Some letters of the alphabet are greedy aren’t they? I can think of so many entries in this alphabet project for E that I am entirely exhausted. I do keep coming back to this one though, so I am going to choose it as my second E entry.
Well, Charles Dickens wrote a book on them, didn’t he? This is not going to be about escaped convicts in marshes, or deranged brides. It’s disappointing, I know, but Charlie did those better than I could. This post is going to be about the expectation of being a Quaker, or at least, my two penn’orth on the subject.
It was as I settled into meeting for worship last Sunday that I realised I get a little jolt every time I sit down in a Quaker meeting. The reason for that is because we are there to try to find our way together and actually no one can be quite sure what will happen. We sit in quiet expectation of hearing an inner voice guiding us. One moment you may be thinking of those around you and those absent, or of snowdrops and catkins and early spring sunshine, or what to make for dinner that evening. The next you are propelled into a stream of refugees escaping Homs, or to Death Row, or to supporting the family of a teenager who has killed themselves, or the excitement of a new gransparent quivering with the possibilities of a new life. Meeting can be an adventure, a trauma or a celebration and occasionally all of those things and more in one hour.
Meeting can also be subversive. It can be as dull as dishwater. It can be joyful. It can be cold. So my expectations of it are a little like a child on Christmas Eve, hoping for a miracle, and not sure whether I’ll receive a puppy or a magic ring or my third copy of “The Wind in the Willows” or an umbrella (I was only nine – an umbrella? What was she thinking?). Perhaps socks and knickers from M&S.
So there you have it: expectation and a little frisson of uncertainty. Eternal possibilities.
Last Sunday it occurred to me that as well as the holding of meeting there are expectations on the people present. It wasn’t a very original thought but I became aware that people at meeting view me very differently from colleagues at work. I behave differently too.
When I left home and went to university I was absolutely certain I did not want my former school friends to mix very much with my new university friends. The reason it was going to be difficult was because I had tried to reinvent myself a little, and I acted differently as a result. I wasn’t being deceitful; I was just experimenting with different parts of my personality. I was seizing the day. Once I had the new bits in place and felt comfortable, like a new pair of shoes worn in, I was perfectly happy to mix both groups together.
I’m at the gawky stage with meeting. The keeping things separate stage. The trying out stage.
When I’m at work everyone knows I am a miserable, irritable, but successful project manager. I may get a little terse and not do human very well, but I know how to plan, organise and deliver application developments, and I do it very well. Just don’t expect me to remember your birthday or compliment you on your hair or ask about your son’s exam results.
At meeting it’s different. People think I am supportive and thoughtful, a little reserved but basically fairly kind. I am still good at getting things done, but I do it differently. The reason I do it differently, I realised, is because everyone around me seems to expect me to do it differently. They hadn’t decided to make assumptions about me based on stereotypes of IT professionals for example. At work I am often told what “you techies” are like. This is despite the fact I do not conform to many (if any) of those perceptions.
Meanwhile at meeting I am a Quaker with some years of experience behind me. Therefore I am seen as supportive, helpful and thoughtful. I am credited with tact and diplomacy in a way that would frankly astonish my co-workers. I am viewed as having insights and contributions which are creative and positive rather than technical and process-driven.
I don’t think I am doing anything very different. I think much of it is because of the expectations of those around me that I am told I am good at apparently very different things. But the result is that I am starting to change my approach a little. I am seizing another day.
Way back in 1968 Rosenthal and Jacobsen carried out a study into the effects of teacher expectation on children. When teachers were told that certain (randomly selected) children were actually “late bloomers” who would improve over the school year, it was shown that those children did improve significantly. I won’t bore you with all the studies and arguments back and forth since then, but essentially the phenomenon of teacher expectation was recognised. It applies in other areas of our lives, at work and at play as well as in the classroom.
Quakers believe in “that of God in everyone” – you can use your own definition of God here. Essentially they expect the best of people and for myself they are bringing out perhaps the better parts of me. I have been away from meeting for a few years as family life took over, but when we attended regularly I was a kinder person on the whole at work as well as at meeting. As I rediscover that person again, the fluffier softer EBL if you will, I remember how to behave in more positive ways while still achieving the targets being set by management.
Most importantly perhaps I start to expect it of myself again. I start to expect love.
And if my meeting can affect me, perhaps I can go out and affect those around me in other situations. Good grief – it could become a Movement!
So how about you? Do you find yourself behaving differently in response to the expectations of those around you? Or am I just a candle in the wind?