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Craig, you’re a Quaker? What’s that?

Craig’s Quaker Meetinghouse, Durham, Maine

Yes, I’m a Quaker. Here’s what it means.

Especially these days, especially in New England, it seems out of favor to talk about religion. Or to not have one. I’m often apologetic. “Well, Quakerism is about the most easy-going, liberal, non-conformist religion there is,” I find myself saying. Or, “Well, as a Quaker, you can believe in pretty much anything you want. Some Quakers don’t even believe in God.”

Indeed there is a vast range of Quaker beliefs. Quaker meetings around the world think and do things in many different ways. Yet it seems to me that all Quakers have in common this one belief: that there is God in every person. Sometimes it’s called “the light within.” This simple belief has big implications.

For one thing, I’m not obliged to follow someone else’s instructions about what God wants me to do. Rather, I’m encouraged to look within. Only I can know what’s right for me. Related, no person has any more of a special connection to God than anyone else. There is no head Quaker. There are no cardinals, no priests. We all have direct access to God, the light within, equally available to each of us. I don’t have to do special things or wear special clothes or say special words to access God.

For another thing, because God is in you, to harm you or disrespect you would be to harm or disrespect God. This is why Quakers oppose war and all forms of violence. This is why Quakers have always treated women as equal to men. This is why Quakers have a long tradition of helping people in prisons, and all those less fortunate by virtue of birth or circumstance. Because God is in you too, there is no justification for me to feel superior to you, no matter who you are or what you did.

When Quakers gather, called a Quaker Meeting, we listen in silence for what God wants us to do. If someone thinks that they have a message from God worthy for the rest of us to hear, they stand and speak. It’s pretty simple. Oh, that’s another thing about Quakers. We have traditionally valued simple things: plain dress, plain words, few possessions.

I became a Quaker because the things I value as a meeting facilitator are about the same things that Quakers value: that no person is more important than any other, that the best idea for the group can come from anywhere, that I don’t know what’s best for you. Until a few years ago, I hardly knew anything about Quakers. As I learned more, I got drawn in.

I’m a Quaker today because, well, honestly, it’s a good brand. Quakerism represents a set of values that I can get behind; that I’m honored to be associated with. Further, I wish more people had the live-and-let-live ideology that Quakers live by. And I’m idealistic enough to wish for world peace. Quakers stand for peace. I consider myself a peacemaker, especially in my work.

As a practical matter, Quaker Meeting and the Quaker practice of silent seeking within calms me, restores my soul, and brings me answers to vexing problems. Having a place to go for such answers – having a way to access deeper wisdom – is a great gift.

What Does Consensus Really Mean?

Consensus decision making has a bad reputation for being process-heavy, confusing, inefficient, and frustrating. It’s a very idealistic notion, rarely attainable. Perhaps that’s why I’m so attracted to it! Haha. I joined a cohousing community that makes decisions by consensus. I chaired a Waldorf school board that makes decisions by consensus. I’m often hired by groups to help them achieve consensus.

When it happens it’s wonderful! For one thing, when a decision is made by true consensus there’s no minority out there trying to undermine it. For another thing, everyone understands the decision and why it’s needed; there’s real buy-in. And lastly, each person feels respected; that their opinion was heard and considered.

In my opinion there are three steadfast hallmarks of consensus decision making. 1. Everyone has a chance to raise concerns. 2. The group tries to understand and accommodate all concerns, at least within reason. 3. Each person is thinking about what’s best for the group, rather than just what’s best for them. When we do consensus decision making we do shared problem solving. It’s like this: If it’s a problem for you, it’s a problem for us. Let’s work on all our problems together.

People often confuse consensus with “casual;” meaning there are no real votes and few formalities. Not true. If you want to do consensus decision making right there are indeed formal calls for consensus, three specific ways to answer the call, specific steps leading up to calls for consensus, written proposals, documented decisions, and neutral facilitation. And there are specific attitudes and values that, if not present among your group, you have no hope of achieving consensus.

