Meticulous and reticent lives 2.0

By Jill Segger
March 21, 2019

Good poetry stays in the mind. It takes root, develops and insists on keeping company with the reader.

Since referencing UA Fanthorpe’s poem Friends’ Meeting House, Frenchay, Bristol here last month, four words within it have been my companions in thought, distraction and reflection. “Meticulous and reticent lives” are not trending terms in our current culture. To refrain from giving an opinion is often interpreted as ignorance or timidity. A habit of being meticulous is more or less interchangeable with that of finicking. Admired in watchmakers or surgeons, it tends to cause eye-rolling in less specialised discourse.

But in our current atmosphere of division, fake news, alternative facts and opportunistic partisanship, to be meticulous for truth and for accuracy of expression is of the greatest importance. While searching and researching, it is well to refrain from premature comment. What may be said or written should, at the least, retain a sense of humility; ideas should know themselves as pilgrims rather than evangelists over-eager for a point of arrival.

Where agendas are followed without examination, there will be an all but inevitable lurch towards cruelty, both of the ‘respectable’ and the street-fighting variety. But worst of all, truth loses its identity and we may start to believe that it is unknowable and as a consequence, become lost in featureless landscapes. Hannah Arendt warned of this: “The result of a total and consistent substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed.”

The ongoing disarray of our politics and parliament present another warning of what may happen when the compass becomes faulty. MPs and ministers mislead Parliament and lie to the public without consequence. Members of the Cabinet defy three-line whips and remain in office. What will the next intake of MPs see as the norm? What advantage will be taken by the less scrupulous among them? We have already reached a point where people are saying “none of them” are to be trusted. Cynical, angry comment may relieve the feelings, but this level of alienation is desperately damaging to democracy. We are hacking at the branches upon which we sit.

To be reticent in expressing hatred and rage, meticulous in discernment and care for truth, are characteristics of the faith community to which I belong. In this terrible week of the Christchurch massacre and the increasingly venomous breaking apart of rational and democratic discourse, I am grateful for that family. We fail from time to time – as do all people – but we are supported by three and a half centuries of wisdom, ground out from experience. The 17th century has already been notably referenced this week. It’s worth thinking about

* Friends’ Meeting House, Frenchay, Bristol can be read here


© Jill Segger is 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. You can follow her on Twitter at:

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