Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Letting Go

Earlier in the week, I learned an important lesson. The effect was an abrupt about-face that revealed my own flaws and also granted me an opportunity to gain greater wisdom. For over a year, I have been actively involved in almost every aspect of the Young Adult Friend group at my Monthly Meeting. Being so closely invested in the process has provided me a sense of satisfaction and greater purpose. At long last, I have found a way to put my leadership skills to good use and, for the most part, my mental health has cooperated. And I've also gotten a chance to see the direct result of my hard work, which is one of the most gratifying feelings I have ever experienced in my life. Many toil for years in similar circumstances with nothing physically tangible to show for it. The ultimate credit, of course, is not mine to take but I couldn't help but feel pride in the creation.

This life lesson comes complete with an issue that can be ascribed exclusively to simple misunderstanding. For those who are not Friends, a person in a group leadership position, one similar to a committee chairman, is known as a clerk. Months ago, the clerk's position was offered to a friend of mine. She asked me to assist her with the work, and understanding well the need for a Young Adult Friend group, I threw myself into the task. I did not, in the beginning, seek a formal title, but as my strategies and hers began to succeed, I made an assumption that I might as well be co-clerk in all but name. It wasn't until recently that she revealed that she never saw me in that role. Hearing that was very painful. I don't intend to dwell on this more than I must, but I will briefly state that a more adequate system of regular communication would not have let this misunderstanding persist for as long as it did.

Quakers usually shy away from direct confrontation and are known to pursue almost every other avenue instead. She and other Friends believed, erroneously, that I wanted sole control, whereas that thought never crossed my mind. Instead, I just wanted to ensure that the framework which had been painstakingly crafted between the two of us would persist with new leadership. It does take a leap of faith sometimes if you've seen the way things once were and you fear their return. The two of us literally built the group from the ground up.

The entire dialogue reveals volumes. I've always been the sort of person exasperated with those who stand in the way of needed reform. Whole posts and columns I've written show evidence of this. But in a particularly ironic twist, I recognized that I had, in some ways, become that which I had once heavily criticized. I wasn't covetous of my influence, just cautious and suspicious of the leadership abilities of others. When you've done something well that is succeeding, it's tough to hand over the reigns of power to someone else, even if it is for everyone's benefit.

Some Friends felt that I wished to consolidate power and control into my own hands, but this was not the case. Without sufficient understanding, which can only come through regular correspondence, misunderstanding are inevitable. Instead, we were completely talking past one another. In a ideal situation, the clerk and I would have kept in more frequent e-mail correspondence and even met face-to-face periodically. Without knowing me and my real motives well enough, two Friends in particular assumed that I might stand in the way of a more equitable sharing arrangement. This was a misconception I had to take much time to refute prior to the actual meeting itself.

People in our society compartmentalize too much of their lives. I think this is especially true for all the Type A, super achiever sorts of people who are drawn to cities like DC. Work goes in the work box. School goes in the school box. Friends go in the friend box. Spirituality goes in the spirituality box. And that arrangement might make life temporarily easier, but it means that we always appear two-dimensional to those we encounter in life. With an insufficient perspective, we form conclusions and opinions about each other which are not correct. That is the real problem here.

It is true that over the past several months I have become much more influential in the greater Meeting. I routinely share vocal ministry in worship. I'm a member of a committee which rarely grants membership to someone as young as I am in years. To be selected, at my age, was a great honor. I would not have been the first choice of many. It was a very unorthodox selection. My presence is felt in many places, and I am grateful for what I have carved out for myself. I am doing God's work and I enjoy the way that it makes me feel.

In keeping with that, for all that I do, I may as well be a clerk. I merely wanted some acknowledgement for what I had done, by means of a title. To be told that my equal contribution with the designated clerk was not honored in this fashion offended me greatly. But again, I have put those feelings aside now. I'm no longer angry or disappointed. I use this example merely to illustrate my greater point. In some ways, it was an ego bruise. I never saw myself as a dictator, but I did see myself as the person who kept everything up and running. Self-satisfaction comes from feeling a part of something larger than oneself and is the most gratifying byproduct of hard work I can imagine. While it's true that Quakers aren't supposed to seek titles since they distract from greater equality, silly though it may be, I would have liked to have that one attached to my name: Friend Camp, clerk.

A meeting of the core group of YAFs who regularly attend almost every function was convened Monday night to thresh out a new leadership model. The rough consensus of those gathered was to instead divide tasks once the exclusive purview of myself and the clerk between multiple Young Adult Friends. The model proposed would create a leadership group of four people who would agree to take on specifics tasks and obligations between them. Under this proposal, there would no longer be an official clerk's position. This is an intriguing model and one I think is worth trying out.

Adding new blood to the organizational structure is a good idea. I believe that this arrangement will be an interesting exercise, but its ultimate success or failure is to be determined. I admit I am protective of what has been accomplished prior to now. Had I arrived to find myself in the midst of a well-oiled machine, I should have no reservations at all. But I've become emotionally invested into the process, which is both good and bad. In this situation, I know that I should probably give most, if not all of this worry to God and let him sort it out. That's going to be the greatest challenge of all. My friend Faith has written a post along these same lines.

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