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It gets harder by the day to hear the still small voice. There is a stridency in our culture which makes dialogue, the resolution of conflict or even simple understanding increasingly difficult.
Politicians shout each other down and bluster across their media interlocutors – the standard response of the Secretary of State for Health to any criticism of the NHS Bill seems to be “that's nonsense”. Members of some faith groups often insist on divine sanction for their views and show apparent contempt for the good faith of those whose journey towards the truth does not run on the same tracks. Stonewall and the presumptuously titled 'Anglican Mainstream' use buses to shout at each other in the language of the playground. “Get over it” is not a phrase calculated to invite reasoned or courteous exchanges.
Aggression and insult have only one purpose – intimidation. Whatever the point of view being proposed or defended and however sincerely and ardently it is held, it should not be too difficult either to understand that it cannot be unique or that people do not generally change their minds through being shouted at. The conclusion has to be therefore, that individuals and organisations who argue in this manner have no interest in a truth which is far more subtle and nuanced than their blunderbuss tactics will allow, and every interest in 'winning'. To be so fearful of the possibilities of learning from diversity, delicacy and respect is as sad for the bearers of blunderbusses as it is for those at whom they are aimed.
George Fox wrote that “truth is a seed with the power of growth; not a fixed crystal, be its facets never so beautiful." That which grows may quickly run away from the control freak; crystals, on the other hand, can be safely stored away in strongboxes and kept as personal treasures, unsullied by the profane fingers of question or dissent.
We can all be tempted to this form of idolatry. Every time I feel the urge to have the last word or forget to “consider it possible you may be mistaken”, I offend against truth and all its possibilities. It is sometimes said that the only thing that will get you thrown out of the Society of Friends is the conviction that you have all the answers. A good antidote to that is to sit where silence has been made valid and be attentive to “that deep hush, subduing all our words and works.”
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet