I grew up in an era, and to some extent within a family construct, that believed that just about everything that a white, male who wore a suit & tie, and held some title (e.g. banker, lawyer, minister/rabbi, professor) said was true, reliable and largely undisputable.
The reticence to question, or seek additional or divergent information from one of these revered people, almost took my grandmother from me early in my young life.
Much to the chagrin of many older relatives, I was born with a rebellious nature. While bemoaned by many of these relatives, this nature has saved me a lot of heartache and has proven to be not only evolutionarily protective, but predictive of the skills our culture needs very badly. I seemed to come out of the womb asking “why” and not accepting ANYONE as an expert without a lot of proof.
Today as a culture we can point to any number of scandals that have stripped the veil of mystery from once-untouchable persons and organizations. Organized religion as a whole, doctors, lawyers, bankers and ministers all have a much higher bar to meet in general society to be considered legitimate. It is no longer enough to have a title or hide behind an instutition. It’s no longer acceptable for individuals and instutitions to say “trust me” without some evidence to back up the request for our trust.
Overall, this a net positive. Self-advocacy prevents victimization and is a skill we should teach alongside reading, writing and arithmetic. It also means that those of us promoting some sort of answer to life’s problems can no longer assume that our descriptive titles or organizational affiliations will mean anything, other than to us.
In healthcare and education, this shift from blind faith in what those with status and titles say, to requiring evidence to back every claim has been formalized into processes like accreditation, quality improvement programs and patient safety measures. Today before seeking care for a specific ailment or a surgeon to perform a necessary procedure we can research the background and performance of the individuals as well as the track record of the organizations to which they belong and in which they practice.
Similarly, we can request and review graduation rates, professor’s rankings and feedback from students, past and present, before selecting where to invest significant time and money in an education.
All of this transparency has supported positive change because people and organizations making claims now have to show evidence to back up their claims.
As an educator, I am held accountable for teaching content that is relevant and applicable – AND for being able to do so in a way that students can understand, accept and apply. If my students cannot take what I have taught them and translate it into demonstrable skills and the ability to get a job – I will not have a job for long. And I shouldn’t if what I’m teaching isn’t making a difference, and some would argue, a measurable difference.
Due to these requirements, colleges and universities require educators to provide “evidence” in the form of what is sometimes called artifacts of learning. These are gathered in portfolios and presented for tenure or contractual negotiations. They are also important in the cyclical accreditation process that assures the public that their dollars are being wisely spent.
Artifacts of learning include examples of the homework assigned, in-class presentations, projects engaged and tools used to teach. We present ourselves as educators, show our educational credentials and acadedmic titles and then show how we use our time in the classroom. They also include evidence in the form of successfully-employed graduates, working and applying the knowledge they learned in our classrooms in the work world. We demonstrate evidence – not only of our teaching, but of how our teaching has facilitated learning and changed lives.
In the realm of teachers and mentors for those seeking to expand their spiritual connections, I can think of no better artifact of evidence to put forth than our own lives and life examples.
Are we living, breathing examples of wellness, contentment and abundance? Can we share stories of not only how the principles worked for people 10 years ago, or in the previous century; but how they are consistently working right here, right now? Can we demonstrate that they work and do more than simply talk about them?
I believe that there is at least some causal relationship between the decline in religious organizations and the credibility gap that arose as technology made the actions and very human behaviors of religious leaders much more obvious to the world.
Does this mean that people of faith should throw their hands up and quit?
No, but it does mean that we need to be aware of the shifting landscape and understand that the things that worked 10, 20 or 50 years ago don’t necessarily work today. And that not only what we SAY, but how we show up in the world is so very important.
At one time, the title “Professor” was a lofty credential, and meant that few people questioned the perspective, opinion or what was done in the classroom by the persons holding that title. Today it’s a very different story as I have outlined above. There’s much more to being a Professor that puffing oneself up, talking for hours in front of the class and pronouncing one’s job title at cocktail parties. In fact, it’s a lot of work.
While religious and spiritual organizations are not required to report the number of lives they have changed, the prayers answered or the miracles clocked; an informed 21st century approach would undertand the culture in which we exist and the importance of answering “why” before it is asked.
I believe that the financial pinch that many churches and religious organizations find themselves in today is directly related to this issue. Absent a divine mandate, which we can agree has lost its hold over modern society; religious and spiritual organizations must make the value proposition obvious, or people will go elsewhere for inspiration, spiritual support and guidance.
Some will say “but the community is important“, and I agree, but there are many communities that provide socialization and learning but don’t ever ask for 10% of our income. Others will say that it’s about providing spiritual guidance and support. I think that’s true, but here’s where it needs to get real: we can’t advertise that we’ll teach tools that work for YOU, if we can’t get it working in our own lives.
We must not only walk the talk, but be willing to acknowledge when it’s not working.
I don’t give out relationship (love) advice, and there’s a reason. I’ve not demonstrated a lot of competence in this area across my life and don’t feel I have credibility to be handing out advice.
I do share what I have learned in the realm of attracting abundance, career success, family harmony, health & wellness, and financial stability – because I have demonstrated these principles many times over.
Perhaps it’s time for churches and centers need to dispense with the singular office of minister, and have dedicated volunteers (maybe even part-time positions) who provide guidance and support in areas where they are already demonstrating success.
I can envision small sections like a Ministry of Abundance; a Ministry of Relationships; a Ministry of Jobs & Careers; a Ministry of Health & Wellness,… and so on (Harry Potter reference almost unintentional).
Each Ministry Office would be held on a rotating basis by people demonstrating competence in the respective areas. AND, when someone began to experience challenges, another competent expert would step in to the Ministry and take over.
Let’s stop pretending that someone’s title or affiliation makes them an expert. It doesn’t and whether or not we want to accept this, we need to understand that the world knows it and is acting on that knowledge by dechurching and unaffiliating.
There’s much Good to be shared from the wisdom teachings that have spanned time and cultures. We risk not being able to uplift those who need them most when we cling desperately to old models that are woefully out of alignment with the reality of society today.
I wonder what it will take to inspire REAL change and am hopeful that the total crumbling of these traditions will not be what’s needed. I’d like to say that I’m optimistic about the forward evolution; but I’m not sure that I see any evidence for that optimism – at least not yet.
There’s still time.
(C) 2020 Practitioner's Path