Column
Change
Community
4 min read

Reform votes: what really matters in the end

Two votes, three decades apart.

George is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and an Anglican priest.

A grand dinner table set for a meal sits within a large room with paintings on the wall.
The dining room of the Garrick Club.

I was this week one of several hundred members of the Garrick Club, with many more attending online, crammed into a central London conference room to vote on whether women could be admitted as members for the first time since our founding in 1831. 

We Garrick members rather fancy ourselves as a secret society – and it was a rich irony that our vote was held in the same block as the Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street.  

Actually, I rather like the tradition that what’s said and done in the Garrick stays in the Garrick. So this isn’t about our club’s internal wrangling and politics, beyond the now widespread news that women were voted as eligible for membership by a majority of 60 per cent. 

Rather than go further into that, I want to compare it with another well-fought fight for women’s inclusion: The admission of the female gender to the priesthood of the Church of England, more or less exactly 30 years ago in 1994. 

Much of what was going on in the Church then was being rehearsed again in London WC2 this week. You might call it long overdue dismantlements of patriarchal institutions, even if neither the Church nor our club would self-identify as such. No case could continue to be sustained for all-male preferment in our Church or in our club. 

To their great credit, the vote was won for reform by those who decided to work together, without rancour or resentment, in preference to further division and bitterness. 

There are two observations I would make of the Church precedent that may be of some comfort to my fellow club members, who may feel that nothing will ever be quite the same again. The first of these is quite a quick point. After a couple of weeks of women’s priesthood, almost everyone in the Church wondered what all the fuss had been about. Ordained women became a natural part of the priestly fabric of the Church really that quickly. 

Yes, provision had to be made for those who in conscience couldn’t accept women’s ordained ministry, so the process was not without its pain. But three decades on, women priests (and subsequently and inevitably bishops) are so much part of the weave of that fabric that most church congregations feel they’ve always been there. 

The second point I would make is that I know anecdotally of very many traditionalists opposed to women’s ordination who, at the General Synod, either voted for women or abstained when the result became inevitable. To have fought a last-ditch, hopeless defence  could only have lastingly damaged the Church’s reputation and ministry.  

To their great credit, the vote was won for reform by those who decided to work together, without rancour or resentment, in preference to further division and bitterness. My feeling is that a tranche of Garrickian votes were cast for similar reasons. 

These were women at the top of their game. It’s just taken a couple of millennia for our churches and clubs to catch up.

The comparison of a gentleman’s club and gentleman’s church is an imperfect one. Members of a church could be male or female; only the clergy were strictly male. There were profound theological and ecclesiological arguments (though I don’t share them) made against the prospect of women priests by Anglo-Catholics, which aren’t available to fans of men-only clubs. 

But the similarities between the institutions are founded on the principles of patriarchy nevertheless. The idea that men, in private circumstances, can behave and associate in the pretence that they are still in charge of everything, as they were in the nineteenth century, both at church and in clubland.  

This doesn’t matter much when it comes to the likes of all-boy or all-girl sports teams – though it’s a delight to see Woodlanders Football Club, Lioness-cubs to a girl, beat the boys to win their cup.  

It begins to matter very much indeed when the senior figures of professions and public institutions seek to associate only with their male colleagues. That’s as true of a boss who takes only the boys in the office to a rugby match at Twickenham as it is of gentlemen’s clubs. It may be patriarchy-lite, but it is rooted in the same hegemony that gave the Church its patriarchs. 

It’s an irony as rich as the location of this week’s Garrick vote that the gospel is far from patriarchal in its narratives, even though the language of Father and Son so ostensibly is. The Nazarene, scandalously for his day, freely associates with women.  The Jesus movement is radical in gender equality in a manner that its Church has failed down the centuries to emulate. 

Jesus gives full messianic attention to a despised and shamed Samaritan woman; he saves an adulterous woman (code for prostitute) from stoning; he stops to address a bleeding woman who just wants to touch him; as the risen Christ, he gives a woman, Mary of Magdala, the greatest apostolic mission in history to tell his dispersed disciples what she has witnessed. 

Little wonder women appear so prominently in the Acts of the Apostles. These were women at the top of their game. It’s just taken a couple of millennia for our churches and clubs to catch up.

