Monday, October 6, 2008

The Newbie

My fellow intern and I have coined a new term: Quaker Bluntness. Ben, the co-worker in reference, went to a Quaker college, so he’s a little more familiar with the community than I, at least its young adults. For me though, this has been a great treat in people watching. We all like to look for personality trends within groups. It calms our minds to separate people into neat little packages and gives us a context in which to approach them so that we can better cope with their individual quirks. I have found the Quakers in Washington D.C. to be a mix ranging from professorial to humbly astute, socially maladroit to impossibly graceful. When the Quaker playwright Peterson Toscano came to WPH to perform “The Re-Education of George Bush”, he joked about shunning aggressive tactics as a Quaker and opting instead for being passive aggressive. The audience chuckled in recognition, and a light went on for me because I hadn’t figured out what to call it yet. But, seemingly in equalizing response to this irksome faction of the group, there are others within the Quaker faith who won’t bat an eye while they very plainly tell you that what you’re doing is wrong. That’s the good old Quaker Bluntness I’m talking about. It’s a great thing to be around because you’ll find that they mean no offense or harm, that they’re simply unashamed of expressing their opinion in all of its frank and non-conciliatory splendor. That is an ability that someone my age can aim for, in whatever degree feels most comfortable. The other type of person most valuable for social learning in this community, I have found, is the Quaker who deals with each of these personalities with an incredible sense of poise and inner strength. They take no offense at oblique criticisms or direct challenges. They respond from a place of self confidence and wisdom. As I warm up to my new surroundings here at Penn House, and as I check in the fifteenth bizarro guest of the week, I am thankful to be around so many different characters from whom to learn and grow. My name is Kelli, I’ll be here until September of next year, and I look forward to offering all of you my hospitality.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Recently Faith and I co-facilitated a workshop called Teachers of Peace in Ohio. In Ohio, "anti-bullying" is a big deal in the schools, and is increasingly becoming something the schools are being mandated to deal with. Like so many well-meaning movements, however, when something starts with "anti-" and then names the problem, people's attention is often so focused on the problem that the big picture and even the solutions are missed.

For me, it is the bystander phenomena that ultimately matters in our world. Martin Luther King suggested that "the world begins to end when we are silent on the things that matter". But it is simply not possible to become an activist on all things that matter in our all-or-nothing world. Since the Exxon Valdez spill, I have avoided Exxon at all costs (except for those rare occassions that I have been stranded). I never shop at Wal-Mart. I have not bought a ticket to a major league baseball game since the 1994 strike. But the fact is, I'm the only one who feels good about this. The target for change doesn't even notice. And, when it comes to Wal-Mart and Exxon, all I'm doing is standing by while Exxon rapes the environment and Wal-Mart bullies its employees. I wonder if there is something - not more, but different - that I can do.

First Post

William Penn House now has a blog!