Tag Archives: quakers

Year of Self Compassion #20 #truthtopower

This week I have been chastised, metaphorically beaten up, listened up and loved up. The thread holding these diverse and sometimes divisive experiences has been that ancient maxim from the Quakers speaking your truth to power. And there are all kinds of power – power of the purse, power of persuasion, power of the big end of town, power of the secrets, power of pretense, power of the system – there is a laundry list of power at play in our lives every single day. I am overwhelmed by some of the powers that are circling in my worlds and this warrior princess is more weary that warrior at the moment.

To tell the truth to power is one thing and then to deal with the consequences is another. I have been thinking about Rosa Parks who said enough was enough and stayed seated. The consequences for her and her community were far reaching and the liberation did not happen straight away. My thoughts have also turned to Charlie Perkins who too hopped on a bus and kept on driving and headed into the centre. And on this Pentecost Sunday my thoughts also go to the pathetic group huddled together in an upper room too scared to go out and speak their truth to power and then were afforded a surge from a higher power to kick them along out into the street to spread their good news. Speaking your truth to power comes at a price and every now and again that price feels too high, and a cup drawn from the well to keep you going is essential. A dear friend brought her cup and cakes around for me yesterday – such a simple act of kindness coupled with her listening ears was a salve.

I watched the royal wedding as I heard The Kingdom of God choir was going to do Stand by Me and I wanted to hear that. This is a hugely political song and one loved by Martin Luther King, it was even inducted into the US Library of Congress for its special place in history – this is no ordinary song choice – it is political. But I was in for a bigger treat with the sermon by the leader of the US Episcopalian Church Rev Michael Curry – the first time this church has had a black leader. His homily about love being the way drawing from slavery, the bible, Martin Luther King and I wondered for a moment if Beyonce was going to get a mention (see Beyonce Mass in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco if you want to know more). This was a truth to power moment in history, with billions watching around the world, Chicago born Rev Curry preached on human rights in the 1,000 year old Windsor Castle, the home of a colonial power who had traded in slaves, built kingdoms and queendoms on the backs of the poor, who pillaged jewels from far off lands, who put generations in servitude on their ancestral lands. He preached about love, which for each of the couple had their own versions of what that meant in their families of origin. (I say Amen. All the people say Amen.)

We all remember the broken-hearted 8 year old who had scrawled “Mummy” on the flowers adorning his mothers coffin. I am a republican and long for Australia to be a republic. I am rarely interested in the royals, but watching this ceremony I was fascinated to see the new world of the USA influencing the old world of Europe with the message of love. Choosing Stand by Me – my favourite song of solidarity – turned it all around. Here were the gospel singers offering up their voices to stand with Windsor – an invitation to come to a new party – one where everyone is equal and well that sounds quite a lot like a new world order or indeed the same gospel being preached from the pulpit! I love these twists and turns, these moments in history when you know something is about to happen. All the signs are there, the foundations have been put in place and the truth to power actions will be louder than the speeches.

I was uplifted by the preacher. I was uplifted by the music. I was uplifted by the actions of a young couple who had found love. Love is always the way. There is no other way but to love and draw deep from the courage that love demands to speak your truth to power. Using the platforms of privilege many of us has a price tag and I felt encouraged and reminded of that last night. Speaking your truth to power will bring collateral damage, sometimes friendly fire, but there is no stopping that justice river roll into town. In this year of self compassion I may have to soften my approach to be more gentle on myself, and go a bit slower to bring others with me, but there is also the truth to be spoken and the power to be challenged. And now that Stand by Me has been sung at Windsor and the grandson of a black slave has preached love is the way there too, I have another well to draw from in those moments I find it hard to dig deep. Thank you Team Markle.


Let justice flow like a river Photo by Phil Houston on Unsplash

Promises to tomorrow #6 Consensus Building

In response to a question on why some work had been delayed or at least incomplete the response was: they gave the job to a 23 year old woman. I sat there and didn’t call out the ageism and the sexism. Somehow implicit in the words was that it was not the fault of the person doing the work, but those who had appointed her. There was power playing at every level. I didn’t call that out either. I witnessed. There was nothing inherently wrong with stating the facts, yet why was the age and the gender relevant at all? I know some pretty amazing people who were delivering in their twenties and some now in their twenties doing the same. Maybe whoever appointed her to the work believed in her, just as someone believed in me when I was early in my career, maybe those who appointed her didn’t understand the brief or were struggling in some way themselves, maybe what was delivered back was OK, but didn’t match expectations … who knows and how relevant anyhow to my promise to tomorrow? In our parliament this week there has been abuse, defections, loss – all pointing to a lack of a shared vision for a country, and we can all see how that approach is working and spilling into fuelling fear and hatred all around the world from Syria to Moscow to Washington. Lets start naming what binds us together, not what keeps us apart.

I have lost my vigilance on sexism and ageism for the young. Going to the edge of our discomfort and acting from that place becoming vulnerable and speaking your truth doesn’t need to take others down with you. Holding your integrity and honouring difference is a quest. Consensus building takes time, requires space and demands commitment. I have served boards and been on governing bodies and in teams where consensus decision making was the only way forward – taking everyone with us. I thank the Quakers for all their teachings around this, Marshall Rosenberg for non-violence communication skills and for all the people whose arguments I endured before decisions were made. I thank the people who taught me to stop and take time for silence and to have a break in proceedings before a decision was taken and who insisted each person have time to speak and explain their position and hold the responsibility to devise a solution if they were going to block the decision.

Decisions take time to arrive. All the voices need to be heard, all the facts on the table, all the advice in the room, feelings expressed and respected.

My promise to tomorrow is to continue to practice my consensus making muscle to leave no one behind. I can’t see a tomorrow without a shared vision of where we all want to go on this little blue planet. That is going to bring me close to the edge often and on watch for baby steps that can be taken to address the divisions inherent in our language and actions to build a future for us all. I hope I am travelling with others who can hold me to account and get in my way so I can develop my consensus building practice.



Dancing with Speeches #8 Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth is perhaps the most famous African-American woman of the 19th century. Fuelled by her religious conviction for justice as a child of God, for over forty years she traveled the country as a forceful and passionate advocate for women, slaves and the dispossessed.


sjTemporary and transitional, passing through as a guest, the sojourner goes on their way. Speaking with poise and clarity about conditions and the real life experience of what it meant to be a woman, a slave, black Sojourner Truth, named herself and claimed a place in history as a woman of influence, persuasion and passion. Choosing her own name to describe what she was doing is such a powerful way to stay on message! The theological underpinning of her famous “Ain’t I a woman” speech is recorded as her saying “can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.” Restorative justice – right there!

Sadly human rights, slavery and women’s rights are still on the agenda and what names do we have on the ledger trying to get these wrongs turned around? The movements of our time, are full of good and great women like Sojourner Truth, stepping up and stepping out into spaces to be heard. I immediately think of women who like Sojourner are naming themselves. How about Pussy Riot – what a perfect name for our time and for their message spread through punk, anarchist activism.pr

Finding our name and finding our voice does not need the genteel permission and good manners shown by Sojourner, politely asking the audience listening at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851. We can burst onto small screens with images, sound and voice, but having some clarity about who we are and what we want to say is certainly worth leaning on Sojourner’s example. Who you are, what you stand for and what you want to achieve by speaking out are certainly worth clarifying.

Sojourner is alleged to have cleared her throat, take off her bonnet and stand tall (like an Amazon it is reported). Again, great instruction to prepare to be heard – ask permission from the audience, walk forward, clear your throat, stand tall and start proclaiming. The biblical proportions of speech making are all there – the parting of the Red Sea (making your way to the front with people moving to the sides and you walk through); clearing your throat (John the Baptist, clearing the path for Jesus to walk); standing tall (in the temple before Jesus’ acts of proclamation to declare who he was) – the power of the lessons heard embodied taking shape in former slave – the instruction continues! There is no need to go looking for a better example of how an activist can lead in the public space and the lessons are still applicable. Asking for permission seems such an unreasonable and unlikely step these days, yet this simple act of requesting to be heard is everywhere from on line petitions to the making of appointments with a local member of parliament. It is a step that begins a conversation, an act of listening and being heard.

For the sojourner to speak truth to power is an act of nonviolence and a declaration of war on injustice. Prepare to be heard.  And taking the lead from Sojourner Truth, what is the name you might give yourself?