Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I deliberately lied to someone a few days ago. It was at work. I was helping one of my staff as she was training to work on a new project. She was interviewing me and I was playing the role of a research participant. Usually, when doing this, I would give answers as if I were one of the many people I've interviewed in the past but this time, mainly because this was a study I'm unfamiliar with, I just answered the questions as myself. I don't eat meat. I have never had a colonoscopy nor been diagnosed with polyps but my mother has. My father had elevated PSA levels but was not diagnosed with cancer. I walk about 30 minutes a day. I have three children. I weigh 150 lbs. I'm 5'7" tall. I work as a research study interviewer. I've completed, um, 16 years of schooling.

There it is. I lied about my educational background. I actually stunned myself when I did. Well, first I kicked myself for not anticipating the question and giving fake answers.

I'm asking myself some questions:
Am I ashamed of my lack of education? No, I don't think I am. Frequently frustrated, yes, but not ashamed. Actually, I'd say I'm really proud of myself to have done all the things I've done without the educational foundation that so many people take for granted (the pride issue would be gist for another post).

Is my ego attached to how people perceive me? Yes, some. The woman I was working with is a very nice person; she's quite a bit older than me, has family in the same part of Indiana that I do. She's a college professor but I think comes from humble beginnings. I don't think she would judge me harshly as a person. I don't care if she, personally, knows that I didn't go to college. Personally, I don't really think I much care if anyone knows. But professionally, that's a different thing. I'm not a terribly ambitious person but I do want the opportunity to grow in my job and in the department. I have staff under me who have masters degrees. I think there are currently 2 people in our department, besides myself, who have no higher levels of education and they're both in part-time, uncareer-oriented positions. I am very good at my job and I want to be taken seriously. I'm respected as a leader. I don't think that would change if word go out that I am "uneducated" but it's not outside of possible that some people's attitudes toward me could subtly change. I might not be taken as seriously. My authority as a leader could very well suffer, which would damage my potential for advancement in our department.

I have no intention of rectifying the misrepresentation. I didn't lie to change her perception of me, more to maintain the current perception of me as qualified to lead. Having a degree, particularly in an academic setting, is almost a universal requisite: I am the very rare exception. I lied because I want to maintain the level of leadership I hold. Yes, I suppose that is ego but it's ego rooted in pragmatism. I guess if I stepped way back and looked at my situation with the broadest perspective, I'd see that having this job or not is ultimately not important. In this lifetime at this time, I do need a job. I don't know if this is where God wants me to be but this is where I am and I haven't felt any leadings to leave. Although, I guess I could interpret my need to lie about my background as a disconnect from what best glorifies Spirit. But, working for this world renowned institution in the epidemiology center gives me credibility to do other things, effect other changes in the world that I might not have if I were, say, a nanny or working in a bookstore. To me, it feels this is a good place to be. I trust God to nudge me when it's time to make a change.

This leads me to an interesting meditation on sin. A post for another day...


Anonymous said...

I would think that one's lack of education in your position would, in fact, cause your subordinates to admire what you have accomplished. Having been in a supervisory position myself, I have always tried to be honest with subordinates, as well as co-workers.

In the scope of sin, a lie isn't an unforgivable sin, but to deliberately lie and have no intention of rectifying it is not what God expects of us.

Eric H-L said...

I learned about your blog when an influential member reccomended "My Discomfort is My Lack of Discomfort" to the meeting I recently started attending. I admire your courage and wisdom. I wish I could give you some of my excess educational status. Over the last ten years, I have underplayed my book learning to fit in to the blue collar workforce. Sometimes I tell myself that this is a kind of humility, but who am I kidding?

Friendly Mama said...

The world would be so much nicer if we could all just be straight-up with one another and accept one another at face value without our own preconceptions and judgements. But, damn, we've all got this thing about labels and we get hung up on all the superficial stuff that is so important in our society but ultimately means nothing.
What is the situation in which you feel the need to misrepresent yourself?
And thank you for your honesty.

Eric H-L said...

I want to answer your question first, and then respond to your comment.
When I followed my leadings into electrical work, after getting a B.A. and an M.A., I felt like an outsider with construction workers. I wanted to be accepted while I learned my trade. Most job applications only had enough space for three educational institutions. I would fill in my high school, my electrical apprenticeship program and my two community college classes related to being an electrician. On the job, the subject rarely came up. I didn’t volunteer information about my post high school education. Occasionally, I have put some of my college stuff on applications and opened up to a few co-workers. Once I tell one person, word gets around. I have not gotten any negative reactions. Over the years I am learning that my fears of rejection were totally unfounded. The people I have worked with have been kind and generous and helpful toward me (although sometimes expressing sexist racist and anti-immigrant thoughts about others who are not present) My fellow workers always thought I was weird…
and knowing about my education helps them understand why I am different.
I was led to respond to your blog to communicate support (and humor in the way our situations are kind of opposite.) I am guilty of wanting “… our meetings for worship to be a place of comfort, not challenge.” In responding to your blog, my inner light became more like a searchlight, showing my own actions and thoughts that don’t fit with who I should be. I am still struggling with question like: “How truthful can I be?” “What am I willing to risk to present myself as the same person at work and in meeting?” “Why am I afraid to not fit in?” “When I hide part of myself, do I reduce my ability to raise up the good?”
Now I want to respond to your comment. You speak my mind. I ask myself what *is* the superficial stuff that is so important to our society? Why do I (with two parents who are college professors) feel like a stranger with construction workers? I just started reading N. Jeanne Burns’ blog: Quakers & Social Class. and I think she would say that we are talking about social class.
I don’t want to put words into your mouth. What do you think?
I remember the concept from college courses and progressive political analysis but I don’t think I ever really got it. (I still don’t get it.) In my experience most people (except maybe academic progressive sorts) don’t talk about class. I know it never comes up at work. Even though I don’t understand, it helps me to have a name for that invisible barrier that I sensed and felt like I needed to create a new persona in order to cross over.
Thanks for all your hard work.

