Books, Deep thoughts


On Tuesday I posted about following my own lead when I was tired. I tried to do what I really “needed” to do that day to feel good, not just blindly follow my to do list or self-imposed expectations.

The other day, I read about a sort of related idea (but in an opposite direction), that I found so interesting I jotted down some notes about it. This is more about the idea of being HONEST with yourself and not getting carried away with imaginary, idealistic thoughts instead of reality.

“Clearness committees” and listening

Back in the 1900s, the Quakers would form something called “clearness committees” to help their community members consider specific concerns they might have (ex. compatibility in marriage partner, or matters of career or faith). When someone had a problem, they would turn to the elders. They would get a request about a problem, and then ~6 committee members would meet with the person to ask “faithful questions”. Basically, they acted like a special listening board.

The whole purpose was to help the person go deeper within himself, so that a “clearness” about the matter would arise. They weren’t there to offer advice or suggestions. In short, they would just ask neutral questions and then listen to the answers, not intervening further.

I loved this story about a clearness committee in action:

“Quaker educator and author Parker Palmer told me about his experience with a clearness committee in the 1970s when he was trying to decide whether to accept an offer to become president of a large educational institution.

At first, the questions were about the position and what he hoped to accomplish. Then someone asked what seemed like a simple question: “Parker, what would you like about being president?” He listed the things he wouldn’t like- the politics, raising money, not being able to teach. When asked again, “But what would you like?” he again talked about aspects he wouldn’t like. “Well, I wouldn’t like to give up my summer vacations.” The committee members persisted, “But, Parker, what would you like about it?”

Finally, appalled by what he realized was the truth, he said, “I guess what I’d really like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word PRESIDENT under it.”

-p. 145 You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy

Ha. I mean, HOW many times have we probably all been in this situation?? I’m fascinated by the idea.

Two thoughts:

#1. I love the idea of the clearness committees. This is really what listening to others should be about. Of course, we are all guilty of trying to “solve” people’s problems for them when they talk to us. I think it’s human nature- we want to help. “Well, you should tell her….” or “I don’t know about you, but I would do XYZ if I were you.”… “Why don’t you…..”

This clearness committee approach really allows the underlying feelings and personal intuition of the person to bubble up from under the surface. When we ask the right questions, we can then sort of step out of the way and let the person find their own truth.

#2. The concept of Mr. Palmer’s issue in the story resonated with me too. I am sure we can all think of examples of times we think we “want” something, but if we were to really peel back the layers, the motivation might not be what we originally think it is.

Do we really want a promotion, or do we just want to be the one who GOT the promotion in the first place? Do we actually want a bigger house to pay for/clean/keep up, or do we just like the idea of people seeing us drive up to a big, fancy house? Do we truly want to head up that volunteer committee, or do we just feel that it “looks good” to be a mom who volunteers? Etc. etc.

Good stuff. Food for thought!! 🙂

Daily Gratitude:

I am grateful for studying with the boys! They are learning about some COOL topics this year. Last night I helped Asher study for a Social Studies test about early civilizations in the Americas (Mayans, Aztecs, Puebloans, Incas, etc.). I definitely learned (or re-learned, probably) a lot! We looked up some images of the different dwellings of the Incas in South America and the amazing bridges they would build. We also realized that Asher has actually stood on top of dwellings built by both the Aztecs (at Tenochtitlan in Mexico) and the Pueblo people (at Mesa Verde, in Colorado). He was excited by this! 🙂

Tenochtitlan, near Mexico City (Aztecs)

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (Pueblo people)

2 thoughts on “Clearness”

  1. I’m glad you are getting some nuggets from that book since I suggested it! I found that clearness committee idea very interesting, too. It is very helpful to talk with someone who is a good listener and isn’t trying to steer you in one direction and instead asked probing questions to get to the heart of how you feel. It can be really hard to be honest with ourselves!


  2. It makes you wonder if there is a list of “clearness questions”… or if we can create the same process for ourselves? Does it require the outside input of neutral observers of the situation? Lots of interesting ideas there… I do try to ask myself, “why am I *choosing* to do this?” even if it’s something that has been assigned to me. Sometimes the reason is very simple – I gave my word, and I keep my word. Other times, though, the answer provides a bit more insight.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s