I love how Parker Palmer expresses his thoughts on discernment. His honesty is refreshing.
I was offered the opportunity to become the president of a small educational institution . So as is the custom in the Quaker community, I called on half a dozen trusted friends to help me discern my vocation by means of a “clearness committee,” a process in which the group refrains from giving you advice but spends three hours asking you honest, open questions to help you discover your own inner truth.
Halfway into the process, someone asked, “What would you like most about being a president?” The simplicity of that question loosed me from my head and lowered me into my heart. “Well, I would not like having to give up my writing and my teaching…. I would not like the politics of the presidency…. I would not like….” Gently but firmly, the person who had posed the question interrupted me: “May I remind you that I asked what you would most like?” I resumed my sullen but honest litany, “I would not like having to give up my summer vacations…. I would not like….” Once again the questioner called me back to the original question. But this time I felt compelled to give the only honest answer I possessed. “Well,” said I, in the smallest voice I possess, “I guess what I’d like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it.”
I was sitting with seasoned Quakers who knew that though my answer was laughable, my mortal soul was clearly at stake! They did not laugh at all but went into a long and serious silence— a silence in which I could only sweat and inwardly groan. Finally my questioner broke the silence with a question that cracked all of us up— and cracked me open: “Parker ,” he said, “can you think of an easier way to get your picture in the paper?” I called the school and withdrew my name.
Based on information from Parker J. Palmer