Friendly Mama said...

I, too, am considered weird, strange, different by pretty much everyone I've ever been around, but especially with working class people like my extended family (but they've known me since I birth and have to love me anyway). Among liberals, particularly middle-class, well-educated liberals I'm "eccentric". In Quaker meeting, I'm a little different (I challenge the status quo on a regular basis) but the gifts I bring are respected and valued.

It took me a looong time to feel comfortable enough at Nashville Friends Meeting to share my history and background and, to some extent, I credit Jeanne's blog with helping me get over that enough to own my experience and to share my perspective. There is so much unspoken class privilege at NFM it blows my mind. Folks are always ready and willing to discuss racism and sexism and to do "work" on their own biases in those areas but can't begin to wrap their heads around their own class issues. It would almost be funny if it weren't so true and didn't effect how we welcome newcomers to our meeting.

The way I see it, people like us have the opportunity to be bridges between two worlds if we can be honest with and respectful of people in both "worlds". I can act as a voice of other ways of interacting with the world with my Quaker community and I can be an example of welcoming Friendliness with my neighbors and others. For me, this means that I must try to be aware of how I represent God first and then myself second (always much easier said than done). When I'm meeting people with that of God as my guide, my ego does not feel vulnerable even though it is my ego with which is the MEness of me (if that makes a lick of sense). When I'm aware of God in me, I can let go of my fears of rejection--or worse, my hopes for popularity or whathaveyou--and just be with whoever I'm with.

Your note/comment said one more thing that I want to address but I think it will be more appropriate as a blogpost than here. I'll write about it today so look for my next post tomorrow.
be well,
Mary Linda

Eric H-L said...

When I wrote my previous comments, I had only read two of your blogs. I searched for a few more pieces to get details of social class in your meeting. I am sorry you have had a hard time. It makes me wonder how you would have felt in the Indiana meeting I recently started attending. I don’t know these folks very well, and I am not sure what their class is. One clue: I felt at home, right away! Maybe these Friends share my privileged class backround. I have not noticed any Joys and Concerns about children going to elite educational institutions or summer as a verb, but I am the fish that does not see the water I swim in. As the meeting moves toward participationg in Quaker Quest, the clerk discussed that we have worked hard welcoming all colors and sexual preferences but not so much on people who do not think like us or have different politics. (Is this code for social class?) This conversation has not gone very far yet in my presence. One thing that came up was the perception (or reality?) that we have great homogeneity in level of education and this might put some people off. When she said we should consider how we to welcome people who differ from us politically, I thought immediately “I get way too much of that at work!” I am nourished by the few hours each week I don’t need to defend my politics. I know that reaction was not generous, but it amused me.
I am blown away by what you wrote about being a bridge between two worlds. It sounds like a great thing for you to do… but rather daunting to consider it for myself. (Also not a generous thought!) Your explanation of how you do this bridging is helpful in its specificity. I totally know what you mean about the “Meness of me.” Tough concept to express. It’s all new to me, being around a community of worship and I had never considered such depth of faithfulness as a path for me. Thank you for your comment that “it is easier said than done.” This makes your way seem more possible. God first, and myself second!? It brings to mind how I have been aproaching leadings. I am happy to notice leadings when I I don’t know what to do. 90% of the time I am all about “I’m not lost; I don’t need to stop and ask directions!” In some of your other writings, when you talk about challenging each other in our meetings I reacted to the words negatively. (Not because of any lack of skillful means on your part) I envision a noisy confrontation, like an AA intervention portrayed on a bad soap opera. Yet, you are challenging me big time, just by your example. It is slightly uncomfortable yet I am proud of you.
If I may think out loud, I have also had some tentative and confused thoughts about our different experiences of living in the “other world.” I realize that I have been looking at our experiences of discomfort crossing class lines as symetrical. I keep remembering some technical definition of social class including the phrase “structured system of inequality.” I don’t quite know how, but I suspect that although, a social class system may segregate us all, this does not mean that it hurts everyone equally. Are class boundries like one way membranes? Easier to pass through in one direction than another?

Friendly Mama said...

