Postscript on The Therapeutic Neighborhood
Today’s post from Abundant Community contributor John McKnight revisits the Clearness Committee and how it helped one woman’s challenge in deciding treatment for a life-threatening disease. She explains her experience and interaction throughout the process and how it saved her life. (To read original The Therapeutic Neighborhood excerpt, click here. For State of the Re:Union’s post synopsis, click here.)
“The Clearness Committee is not a cure-all,” says Parker Palmer in the excerpt from A Hidden Wholeness we posted recently in The Therapeutic Neighborhood. “But for the right person, with the right issue, it is a powerful way to rally the strength of community around a struggling soul, to draw deeply from the wisdom within all of us.”
My sister-in-law, Mary, was at Quaker study center Pendle Hill for months after an operation for a brain tumor. Here is her reflection on her experience with a Clearness Committee:
“Clearness Committees are made up of people called together to support individuals, couples, or groups in making decisions.
“I called a Clearness Committee to help me decide about my ‘next step’ when I was at Pendle Hill, the Quaker Center for Study and Contemplation.
“I asked seven people to come together with me and offer support, raise questions, give suggestions, and feedback. These were people in the Pendle Hill community who I felt could give me helpful input from their varying perspectives.
“These people didn’t tell me what to do, but helped me to become clearer about my future direction.
“I did preparation for the meeting by answering some pre-clearness questions–such as about my personal history with relevance to the decision to be made, my commitments, sources of support, goals, and what was holding me back from various options. I gave this background information to the committee members prior to our group meeting.
“They met with me for several hours one evening. After they brainstormed my strengths, they asked questions, raised concerns, and offered me feedback.
“By the end of the evening I received important insights as to how to proceed, and greater clarity about my future, which at that time was to return to Pendle Hill for another three-month session. Ultimately that decision led me to Ohio. . . .
“There were many other practical decisions that had to be made in the outside world to support my decision, but it was in the Clearness Committee that the direction for my future was made clear to me and supported.
“My reaction to the Clearness Committee? It was an invaluable experience of the thoughtful pushing and caring of friends in community.
“What is unique? In response to my desire for clarity, I reached out to my community for suggestions and feedback.
“What do they do that professional counselors can’t do? As side-by-side members of the Pendle Hill Community, they knew me from various personal perspectives, and offered on-going caring support rather than being outsider professionals. The dimension of sitting as a group in silence for guidance and discernment was a valuable part of the process.”
Clearly, for Mary, the “clearness” process was the work of a therapeutic community with profound meaning.
It is quite easy to lose track of one’s personal sense of understanding with so much static coming in at a rapid-fire pace daily. Perhaps the Quakers have hit upon something that is often overlooked or dismissed as being too invasive or quirky. For people such as Mary, not only does it make sense, but instills an inner peace and strength truly knowing that she never has to go through this alone. I believe this knowledge in and of itself is therapeutic. Yes, there are professionals who can assist in discerning the best actions for an individual, but is a more austere clinical setting the best way to begin the healing process? For some it might be, but who is to say that works for all? What about you, if you had a potentially life changing decision, what scenario would you prefer, and why? We would love to hear what you have to say, so send your answers our way.
John McKnight is an expert on communities. An Ohio native who currently lives near Chicago, he has spent decades organizing communities and researching them, primarily in the Windy City itself. In the course of his career, he mobilized neighborhoods during the civil rights movement, wrote several books about community development, created a center for urban affairs at Northwestern University, and even taught the current President a thing or two about advocacy. (Yes, it’s true: way back when, a young and eager Barack Obama interned at McKnight’s training program for community organizers in southeast Chicago). If that’s not enough, he recently co-authored a book called “The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.”