Thursday, February 09, 2012

Yesterday's Post, on Second Thought

What I wrote yesterday was unusually passionate and abrasive for several reasons. While I do not regret what I wrote, I wonder whether I should have recorded my remarks a little differently. In this post, I'll try to be more specific and measured. Let me expand upon my initial thoughts. I'll try to be more compassionate, though I still feel annoyed.

What follows below are my primary reservations. It frustrates me to no end trying to schedule Quaker events and to encourage greater participation here in DC. Many people move here for the short term. They deliberately do not put down solid roots, aware from the beginning that they aren't staying here for good. Establishing leadership continuity is greatly hamstrung, in part, by having to constantly retool and revamp with brand new faces. I often interact with people who desire a degree of power, but are not very effective at their position of authority. They are the only ones who step up, so I have no other choice. 

A working system would include the presence of other Friends who didn't need me to constantly show them what to do. In short, I strongly desire people with initiative. I cannot make people develop enough self-confidence that they can grow into their designated role. I cannot encourage more responsibility with Friends who are very inconsistent. I cannot teach anyone how to be decisive. Moreover, leaving important decisions to be made by a very large and often noncommittal group is not a tenable solution.

Among Young Adult Friends, it has been unnecessarily difficult to even locate other leaders. An exchange of proposed ideas with others who have these crucial skills cannot proceed until this is established. I can't do everything by myself. It is true that most people in the group merely wish to show up at a scheduled time and place. They have little to no inclination to make a decision, one way or another. Nor do they have any interest in being involved in the active planning. In this situation, leaders must step in to decisively determine what we should do.

They must recognize their duty to assist in planning events, conferences, and functions. Speaking for myself, I have rarely seen any leaderless system succeed. Even with its emphasis on egalitarianism, Quakers still have designated titles for those in positions of authority. The leader of a committee is a clerk. Clerks direct the business of each committee, in its own separate meeting and during day-to-day interactions. Leaders are rare, under any circumstances, but they exist and they need to work together. Without them, I have learned the hard way that nothing gets done.

Part of my annoyance is a frustration over what seems like misplaced priorities. For example, I do recognize that those in grad school must devote a majority of their time to their studies. I was once in that boat, too. However, I did learn to resurface periodically to be among a community of loving people, so to recharge my batteries. When I did not, I found that my schoolwork overwhelmed me. Those with such stringent time demands require, in my experience, effective and healthy ways to prevent burnout.

As I've structured them, Quaker functions are a haven from the daily grind. I'm not unsympathetic to those currently in the middle of graduate studies. I remember how much work it was for me. I had four to five books a week to read, papers to write, journal articles to critique, seminars to attend, and somehow the rest of my life had to fit into what was left.

My expectations would be lower if it weren't for what I consistently observe. Many people have approached me over the past three and a half years. Each of them usually says the same thing. "I'm looking for a community," they say. "I'm looking for an outlet for my Spiritual life and for my social life. I don't know anyone here and all I do is work."

The need to form lasting, deep friendships exists, but I have to consistently encourage others to unpack established habits. I try to make people see outside the box.

I will always be critical of DC work culture, because I find it toxic and noxious. Working too hard is not a virtue. It is a health risk. The people who know how to put in their time and then go home were not the ones of whom I was speaking yesterday. They recognize a very important fact. There is always work to do, but then again, there will always be work to do. It takes a strong-willed and disciplined person to recognize this. Someone who is adequately self-aware recognizes that working later than one’s office mate should not be a competition. The longer one's office light stays on after dark will not eventually win one the Nobel Prize.

Unhealthy attitudes like these bleed over into my work, because such people come home too tired for much else. They have nothing left in the tank, but still feel a strong need for religious community in their lives. In this respect, I have done all that I can. These people are going to have to make an important decision. They will need to decide whether they will choose their career or their faith community.

"No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life--whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

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