I have written quite a lot about consensus in my book Together We Decide, An Essential Guide for Making Good Group Decisions. And I have posted a lot about consensus. You might search the word consensus at my website. The Search Box is at the bottom of every page. For one thing, here’s a Good Group Tip I wrote called Consensus Doesn’t Mean Casual.

Like all things of high value, consensus decision making requires practice. Yet if you are making big decisions that will affect a large number of people over a long time, I hope you believe that it’s worth the effort.

If you have critiques of consensus decision making, or praises, let’s hear them! I hope you will tell me about YOUR experiences in the comments below.

What Adults Don’t Get

I recently ran a meeting specifically for people age 16-24 to ask them their views of the world and what they wish adults better understood about their generation. The few adults in the room were sworn to silence; there to listen. The young people in the room said some things that broke my heart.

Here’s what I heard.

Old solutions don’t work for today’s problems
Older folks see “problem behaviors” among younger people and think they know the causes and therefore the solutions. They don’t. The causes are different today and a solution like kicking a kid off a team because of substance use disorder is entirely unhelpful for the kid and utterly ineffective at preventing substance use disorder.

These things (cell phone in hand) are robbing us of the life we could be having
The stuff on our cell phones is addictive and everyone knows it and greedy corporations are taking advantage of us. Not only are cell phones a huge distraction from “real life,” they enable isolation and cause us to fear actual human interactions. Sure, cell phones have some positive attributes, but only some.

Artificial processed food is adversely affecting us physically and mentally
We are a generation raised on highly synthetic food and there have been warnings for years about the harmful effects of too many chemicals in our diets. Is it any wonder that our mental and physical health seems to be in decline? Duh.

We are afraid of strangers and of institutions
We are a generation whose parents put fear into us. Someone might try to abduct you. Anyone could have a gun. Stranger danger. We avoid confrontation. Not only that, we have witnessed blatant injustices and double standards in our legal system and don’t trust that institutions will protect us.

We need realistic images of what we could become
Body images portrayed in the media, including social media, are crippling to those with most types of bodies. Most role models have unrealistic and idealistic lifestyles. Show me a path that I can take to success, given my body, my gender, and where I live. Young people in Sagadahoc County want Sagadahoc County role models; who look like them.

The world is crumbling
I asked, “What do you mean by that?” Here’s the list: 24 hour news cycle, trans genocide, climate change, retirement age moving up (“we’re going to be working until we die”), inflation, cost of rent,  the US is going bankrupt, politics, COVID was SO isolating. “There’s an expectation on us to participate and be a young adult out there in a world that’s literally crumbling.” “We don’t have a bright future to look forward to.”

Labels and stigmas are so dated, and unhelpful
Young people don’t care about labels. Drop ‘em. We are developing a culture of no labels. No stigmas. Acceptance of all. It’s much better that way.

We are in a state of youth mental health crisis
Mental healthcare should be normalized. Getting therapy is a good thing. There’s no reason to look down on it. Mental health therapy should be available in the schools and after school and in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of places. Just like an annual check-up with your medical provider, we should ALL have an annual check-up with a mental health provider.

These are the things that hit me. These things are not representative of all those who were present, or of all the things that were said. The point is, I tried to listen. I did not minimize or discount or deny what I heard. I let these things into my head and into my heart. I can’t instantly fix the world for young people, but I can listen to what it’s like for them and do what I can to be helpful. Or at least stay out of their way.

By the way, the meeting was convened by the Midcoast Youth Center on behalf of the Sagadahoc County Working Communities Challenge, a project to decrease rates of hopelessness among youth and young adults. A week after the meeting just for youth, we had another meeting for the general public at which we reported what we had heard. I was hired to facilitate the two meetings. It was an honor and a privilege.

The photograph is not from one of the recent meetings but from another meeting I facilitated years ago.

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