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M & O Report to Business Meeting - 5-15-11

M&O Report to Business Meeting


In the last few months, Ministry and Oversight has been seeking to understand the residual effects of what we have decided to call "adults in conflict over name-calling in the First Day School" -- the name-calling among the children in 2007-2009 and the ways it was handled by the parents, FDS teachers, others in the Meeting, and Ministry and Oversight.

Ministry and Oversight has met or corresponded with 17 people -- all those whom we believed were affected by the name-calling and its aftermath or might have information about it. Most of the interviews -- some lasting more than an hour -- focused on 7 questions we developed to elicit the person's recollection of what happened and what they felt needed to be done. We transcribed our notes of these interviews, and most were then reviewed by the person interviewed. The members of M & O individually reviewed all of the interview notes.

During a six-hour meeting Ministry and Oversight held the findings in a spirit of worship and of deep listening, reading aloud the interview notes and the correspondence. We carefully sifted the often-conflicting accounts of actions and motives attributed, but still it has been impossible to establish a definitive narrative of what may have happened since 2007.

We think this is not unusual in light of the passage of time and differences in perception and memory. However, we see that several people are still deeply affected by the precipitating incidents and the subsequent attempts to address them, so we feel it is necessary to provide a brief account of what seems to have occurred and our recommendations for those involved and the Meeting.

What We Have Found:
Beliefs varied about whether the incidents at issue constituted "innocent name-calling," "bullying," or "name-calling referring to racial differences." Some of the adults' beliefs about the name-calling and their reactions revealed that they felt hurt and accused. Ministry and Oversight formed a clearness committee to meet with the parents concerned and, if possible, to bring them together to seek reconciliation. However, the committee members did not understand that this was their purpose, and the ensuing delays and confusion left the parents unresolved and unhappy with the efforts of the committee and M & O. Two parents and one child subsequently stopped attending Meeting.

Some adults believed that they were called "racist." Others felt that they were blamed for not acting in a timely or Quakerly manner. Still others were disappointed that our community was not able to deal with this matter more promptly and effectively. Some felt that there was an air of secrecy surrounding what happened and that this has been detrimental to the Meeting.

It is our impression that concerns about this conflict continue to plague us because it revealed some of our individual short-comings -- for one, the very human propensity to avoid conflict -- and we get defensive. This is not unusual in a group our size. We all have short-comings, we all get defensive at times, and we all are capable of saying unkind things. Yet at the same time we have high expectations of ourselves and others.

We also found that strong beliefs and assumptions were formed on the basis of second- and third-hand information. These beliefs and assumptions were not confirmed directly with the person(s) concerned, but they were still passed on to others. The parents involved felt friendless or that those whom they considered friends had turned against them.

We also see that there are continuing concerns because there was no public explanation by M & O of its efforts to respond to the conflicts among the adults involved. M & O normally maintains confidentiality about its work with individuals, but in this case we see now that the lack of information about M & O's efforts was not good for the Meeting nor the individuals involved. The rumor mill flourished and beliefs and assumptions hardened.

Finally, the belief of some that the name-calling was racially motivated introduced an emotionally-charged issue that complicated greatly the attempts to address the conflicts among the adults directly involved and increased the tensions within the Meeting.

We live in a racially-divided society, and that has profound implications for all of us. Children must learn what hurts others and how not to cause hurt, but just how this should be accomplished is difficult and requires sensitivity to the concerns of all involved. It is no surprise that we were not always successful in our efforts, either as parents, teachers, or concerned adults.

We make these recommendations to the entire Meeting as a reminder of the good order of Friends:
First, if you have a disagreement with a person and hope for a resolution, go directly to that person. If that does not work, ask to meet when each of you can have a friend to help you listen and seek resolution. Or, ask the advice of a person you deeply trust to help you find a solution for the conflict, or, if necessary, a way to accept the differences troubling you. If these traditional practices of Friends don't lead to resolution, bring the conflict to Ministry and Oversight so that the disagreement can be brought into the context of prayer and the good of the Meeting as a whole, as well as the good of the individuals involved. We remind Friends that M & O is not a therapy group, nor is its primary task the resolution of conflict. We can, however, assist with traditional Friends practices and hold each one involved in the Light.

Second, do all you can to broaden your own listening skills and school your reactions to events and comments in a way that promotes honesty and integrity. Learn to understand the context in which disagreements and injustices occur and the cultural and racial sensitivities of others. Cultivate a forgiving spirit within yourself and bring things to the best source of strength and light that you can. And above all, cultivate all the ways that kindness can be expressed.

Third, if you observe a conflict that needs resolution, talk to the parties involved, not just to your closest friends. Learn personal skills of appropriate intervention. Don't just expect someone else to take care of it -- each of us bears the responsibility for the good order of the Meeting.

Finally, "Friends are advised to maintain love and unity, to avoid tale-bearing and detraction, and to settle differences in a manner free from resentment and inward violence. Live affectionately as friends, entering with sympathy into the joys and sorrows of one another's daily lives....Bear the burdens of one another's failings; delight in one another's strengths." (IMYM Faith and Practice, Advices and Queries, pg 123)

Recommendations to the Individuals Involved or Affected by This Incident:
Recall the words of Isaac Penington (1667): "Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations against another; but praying one for another and helping one another up with a tender hand."

Cultivate a spirit of forgiveness and understanding for those whom you feel have put you in the wrong. Take the initiative, as some are doing, perhaps with the help of a friend, to meet with those with whom you feel you are not in unity. Assume that the outcome will be positive. Be willing to assume the best about the other.

Come to M & O if you are still unresolved about the name-calling or its repercussions.

The Next Step
To help us learn from this experience and to become more compassionate toward those with whom we have differences, M & O is arranging a "Listening with Compassion" meeting on May 29 at rise of Meeting, 12:30 to 2pm, where all concerned will have an opportunity to listen deeply and to be compassionately heard.

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