledge I have probably placed others in that position) to hear someone explaining, incorrectly, to a third party, what it is that I do and believe based on my being a Friend. 

 

Comment by Raye on 1st mo. 21, 2011 at 3:41pm

It just occurred to me that "Station I.D." is a helpful concept in a different way than I had originally meant it.

 

Station I.D. is required at the top of the hour to let people know who they are listening to.  So, adding some kind of station i.d., some indication of who I am and what my experience has been, is likely to be helpful to someone who doesn't know me well.  Of course, there are always situations in which a phrase I use is (without my prior knowledge) a "hot button," that prevents another from clearly hearing what I say or write.

 

Marty, Paul, thanks for what you have contributed here.  You have expanded on my initial concern, and that has been helpful for me.

 

Comment by Raye on 1st mo. 22, 2011 at 9:12am

Dear Kevin,

Thanks for the comment, it is a good question.  Since text omits so much information about tone, I would like to ask something very gently and respectfully.   Do you or other participants have an example of a "Quakers believe" or "Quakers do" sentence that encompasses the beliefs and practices of all Friends - and if possible, just Friends - worldwide?

 

This may bring us into sensitive territory. I am not trying to set anyone up for an incisive rebuttal (I have not been good at that, anyway, even when I tried  (c;  ).  What I am hoping to see is where I may have been missing something.  I still am convinced that I have, and a number of people do, make blanket statements based on limited experience, and that these statements occasionally have the effect of misinforming and alienating others.

 

Comment by Raye on 1st mo. 22, 2011 at 11:55am

Well, Kevin, I think you have answered with some good examples.  And it occurs to me we have non-theist Friends, and some Friends who think there is a possibility of just war.  I think that ritual, if we modify that with "empty" may be pretty close to a universal unprogrammed Friends' tenet, and perhaps our Friends who are part of EFI may not consider their programmed meetings to have any sort of ritual, certainly not empty ritual.

 

I think the gender equality statement also has a good bit of merit.  I see a modifier in there that makes good sense to me.

 

"Quakers often believe" is just the kind of statement that I think has more integrity.  It's not a statement of universal practice or belief.

 

And I don't feel contradicted.  For goodness' sake, I am no intellectual giant, and not a person with the wide acquaintance and experience some seasoned Friends have.  So I appreciate our engaging the topic, adding your perspective and attempting to look at where we can make broad statements that still have integrity and (to risk overstatement here - I really need to watch that urge) that do not seem to imply that some Friends do not exist.

 

Thanks again all who have commented and shared your experience and perspective and care.  This has been quite helpful to me.

 

Comment by Nat Case on 1st mo. 22, 2011 at 11:34pm

Friend speaks my mind... I have a blog entry in draft on more or less the same point, more broadly applied.

I think this is true of all attributions to a group: "Republican pundits say" or "scientists believe" or "black people are like this" or "corporations do that."

It's sloppy thinking because you can just point vaguely to a blog or a column you read last week, and presume your audience "knows what you're talking about." And it's destructive of respect to those who make their own decisions instead of following what they perceive the herd doing. It's also disrespectful to groups that actually do go through a formal process to decide on a common understanding.

And it's something practically everyone does, as it is so ingrained in the shape of our language. It's as pervasive as using the male pronoun for a general pronoun was a generation ago, and as uncomfortable to try and root out.

 

So, here is my pledge (this was going to go in the blog post, but I'll put it up here too): I will seek to not use constructions that attribute acts or thoughts to a group of people that ought to be attributed to individuals. I will try in my dealings to address specific acts of individuals, and not perceived "types" of acts by "types" of individuals. When addressing those who claim to speak for a larger whole, I will pay special attention to what authority they base this claim on, and to not accept such claims at face value.

That's a start anyway.

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