Column
Change
Character
Psychology
1 min read

Look out for the outliers

Seeing the good qualities in others lifts them, benefits us, and makes the world better.

Roger Bretherton is Associate Professor of Psychology, at the University of Lincoln. He is a UK accredited Clinical Psychologist.

A office worker wearing headphones looks out of a hectic and loud office space around which people are moving
Nick Jones/Midjourney.ai

I was talking to someone the other day. She is a website developer and she’s just changed jobs. She is not a loud person, but anyone who meets her knows she is a person of quality, of depth and presence. She emanates a humble confidence. In her old job, she worked in a quiet, fairly sedate, office where she was given the space and the time to bring all her creativity to bear on whatever brief she was given. She was known and appreciated. 

But her new job – the job she started last week – is a bit different. Her new colleagues are loud and outspoken. Silence is unknown in their office. They like to work to a soundtrack. The drum and bass keep thumping, and the banter never stops flowing. She’s finding it hard to fit in with her new team. And things weren’t made any easier when, after a few days, her new boss took her aside for a pep talk.  

What was the problem? She was ‘too quiet’.  

It hurt to hear that. It broke my heart to think that anyone could be so blind. How shortsighted do you have to be, to view the grace and peace someone carries as a problem to be solved? In a world of distressing noise and clamour, she is precisely the kind of person every office needs to temper the insanity.  

I’m not worried about her. She’s bright and innovative. She’ll work it out. Either her new boss will see sense, or she’ll leave. And if she does, the queue of employers looking for someone just like her stretches round the block. She’ll be okay. 

But it got me thinking about the kind of psychology I study. In my research, she would be called an outlier.  One of those people in a team or a family who don’t quite fit in. Not because they are weird or awkward, but because they possess some positive quality the rest of the gang don’t have. They are the creative exuberant in a team who prefer doing things by the book. The hilarious joker in a pack who like to take things seriously. The conscientious worker trying to get on with the job in an office that would rather play now and work later. The kind one in a family of cutthroat competitors.

At the top of the list of reasons for wanting to leave work are the words: I am not appreciated.

The thing is we all have a unique contribution to make to the world, a one-off fingerprint of strengths and abilities never to be repeated in anyone else. In research these have been called Signature Strengths, the unique combination of positive qualities that make you you. And the weird thing is that we don’t have to try that hard to be them. If you are naturally kind, or wise, or grateful, or disciplined you won’t be able to stop yourself being that way. They come effortlessly to us. And if someone tries to stop us being the loving thoughtful faithful person we know ourselves to be, it is like losing a limb. If we find ourselves in a context where the most beautiful things about us are unwelcome – like my friend the website developer – it is like being rejected, right to the core.  

But here’s the cool thing. If we can live by our Signature Strengths – if we can wake up each morning and ask the question, how can I use my unique positive qualities in a new way today? – it leads to remarkable improvements in wellbeing. Multiple studies have shown that those who live like this, thinking about how they can bring what is best in them to the opportunities and obstacles of each day, report increased happiness in living. Not only that, but they also show reduced anxiety, stress and depression. It turns out being good is good for us. Who knew. 

That’s not the whole story though. To really be our best, we need other people to spot these strengths in us. If they don’t, we feel confined, unable to be ourselves in some way. When I ask people what it is like not to be able to bring their best qualities to the people around them, they come up with some pretty dark images. It is lonely, isolating, a desert, a fog, a prison, like being trapped in a cage. And when researchers ask people why they consider leaving their current job, their answers often reflect something like this. Work-life balance and salary are no doubt important, but often, at the top of the list of reasons for wanting to leave work are the words: I am not appreciated. Something good we wanted to give has not been received. We feel unseen. 

So that’s why I say: look out for the outliers. Who is it in your family, your workplace, your neighbourhood, who goes underappreciated? Who do you know who has something good to give, but needs some help to give it? Because if we can learn to see those invisible beautiful qualities in the people around us, we not only give them the joy of being known, we also invite more light and flavour into the world. Life becomes a little less grey. 

I just hope my friend’s new boss can learn this while he still has the chance. It is tough for her to feel so misunderstood, but it’s worse for him. She can move on, but he has to remain in an office deprived of the humble compassion she would have brought to it. It’s a question worth asking. What gift of beauty and goodness are we excluding from the world because we failed to see past the packaging?