Over the next couple weeks, I am facilitating the discussion group at my Quaker meeting regarding George Fox’s idea that a faithful person should “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” Now, we have debated the idea of whether or not we believe there actually is an element of God in every person; some of us do while others don’t. It has been agreed upon, however, that Fox (in true Quaker style) was less concerned about metaphysical truths regarding the Divine in everyone and more concerned with how the Quaker community behaved.
I feel there is a powerful lesson in this.
We live in reactive times. Everyone is one post, one word, one decision away from making or losing friends. Before we can love someone, we need to see what they’re like. Before we can treat someone with respect, dignity, or compassion, we need to know they deserve it.
In case you haven’t noticed, being reactive isn’t working well for society. Our most immediate and visceral emotions are steering the ship, and we are going to repeatedly run aground until that changes. But how do we change it?
Fox’s quote could be of service in this regard. “Answering that of God in everyone” has nothing to do with what people deserve and everything to do with what we decide to do in advance. No matter what a person is like, we’ve already decided who we are going to be, and that makes all the difference.
I personally believe God’s image and breath and presence abide in every person, regardless of how they use, abuse, or ignore that gift. Yet even if that isn’t true, I’ve decided to live as though it’s a fact. As such, my interactions have started to change in a powerful way.
Don’t wait to be a compassionate or merciful person until “the chance arrives.” Decide now that that’s who you want to be, and start practicing! Don’t wait until someone deserving of your respect comes along, but decide now that everyone will be the recipient of your respect because you want to be a respectful person!
Of course we will still feel powerful, reactive emotions. It is also true, though, that our habits can allow us to process them effectively rather than hurling them into the world to do whatever harm they can. In that way, we can start to exemplify healthier ways of coping and interacting that are based on virtue, not offense.
We can’t control who others choose to be. We can, however, decide who we are going to be, and that has to be a decision made apart from other people. This is so necessary, as we are currently giving too much of our power over to others, allowing their behavior to manipulate ours in an endless cycle of mutual harm.
Take back your power, deciding in advance to go ahead and be the compassionate, healthy, loving, respectful person we all need. In this way, you’ll find yourself walking “cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”
Peace be with you!