Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Report from Our Participant Oberserver - No. 1


I hear that you're doing your Drexel coop placement with Quakers? What did you think you were getting yourself into? And what is it really like?


Author's note: this is the first of what will hopefully turn into a recurring series of comments about my experiences at the Quaker Information Center. I invite you to read on and see the perspective of a non-Quaker trying to understand Quakers.

In September of 2009, I accepted and started at a coop internship position with the Quaker Information Center in Philadelphia. To be honest, I really had no idea what I was getting into. Being raised by Catholics and having spent my life before college in Catholic schools, I had never really come across any Quakers. The closest connection to Quakers that I was aware of in my life was that of my Congressman, Rush Holt, from my home in New Jersey. And since I do not actually see Congressman Holt on a day-to-day basis, I do not really know if that counts as anything. So, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Now, I honestly was prepared for anything going into my interview. I was half expecting that I would run into a carbon-copy of the Quaker Oats Man as my interviewer. I also expected see the Quaker values that I knew of, pacifism and plainness, being expressed to an almost cartoonish level between the current staff. However, this could not be further from the truth. My boss, Chel, is one of the most down to earth people that I ever worked for, and the other staff members are quite friendly and also, quite normal.

Another big surprise from working with Chel is that I was able to start up some rather large projects fairly early on with complete independence. The first two projects I was able to work on completely on my own were the creation of a QIC Twitter, which was fairly easy to do, but also required me to sell it to Chel, and the creation of an Excel-based inventory tracking sheet. With that second project, not only was I given complete autonomy, but I also became the “teacher” in a way, as I am the one in the office who has the most experience using Excel. Chel also was more than willing to let me be the lead on projects that I do not think I would have been able to lead had I worked at another place.

What I consider to be the most interesting experience of my time here so far was when I was able to attend a committee meeting early on a Monday morning in late September. Chel had prepared me for this meeting by telling me that Quakers never vote on an issue so I was quite confused as to how decisions were made. Needless to say, the meeting actually went quite well. I was shocked at not only how much got done, but also by how organized everything was. Unlike most similar meetings I’ve been to, no one was shouting over the crowd, and no one was cutting people off as they spoke. Also, because there was no voting, the committee actually got more done as issues were discussed and debated, in a calm and orderly fashion, until the group reached a consensus. After watching this process work successfully, I can honestly say that in my opinion, it works better than voting as committees that use a voting procedure will only call a vote when they have enough votes to pass a measure rather than agreement. Those rules of voting can alienate people, and that’s something the Quakers avoid.

So, in short, I have learned a lot in my first four weeks here, and hopefully I will continue to do so as time goes on.

Best regards,


  1. Matt, thanks for your positive observations. To be truthful, I need to tell you that your experiences here say almost as much about you as they do about Quakers. Your enthusiasm for interacting with people, and for grabbing a project idea, making it your own, and caring for it tenderly, are forces of nature. Friends learned long ago that whenever possible, it is wisest to work *with* the forces of nature, rather than trying to change their course.

  2. Chel,
    Thank you for the vote of confidence
    But if not for the Quaker wisdom of working with forces of nature, then my abilities would not be shining the way they are, so I do not think it's entirely fair to give me all the credit here.


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