What does it mean to be a truth teller?

I’ve recently heard about additional experiences of a friend of mine, a Quaker friend. A friend who is a person of color.

She has had many experiences related to racism and White supremacy, in more than one Quaker meeting she has attended.

These are difficult situations, because there were Quakers who were involved in the enslavement of black people. This seems at odds with stories of some Quakers as abolitionists. Both are true.

I’ve been present when there was great tension in Quaker gatherings as we began discussions related to the role of Quakers in forced assimilation of Native children. Discussions even more difficult because some of our ancestors were involved with those Indian boarding schools.

My friend asks, “what does it mean to be a Quaker? Truth teller?”

A truth teller does not try to modify a fact, experience, or idea to hide what is ugly. It is often uncomfortable to tell the truth. (see Brutally Honest Guide to Being Brutally Honest” below).

I have my own stories related to the Quaker Indian boarding schools. In 2018, I was blessed to walk on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. A small group, about a dozen native and dozen nonnative people, walked together along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline. The intention was for us to share each other’s stories, to get to know each other and begin to build some trust so we could work on things of common concern. Which would build more trust.

Knowing some of the terrible history of Quakers and Indian boarding schools, I didn’t know what to do about that as we marched together. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to those discussions, if they came up. I admit I was kind of hoping they would not.

But it didn’t take long for me to realize people would not be able to trust me if I didn’t confront the issue of the boarding schools. For some roleplaying, I imagined I was a native person on the March. What would I think of a White person walking beside me, knowing as I (the native person) did the history of those schools? This was very relevant now because I knew the trauma from the past, such as the trauma of these boarding schools, has been passed from generation to generation.

In other words, the trauma of the Indian boarding schools is affecting the lives of the people I am walking with now. And their families.

“The Past Isn’t Dead. It Isn’t Even Past”

William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

I wrote the following on my blog:

It didn’t take too many hours of getting to know Matthew when the Spirit led me to say to him, “I know about Quakers’ involvement in the Indian boarding schools. I’m sorry they did that.” I was apprehensive about whether I should have said that, whether that was appropriate or could pull up bad memories. We continued to walk side by side. All I noticed was a slight nod of his head. He always smiles, and that didn’t change.

But the next time we walked together, Matthew shared a story with me. He had been living at Standing Rock for about six months, when he learned a new rope was needed to ferry people back and forth across a narrow channel of water. He offered a rope so ferry’s operation could continue. He went on to say his mother called him after she recognized the rope while watching a TV news story. She was very upset because that brought back terrifying memories of how the Native families would try to help their children escape when white men came to kidnap them and take them to a boarding school.

The Past Isn’t

I am certain Matthew and I could not have become friends if we had not shared our stories with each other. I am so grateful he listened to, actually heard, my story. And was willing to share his in return. I imagine it was painful for him to do so. I treasure our friendship now.

I have brought up the issue of Quakers and the Indiana boarding schools with every one of my native friends, at one time or another, since then. And I have been shocked by the traumatic experiences each have had, and continue to have, related to the residential schools.

Truth telling is fundamental for the development of honest, mutual, deep relationships. For the beginnings of trust.

“The Brutally Honest Guide to Being Brutally Honest” by Josh Tucker.

Well, I have to tell you something, and you may not like to hear it. But if you struggle with the art of being frank, you need to hear this. It will make you a better person, a better communicator and a better blogger.
So here it is …
You’re a coward.
If you can’t be brutally honest with people, especially when you know it’s in their best interest, you’re a coward.
You’re not doing anyone a favor by withholding a truth from them, even if it’s difficult for them to hear.
The only person you’re protecting is yourself. Because you’re afraid of the consequences to you.
But it’s not about you.
Being honest is about making sure your audience has the information they need to make good decisions. That includes information they may not like.


This entry was posted in decolonize, Des Moines Mutual Aid, enslavement, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Indigenous, Native Americans, Quaker, Quaker Meetings, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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