Although the obvious harm occurs to those "below", I think there is as much harm, albeit invisible, to those "above". Whenever we make assumptions about other people, we close ourselves off from really knowing then. I think this is true of us as individuals and of us as classes, institutions, communities and groups. And let me tell you that I am the worst for judging people (my husband says it's the baptist in me). I don't know if I think of the experiences of moving from one class-informed experience, of moving from one strata to another, as being symmetrical but I do think there's some karma action going on in how we represent when we do. The fewer assumptions we travel with, the more open we are to the Truth of each person we encounter.

In order for me to not carry any assumptions about you or this relationship we are forming, I feel the need to ask you this question: What did you mean when you said that you are proud of me? To me, to be proud of someone suggests some vested engagement with that person. If it's not due to a vested interest, it seems a very patronizing attitude in a "bless your heart you're doing so well given what you've got to work with" kind of way. When I someone's proud of me, unless it's said by my mom or someone with whom I've been working on a particularly difficult thing, my hackles get raised a bit. This may be me misinterpreting your intention and being overly sensitive. I'm asking so we can be clear with one another.

I guess the word "challenge" can be a challenge. I certainly don't mean it in any confrontational way. What I mean is to hold one another to our highest standards--not judgementally but with love and deep knowing and, importantly, with cooperation and mutual understanding. What I mean is for us to, as beloved communities (and I include this Quaker blog-o-sphere in that), be in touch with the Light given us as individuals and as a communities. What I mean is eldering with love and with God's will at the fore, not from any position of "authority" but as Friends, teachers, mentors and guides.

As for having had a hard time with my Friends Meeting: I would say that I created at least half the problem. If I had been more secure with myself, my spiritual journey or my place in the world, I wouldn't have felt the need to not be real. I do struggle with the implied privilege inherent in the lives of most of the folks at NFM but, you know, we're all blind until we learn to see. I certainly have lots of my own eye-beams.

I completely understand what you mean by "I get way too much of that at work!". I, also, live in a very conservative area of the country. My temperament coupled with the way I was raised makes me a knee-jerk reactionary to religious fundamentalism and rah-rah USA Republican patriotism. For years, I surrounded myself with like-minded communities of people to act as my buffer against the dominant culture. I wanted, perhaps needed, to feel safe and accepted among like-minded people. But now I think that doing so has closed me off to learning to be WITH others who believe differently from me. I think feeling "safe" has taught me to build walls. Or maybe I had to go through a period of feeling safe in order to grow enough to SEE the walls I build and now I'm strong enough and ready to build bridges, instead.

On a personal note: I'm a native Hoosier, too, although I've lived in Nashville half my life now. I'm from LaPorte. Where do you live (you can email me privately, if you would prefer to not respond in public: Let's see how close our experiences are: I'm going to see Carrie Newcomer perform this evening...

Eric H-L said...

As I wrote the sentence “I am proud of you” I thought it sounded too familiar. I apologize and want to explain what I meant. First, let me assure you that I did not mean I am proud of you for what you have accomplished in spite of any class or education obstacles I imagined you overcoming. I agree-that would have been patronizing. I was trying to say I was very impressed with your gifts of ministry. I was thinking of qualities like courage to make yourself known through your blog and in your community, and the kind of radical submission of self to the divine you described. I was thinking it was these attributes which allowed you to challenge me (by example) to live more faithfully. You gave your testimony. Why am I wondering if I should live more as if God mattered? I was giving you credit, but I should credit my own inner guide for the searching I experience.
Yes the word challenge is challenging for me. In a society that often glorifies war and violence type conflict we seem to avoid the kind of positive eldering you write of. You do a good job explaining what you mean. I think my mis-interpretation was definitely about my issues. Even as I was associating those negative images of with the verb to challenge, part of me knew that is not what you meant. I am unusually allergic to conflict, even when it only exists in my imagination.
It is cool that you grew up in Indiana! LaPorte: The paternal side of my wife’s family has a yearly re-union in LaPorte at a retreat center/former dairy farm owned by our next door neighbor. He grew up on the family farm. I am afraid I grew up in Bethlehem Pennsylvania and had never been to Indiana until 1987. My wife and I moved to Indianapolis in 1992, after she completed social work school. I had attended meeting briefly in Cambridge Massachusetts during the late 80’s. I think I was influenced by my wife’s (girlfriend then) apartment mates who had gone to Earlham. When we moved to Indianapolis I was not prioritizing community of worship. I also had heard that the meetings in Indiana had programmed worship and were more conservative. Last summer, while working in West Virginia, I accidently (or was it?) discovered the Shepherdstown Allowed Meeting. I rented an apartment from one of the Friends there. Shepherdstown folks urged me to check the internet for unprogrammed meetings back home. I discovered The North Meadow Circle of Friends and really like this small renegade band.
Regarding my impulse to carve out a safe place to be a progressive in what I perceive to be a very conservative place. What you wrote about building bridges instead of walls helps me understand more where the NMCF wants to go. I am imagining people who (unlike me) have spent plenty of time with other liberal Friends over their long lives.