Meeting for Sufferings: What can Friends offer in a ‘post-truth’ world?

Meeting for Sufferings considered what Friends can offer in a 'post-truth' world on 2 February

Meeting for Sufferings returned to consideration of the ‘post-truth world’ on Saturday.

In April 2018 Sufferings received a concern from Southern Marches Area Meeting (SMAM) about ‘restoring truth and integrity in the public sphere’ and how ‘the lack of honesty in public affairs is impacting on all our testimonies’.

Sufferings concluded that ‘a clear call to test this concern more widely’ had been heard. Since then forty-two minutes have been received from Area Meetings in response, some uniting with the concern and others not recognising it.

Stevie Krayer, clerk of SMAM, spoke to Sufferings and expressed gratitude to the Area Meetings that had given the concern consideration, describing the experience as ‘humbling’.

She acknowledged that untruths in the world are ‘not a new problem’, but said there are ‘new dimensions’ and seemed to be a ‘new indifference’ to public figures being caught lying. She said the message that there was not the capacity for BYM to take on a new programme of work without laying another down had been heard ‘loud and clear’.

A paper by Nick Perks, trust secretary of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT), about organisations already active in this area was praised as ‘exceedingly helpful’.

In open ministry one Friend said: ‘I don’t think we understand how important this is.’ He emphasised that news is increasingly consumed via social media, and the speed with which false stories circulate.

Another Friend spoke of the need for courage and an awareness of how difficult correcting an untruth on social media can be, especially for women. She described her experience of Twitter and the aggressive and abusive responses she has had.

A psychologist’s insight was cited by one Friend, who described social media as engaging the ‘fight or flight’ response – typically an immediate and emotional one, not processed by the intellectual part of the brain.

Social media’s use as a tool ‘to spread truth as well’ was emphasised by a Friend who spoke in its defence. They urged Quakers not to become ‘condescending’ when engaging with it.

A Friend referred to other organisations already working in this field and another asked: ‘What can we do as Quakers?’

Another Friend spoke of two dangers: ‘Assuming we know the truth better than others’ and ‘thinking that because something is very worrying, that there’s something specific Quakers can do about it’.

A representative from Quaker Peace & Social Witness Central Committee (QPSWCC) described how the staff at BYM promote existing concerns ‘with great integrity’. They spoke of the need to ‘engage in a constructive way’ with those telling untruths but emphasised that this was only possible ‘when we’re well informed ourselves’.

Paul Parker, recording clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting, ministered that ‘our concerns… are shared by a wide range of organisations in civil society’ and that Friends may need to admit their ‘own complicity’ in being ‘taken in’, thinking they are ‘righter’ than others. He cited research that shows older social media users are more likely to share untrue content and reflected that ‘we are as human as anyone else… we may need to do more listening than speaking’.

He said that countering a simple narrative with a complex one is difficult and urged Friends to find ‘simple things rooted in faith to say’.

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