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🧵 A Multitude of Legacies

Dear Friends, We have finally made it to October and fall here in North Carolina and I am grateful fo
🧵 A Multitude of Legacies
By C. Wess Daniels • Issue #14 • View online
Dear Friends,
We have finally made it to October and fall here in North Carolina and I am grateful for that. As the air turns crisp with coolness and reds and yellows begin to splash the trees with color, I’m reminded of the falls of my youth growing up in Ohio. Preparation for Halloween, excitement for my birthday (later this month), the joy of knowing that the holiday season is just around the corner all lifted my spirits then and continue to do so today. Fall is even more of a treat in our house now, my wife Emily and our daughters Lily and Mae also have birthdays within a month and a half of my own. So on a very personal level, even though there is so much to grieve and be disheartened about, I think about these small joys and am grateful for these simple gifts.
Today’s newsletter is another little gift, a final rounding out - at least for now - on the subject of values and preservation of traditions in our communities and it means to move forward together. This time, the article comes from my good friend, colleague, and collaborator Gwen Gosney Erickson. Gwen is a librarian and Quaker archivist at Guilford and I’m glad to introduce you to her today.
Query for Your Consideration:

  • Are values something I look to as legacies to preserve a status quo or protect a specific identity? Or are they aspirational traits to consider on a path towards growth into grace?
Thank you for reading!
Wess Daniels

🧵 A Multitude of Legacies by Gwen Gosney Erickson
Wess invited me to add a bit of my perspective to his series on “The Problem with (Quaker) Values.” Like Wess, I am employed at Guilford College. I “count” as one of the resident Quakers, having worked at Guilford for the past twenty-five years. I have been deeply involved with several Quaker institutions and organizations over the past several decades as an Earlham College graduate and as an active volunteer with a number of international, national, and regional organizations. I come to this space as a historian, a librarian, an archivist, and a Quaker. Those identifiers often raise particular stereotypes. My other key identities also often raise particular assumptions. I am a white Southern woman. Terms like “values,” “preservation,” and “heritage” show up a lot in my world. For me, they are ones that require unpacking, contextualizing, and questioning.
Values can be an important component of identity formation and how we choose to live our life. I value integrity and simplicity as concepts that I strive to place into practice as a reflection of my world view. Those happen to be two of the terms used in the infamous “S.P.I.C.E.S.” acronym (Simplicity, Plainness, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship) found in Quaker-founded schools and on many meetinghouse bulletin boards. But are those Quaker values? Do Quakers own those attributes more than non-Quakers? Due to my spiritual path, my articulation of those terms is grounded within the context of Quakerism, but I do not consider them to be uniquely Quaker. I also know that other Quakers interpret how these somewhat codified Quaker testimonies play out in their daily lives very differently from me.
I bristle when folks say a particular behavior or action is not “Quakerly.” I ask what is meant by that and often hear, “Well, it lacks integrity.” Rather than using “Quaker-ness” as a measuring stick, what is really meant? Is Quaker the gold standard and based on a list of values drawn from a late twentieth century acronym or assumptions about a singular Quaker ethos? Using language of religious exceptionalism risks creating power dynamics that are unhelpful. Who gets to play the “Quaker card”? Are Quakers the only ones qualified to serve as arbitrators when an action is questioned? Dishonesty and lack of respect for colleagues should be an issue to confront whether one is at a Quaker-founded institution or not. Rather than making a value judgement, I find it more useful to question a specific action that is at issue. 
Insect Fossilized in Amber
Insect Fossilized in Amber
Preservation is another word that comes up, often connected with values. How often have you heard of a need to “preserve our values”? Preservation is defined as an activity or process of keeping something intact and free from decay. This brings to mind the visual of an insect trapped in amber. It is a beautiful artifact. It is something to place on exhibit and study, but is no longer living or breathing. Preserving seals something into a rigid form to capture a moment in time.
In my job as an archivist, I gladly preserve artifacts and documents. However, I am not comfortable with the concept of preserving history. This is a crucial distinction for me. Objects such as letters, organizational minutes, recorded interviews, and photographs serve as historical sources. History is the act of studying and engaging with the past through those sources. We bring our own times to that process and use objects and memories (our own and those of others) to inform our understanding of the past. Those stories will likely evolve and change through added information and inclusion of narratives previously unavailable or ignored.
It is not uncommon for me to encounter people who consider history and heritage as synonymous terms. Often values are held up as coming from an institution’s heritage. Heritage is the legacy and often told as a single story. It is the inheritance granted by those who came before. A heritage is usually considered as a positive gift to be uncritically cherished. I fully support acknowledging and naming a heritage, but that is not the same as enshrining it. Insisting on preservation of a heritage is a slippery path. The benefits of the past are lost when actions are taken to preserve without openness to new interpretations and a willingness to learn. We did not all receive the same inheritance. Recognizing the interwoven nature of a multitude of legacies brings new opportunities to enrich our present and future. 
One of the core values listed and prized at many Quaker institutions is the testimony of equality. People are understandably attracted to Quakerism as a leading social justice denomination. Quaker narratives hold up facts from history, such as early Quaker women ministers and Quaker opposition to slavery, as proof that the Society of Friends is on the right side of history. How can an institution be sexist or racist with so many stories demonstrating centuries of commitment to equality?
I recently had a conversation with someone struggling with the sexism they encounter in a Quaker institution. They asked me, “How can this be? It actually feels worse than some places that do not claim to draw on a heritage of equality as a core value.” For me, this is a key example where the inherent dangers of preserving heritage though values collides with what I hope is the actual intent of Quaker testimonies. The stories told are of women being equal and a heritage of equality. The narrative is a single story which risks silencing the voices of those who have had experiences counter to that narrative. Those experiences are then seen as the exceptions, likely perpetuated by outsiders or those who are “un-Quakerly,” rather than evidence of systemic practices and misogynistic culture existing within a Quaker meeting or institution. Instead of looking within institutional practices, values statements risk being (mis)used to dismiss or downplay valid critiques. The testimony of equality has led to similar missed opportunities regarding issues of race and also a lack of awareness regarding class differences and other diversity issues within Quaker communities and institutions.
-Gwen Gosney Erickson
Biography:
Gwen Gosney Erickson found her spiritual home among the Society of Friends (Quakers) growing up in North Carolina. Gwen is an archivist, librarian, and historian who explores how historical narratives inform our human experience. She observed Quaker organizations close up living at Quaker House in Fayetteville in the 1980s with posters of the peace testimony. She appreciates expressing positive aspects of her heritage by spending time on the front porch and sharing okra with neighbors. You can read more of her writings, see videos, and hear interviews at https://www.gwenge.com/ (includes contact form if you wish to reach her with questions or feedback).
❓Query for Personal Reflection
  • Are values something I look to as legacies to preserve a status quo or protect a specific identity? Or are they aspirational traits to consider on a path towards growth into grace?
  • Do I use values to hold myself accountable or to control and judge others?
  • Are values a checklist of attributes to market or as an invitation for reflection and deeper conversation to move a community closer to stated ideals?
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Life is antifragile information that travels through time using the fragility of matter as its vehicle.

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📆 Upcoming Events
💚🧠 Final Thought
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.“ -[[Ernest Hemingway]] ht Peggy Senger Morrison
Love and Light to each of you,
Wess Daniels
Haw River Watershed (Greensboro, NC)
☕️ Thank you for Supporting This Newsletter
You support this newsletter by reading it, sharing it with friends, and/or by contributing financially to the making of this newsletter, and my other ministries. Thank you! -Wess 💚☕️
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C. Wess Daniels

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