Friday, April 2, 2010

Mending bridges and fences

Posted by Joel Gunz

In my March 30th post, I made some suggestions about what to do when the elders come knocking on your door. They came across as a prescription, as if there was a "right" way and a "wrong" way to handle such encounters, and it was as if I was pointing out which was which. Of course, that’s nonsense. With a top of the hat to T. S. Eliot, I have to play my 'that wasn't what I meant at all' card. Of course, no two of our stories are alike, so how we handle various situations will be as unique as we are. My three-step dealybob is just one possible approach among many.

Oh, and one other thing, I guess I let my paper-thin veneer of equanimity slip in that last post. It was my friend Oliver who summed it up this way: “Snarkiest post ever!” Oops! My bad. [Insert the smack of my wrist being slapped.]

But the idea in the post that I’d like to revisit, which I think is worthwhile, is that upon leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we often need to set new boundaries in how we relate to other people. The elders are trained to impose on others’ privacy to shocking degree — and we were trained to go along with it. Just like an abused or neglected child that doesn’t know how to set personal boundaries, many of us have had to learn how to draw the line with those who would violate our personhood.

Re-orienting toward a more self-respecting outlook can be difficult. I know it has been for me. While it was a cinch to let many doctrinal beliefs go, changing my thought habits hasn’t been so easy. In the Organization, so much emphasis is placed on maintaining “theocratic order,” without question, that it’s like a never-ending boot camp. Shaking that mindset can be difficult. In my case, that affected my dealings not only with the elders — when I decided to leave the Witnesses behind I wouldn’t have been able to follow my own March 30 advice — but also my relationship with anyone in authority. At work, for instance, I’ve had to learn to disagree and stand my ground with the people to whom I answer.

So, if you’ve left or are leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you might want to think ahead about how you might handle the situation when the elders come calling. It’s probably going to entail setting some boundaries that weren’t there before. Some of my Ex-Jehovah’s Witness friends on Facebook suggested a range of approaches, such as answering the door naked, not answering the door at all, answering the door but telling them to get lost and more. Sure, why not? Any one of those could work and some of them sound fun.

I think the key is authenticity.

One person might not be ready for a face-to-face confrontation. For another person, the best therapy in the world might be to read the elders the riot act when they stop by. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with letting your fear hold you back from saying the things you’d like to say. You probably have something very real to be afraid of. It’s also a golden opportunity to gain some self-knowledge. Maybe I’ll finish that thought in another post.

In the meantime, stay in touch. Your comments mean a lot to me and other readers. Also, I’d like to do a plug for the Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses of Portland, Oregon Meetup group. We’ve got a couple of soirĂ©es lined up for April, and it’d be great to see you there.