Lately I have been thinking more about the act of voting. As a culture I like that we feel more empowered to make decisions over our own lives. Years ago there would have been a deference to the elites, those we saw as our “betters” and the history of this kind of societal structures, implicit or explicit, is wretched. The outcomes, the assumptions, behind this kind of social boundaries caused some of the worst outcomes the human race has ever witnessed. Thank goodness we as a society now privilege individuals of every race, gender, creed, orientation and ethnicity to have the power to speak, act and vote their own wisdom.
But one unexpected outcome of this necessary and good turn has been the focus on voting to the exclusion of other necessary elements in the democratic process. I see it all the time at Board meetings I attend, people want to vote, now! It’s like they don’t want to wait for fear others will unduly influence them. I think this stems from the way we socialize or don’t socialize now. Years ago there was more of this elitism which thankfully we are leaving behind, but there was also more interaction between different demographics around public spaces. Churches, social clubs, pubs, sporting centres, political parties, brought together rich and poor, different religious groups, different ages. You could not avoid your neighbour, s/he was in your face. You simply had no choice but to listen and exchange views with people who lived very different lives than you.
While the internet has brought us information from people in far off lands, stories about people very different from us, it also allows us to filter what we want to hear. So while I now can read about carpets in India I can also pin point that information so it is coming from an ideology or theology that is custom made to my own point of view. On one hand I am more aware of the global world around me than my forebears but on the other I am selecting the lens that tells me these stories and exclusively using that lens to interpret this global village. Tourists can go on the net to find out all about the place they plan to visit and thus insure no surprises, every aspect of the visit is custom designed to yield the experience we desire.
All of this has a direct impact on meetings and voting. Instead of going to a meeting to listen to the discussion, different points of view, and then letting the organic (some might say the Spirit!) process take its course we want to vote right away. We’ve already thought about the issues, usually from our own experience and the experiences of others who think and live like us, and we don’t need or want to hear from anyone else. In fact in submitting to listening there is a feeling among some that we are letting someone else “put something over” us. We are suspicious of the other, they must have some motive that is wrong and we must stay strong and resolute.
When Quakers, or “Friends” as some like to be called, meet they do so in no rush. The meetings can take time but they build in a process of intentional listening believing that the process itself is part of the good outcome. There is no suspicion, only respect for one another. The same is true of the sacred circle of First Nations people. Using a talking stick people wait on the listening to the other to help guide a good decision.
Patience is NOT one of my virtues. I do like hearing the views of others, particularly others different than me and I am far from certain I have the answers (compliments of a limited skill-set) but I lack the stamina of patience to get me where I know I need to go to be a good committee member. That is my weakness in this process.
I don’t like long meetings and feel that often the length of the meeting has more to do with inefficient planning and people around the table using the meeting as social time than it does being patient with “listening to the Spirit in the other”. Nevertheless patience is a virtue. As one colleague recently explained to the church he serves, “God gave us all two ears and only one mouth.” That is likely the best advice I have ever heard someone give before a vote.