On Affront: A Quaker’s Response Towards Being Wronged

My bike was stolen this last week.

A photo of Joe McLendon with his old Trek 1100
A photo of Joe McLendon with his old Trek 1100

It happened in broad daylight, whilst I was teaching my first class of the term. At 12:30pm, I parked my bike at the library on campus, locked it up with my Knog-lock, and headed off to class (located in the basement of the library). At 2:10pm, I left class, walked out of the library, and stopped. Bikes were, certainly, parked at the bike lock; my bike was gone. Looking down, my lock had clearly been severed by a bolt-cutter.

Whether we credit the generalization of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s work to include all forms of loss (and not just, as it was originally intended, towards terminal diagnoses), I did not, personally, follow her trajectory in this case. I seemed to shift straight from denial: ‘Hey – where’s my bike?’ to acceptance: ‘My bike has been stolen.’

Calmly, I collected the remnants of my lock, and walked up the hill to security. I lodged my incident report, and proceeded to issue a formal report of theft to the Portland Police Bureau.

Neither despondent nor angry, I still had to get home. Luckily, I live four miles from campus, and – it being a warm, clear day – I surmised that I would walk. I called my spouse, and we talked about what I was experiencing. She was, and is on my behalf, angry. I had been wronged. I had been violated. I did not disagree with her, but I could not rest with the indignation of being affronted. I was unable at the time to communicate what, exactly, I was experiencing in lieu of anger, depression, or other emotions.

It was upon hanging up, and being left to my own self and cognitions, that the Quaker missive began running, on repeat, through my head:

Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. – Advices & Queries 1•17

This is what was preventing me from anger, pity, depression, and other emotions I, typically, associate with being affronted. The person who robbed me was, and is, a person no less. The Quaker belief is that there is ‘that of God in everyone,’ and this person was, and is, no exception to that rule. On those grounds, upon being unable to not reflect upon this, I replayed the situation of my affront from a different angle.

’12:30pm, in broad daylight, from the center of a university campus; the best choice for me to make is to steal this bike.’ This must have been the thought process – however addled by mental illness, drug addiction, despair, greed, disenfranchisement, selfishness, or otherwise – of the ‘perpetrator,’ as the police and society deem them.

As I began reflecting on this line of thought, I realized that I was depressed, in a way. I was depressed for this individual: that their life must have taken so many negative turns that when confronted with the option of harming the relationship towards another human being, they would choose to do so. As a professor of anthropology, I am oft to harp on the necessity of society; that humans are, inherently, social creatures. This member of society has been so margianalized that the ‘best’ choice for them to make would be to further margianalize themselves.

When confronted with the reality that I had been affronted, that I had been wronged, it was my Quaker beliefs which drew me back towards a tacit appreciation of the intrsubjectivity of lived experience. These beliefs reified that we are not humans in a vacuum, that we are in a deeply intricate web of human significance – to botch a quote by Geertz. For good or ill, these beliefs both pacified my own inclination towards anger, and reminded me of the pain and suffering of the one who inflicted affront.

I thank you for allowing me the space to process my emotions of affront. Far be it for me, however, to rest on reflection. I would like to end on a note of question, to which I greatly encourage response:

How do your religious traditions inform you, keep you, and direct you in responding to being affronted?

Photo Credit: Portland Bureau of Transportation


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2 thoughts on “On Affront: A Quaker’s Response Towards Being Wronged

  1. Hey Joe, great blog! Your response was pretty awesome and I’m not sure I’d have been so calm under the same circumstances.

    This kind of reminded me of when my besty (who happens to be a Buddhist) got her bag (containing laptop, phone, glasses etc.) stolen whilst a group of us were sat socialising, oblivious to the theft. After a few choice words, my friend just got on and dealt with things, logically, calmly, even with humour! I’ll always remember her incredible reaction, for I was looking out for her the rest of the evening, expecting her to break down, but it never came.

    For myself, I doubt it’d be a very good or Quakerly response but I’d probably have cried a little, then accepted it!

    PS. I’m really sorry that you lost your bike 🙁

  2. Joseph. I really liked this post. Like Charlotte, I’m not sure I would have been so calm, but I would hope so.

    I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about justice and reconciliation–both personally and communally. What strikes me about your story is your failure to reduce the robber to a mere a criminal. In your mind, he or she, retained his or her humanity. This is the most important step toward reconciliation–recognizing the other’s humanity regardless of the injury they have done to you. This is how I try to meet the world, though I am the first to admit I am not always successful.

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