Sometime in September, I had two students in my office. I don’t remember what the ailment was or for what I was having them wait- maybe a twisted ankle or a headache that needed ice. Anyways, the two students were chatting while I was working on paperwork. I wasn't paying attention when one says to the other “Stop being such a Quaker!” “Excuse me?” I asked as I turned around. “Is one of you Quaker?”
“No,” replied the student. “You know, Quakers are pacifists and [student name] here was saying that violence wasn’t the way to solve [what ever they were talking about].”
Perplexed, I identified myself as Quaker and asked where he had learned to use the term Quaker in what seemed to me a derogatory manner. His answer escapes my memory… but I do remember feeling befuddled by the whole thing. Where would an eleven-year-old learn to use the term Quaker to scold someone for a peaceful advocacy?
I find myself often in conversations with other Quakers about “what it means to be Quaker today.” I think this is a Meta question of identity with which many people affiliated with particular groups struggle.
The Religious Society of Friends used to be much more visibly peculiar than we are today. Plain dress, public speaking, public advocacy and political witness are some ways that marked Friends as different. So I was surprised to learn that the term “Quaker” is being re-purposed in common vernacular… or is it?
My dear readers… try something for me. Ask a stranger what they think a Quaker is… or what Quaker means… and send me your responses. I’m curious.