Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Considering "Joys and Concerns"

We Quakers traditionally seek to learn about each other and to share through expressions of “Joys and Concerns.”

I find myself increasingly relying on these two terms as I go about life. At the very least, they provide balance and open communication.

But I also have come to question whether they provide the proper “frame” for our feelings and experiences. How much outside, and even inside, the Quaker frame of “Joys and Concerns” are we missing?

Consider the defined margins of “joy” on one extreme and “concerns” on the other. Beyond those margins are certainly other feelings. Beyond “joy” consider “ecstasy” and “bliss.” A vast emotional space reaches beyond “concerns,” a word that seems steeped in traditional British understatement. Consider, for instance, “stress,” “worries,” “anxieties,” and even “paranoia.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Quakers replace our “joys and concerns” with “bliss and paranoia” (or some such). But what I am suggesting is that the words we choose may limit our awareness and discernment of Truth.

And what about all that falls within the Joy-Concern frame? Why do we share only joys and concerns? How about, for example, sharing “interest” or “passion” or “anger” or “love“ or “disinterest” or “ambivalence”?

Some feelings have little or nothing to do with joy or concern.

Consider too that joy and concern are closely related. In fact each is essential to defining the other. A world without concerns by necessity would be one without the joy of putting concerns aside. A world without joy would be a flat, depressing landscape where concerns wouldn’t be recognizable.

So why must “joys and concerns” be kept distinct? Can we find ourselves in situations that produce both simultaneously?

If you are like me, you may even find joy in a concern. Concern can lead, for instance, to an opening that brings with it the joy of creativity, accomplishment and giving. In Quaker terms, a concern is the beginning of a “leading.”

You may also find concern in joy. Recently I’ve found myself expressing joy at holding a position of responsibility that brings satisfaction. In the same breath my joy evokes the question, “Am I missing something? Has my joy blinded me? Do people I work with have concerns I’m unaware of?”

It would actually make me feel better to know of concerns. Learning them brings me the joy of awareness and the opportunity to help.

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