Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Remember that splendid "Serenity Prayer" that is at the core of 12 Step Programs? It often takes courage to accept the things we cannot change, and to move past those negative elements in our lives.
What is the proper way to handle a situation with a person whose values and rhetoric conflict radically with our own, as Quakers?
It takes wisdom to realize and accept when another person is not going to change, though I think most folks these days have the basic perception that it is not the job of one individual to change another individual. But how does a Quaker handle a situation where another person tries to convert us to an orientation that contradicts the Quaker Testimonies as we, as individuals, perceive them?
I have been faced with this problem, and it has been extremely difficult and personally taxing. I finally had to tell the person who was harassing me with his values to leave me alone. My efforts to get him to "agree to disagree" were met with verbal aggression.
I had accepted the reality that I would never change this man's belief system, but he refused to accept that he could not budge me from mine. He was on a mission, and I was in "move on down the road" mode. It was definitely time to shake the dust from my sandals.
The situation then was compounded by other people getting involved and trying to force me into maintaining a friendship (?) with a person who had treated me with profound disrespect and verbal aggression. It was (and remains) a stressful and negative situation.
My efforts to find personal peace conflicted with the opinions of other individuals who saw themselves as "personal peacemakers" in a situation where the best place for me to find personal peace was to stay away from a person who had been disrespectful and verbally aggressive with me. Before telling this man to leave me alone, I had followed the proscribed method of Matthew 18 to no avail.
The end result of this situation has been to pull away entirely from all who have involved themselves in the situation as well as staying away from the person I had asked to leave me alone. The only option left for me was to function on a more solitary level. The amazing part of this situation has been that while I was willing and able to accept a situation I could not change, others were not that well grounded in this reality. Hence their involvement made a difficult situation worse, and they fostered an atmosphere of contention that has been like a ripple effect of dropping a pebble in a pond.
We need to be respectful of the decisions others make regarding their personal relationships. And keeping in mind the wisdom of the "Serenity Prayer," we need to be cautious in involving ourselves in the personal lives of others, and we need to be accepting of those situations we cannot change.
Personal peacemaking must occur between only those who are at odds, and there are times when the healthiest thing is for the individuals involved to respect one another's positions enough to move on with our own lives. There are times when the only way to achieve personal peace is to remove oneself from the conflict induced by another person. To try to force the retreating individual to engage with the contentious and aggressive other is the antithesis of peacemaking. It also infringes upon the individual's need for a sense of personal safety. I rarely use generalizations, but in this case, I feel confident in saying, we should never force an individual into a situation where they have made it clear they do not feel safe.