Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Quakers and Aspies

I grew up Quaker and the similarities between that religion and autism are so striking to me, yet I have seen and can find no other references to this convergence. I’d appreciate hearing anyone else’s take on this.

Some of the main similarities are:

  • emphasis against cultural fixations like social dancing, bars, struggle for popularity, and drinking
  • not taking sides in a conflict; not forming alliances
  • lack of expectations for conformity
  • focus on the truth and being authentic
  • recognition that people are different, and allowance for eccentrics
  • understanding that belonging in the group is very basic to yourself and not just a preference that could easily be changed (for example, Quakers will often surmise that so-and-so is a “Quaker who doesn’t know it yet”, much like undiagnosed autistics who don’t know it yet)
  • tendency to the intellectual, attracts professor types
  • selfless service, unmotivated by personal gain
  • rejection of top-down control; strong need for autonomy
  • lack of encouragement or any clear expectations to new people (For example, some people complain about Quakers that they were ignored and not welcomed or made to fit in; instead they were just allowed to join or leave as they liked. New people have to determine whether to join based on what is happening inside themselves, not based on external reinforcements.)

As I think of it, other religions (Jewish and Buddhist for example) also share in some of these points, but Christian religions appear to be very opposite in many respects (top down organization, conformist, clear expectations, non-intellectual, and membership by choice.)

This convergence has led to some confusion as I cannot always tell whether an expectation or value that I hold is really based in quakerism, autism, both or neither.

I especially wonder if the unique way Quakers make decisions could be used as a model for autistics making decisions. That method does not rely on votes or any external authority. It really does honor the differences between people and each person’s separate autonomous search for truth. It is a way for non-herding people to come to a shared understanding, which is usually not the understanding advanced by the most outspoken or charismatic person.


Mary Dyer, a quaker sunday school play

A play in 6 scenes, suitable for Middle School age kids.

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Letter to clerks about clerkship and wasting people’s time

The order of our meetings involves boundaries on how we occupy others’ time – for example, changing the topic or using the captive audience to vent without deliberate consideration would be actions that are outside the boundaries. It is naturally difficult to stay within those boundaries because our special order imposes different boundaries than are found in everyday conversation. If we can keep this good order, we can complete the business of housekeeping and move on to the essential work that the spirit is asking us to do together, such as our response to nuclear weapons and poverty. If we cannot keep this good order, we will use up all our time discussing the names of committees and who reports to whom, and other aspects of housekeeping, which are only the groundwork of following corporate leadings and are not in themselves fulfilling.

It is important that we all guard those boundaries since they are so easily overstepped; this is not a job to delegate to the clerk. Everyone has to guard the order, and help guide while participating. It is everyone’s role to both speak from individual conviction and seek unity, sometimes making a contribution that is a summary of the sense of the meeting.

However, it is the clerk’s special role to state the business being considered and the manner in which it will proceed, such as: to be resolved in the present meeting, to ask a committee to develop it, or in some other manner. I consider it outside the boundaries for someone not in the role of clerk to attempt to help “lead” by changing the business under consideration or the manner of approaching it by force of speech. Suggestions directly to the clerk about these matters are in good order, but propositions to the whole are not. For example, claiming that a certain committee is the right place to handle a matter, or that we should be discussing something else, changes the focus from the essence of the matter to the process, which can degenerate to a debate about process. Process debates can be a mechanism to avoid the true conflicts between views. We empower one clerk to set the process, so that the rest of us can be free to focus on the essence.

The following points about our boundaries are things that I have found it difficult to guard and easy to forget, and could use reminders as well as help in building a community of understanding around these things.

  • Don’t do any business or try to solve anything in the clerks’ ctte.
  • Don’t have any substantive comments during the reading of the reports. Questions should be limited to clarification of the report.
  • Don’t add new business items during a meeting unless they are time-sensitive and spirit-led.
  • If the meeting is so long that we lose people and attention, set a called meeting to continue the business.
  • Name the root conflicts rather than finding expedient ways to bypass them.
  • The meeting is an experience of direct listening. Don’t bring other’s views into it by proxy, either as “So and so asked me to say that…” or “Some people are feeling…”
  • Email and other written messages are prepared messages, not arising from the experience in the meeting. They do not require a response; the spirit has no email address.
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Contributing to Meeting

Most people today report feeling overburdened with responsibilities, and when we are asked to take on a role at Meeting, feelings of guilt and impending exhaustion can bring us down. How can we as Friends stuff those negative feelings without having to face the underlying issues? Here is a list of guilt-free techniques you can use to quickly escape doing any more work for your Meeting.


  1. You can extend the period of “testing the waters”, and don’t take on any responsibilities until you are fully committed to membership. Tentativeness can be cultivated for years, even a lifetime.
  2. Do a half-asssed job in your current role, and hope that no one will ask you to bungle anything else.
  3. Use your limitations as excuses by saying “I’m not good at that.” Don’t try new things, because each new thing that you can do takes away a potential excuse not to do it.
  4. Say that you have already served on the committee (even if it was 10 years ago), and that you promised never to do it again. Show scars, or draw parallels between committee time and jail time.
  5. Rope others into the role that you are being asked to do. Target those who are susceptible to guilt trips; they usually cave in. It’s helpful to say you have a “leading”that the other person was “meant” to be in the role.
  6. If there is an upcoming meeting and you suspect that Friends will be dividing up the work for the upcoming year, try to arrange other commitments so that you can’t attend that meeting.
  7. Since Meeting probably owes you something, you can wait until you are paid up until you offer anything else.
  8. If you cave in and accept a role, attach conditions to the acceptance, such as “if you can’t find anyone else” or “if I don’t have to go to any meetings”.
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