The Testimony of Simplicity is the Quaker belief that a person ought to live his or her life simply in order to focus on what is most important and ignore or play down what is least important. It is the practice among Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends) of being more concerned with one’s inner condition than one’s outward appearance and with other people more than oneself. Friends believe that a person’s spiritual life and character are more important than the quantity of goods he possesses or his monetary worth. Friends also believe that one should use one’s resources, including money and time, deliberately in ways that are most likely to make life truly better for oneself and others.

General explanation Edit

Like the other Friends testimonies, the Testimony of Simplicity is not a fixed or formalized creed but a mutually accepted set of principles and practices that emerged among Friends over time. It is open to modification as Friends listen for continuing revelation from God.

Early Friends believed that it was important to avoid fanciness in dress, speech, and material possessions, because those things tend to distract one from waiting on God’s personal guidance. They also tend to cause a person to focus on himself more than on his fellow human beings, in violation of Jesus’ teaching to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” This emphasis on plainness, as it was called, made the Friends in certain times and places easily recognizable to the society around them, particularly by their plain dress in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Simplicity to Friends has generally been a reference to material possessions. Friends have often limited their possessions to what they need to live their lives, rather than accumulating luxuries. The testimony is not just about the nature of one's material possessions, but rather also about one's attitude towards these material goods. Many Friends who have been considered exemplary have also been wealthy; their commitment to the testimony, however, led them to use their wealth for spiritual purposes, including aid to the poor and oppressed. On the other hand, some Friends, such as John Woolman, gave up much of their wealth and economic position when they felt it to be a spiritual burden.

In recent decades Friends have given the Testimony an ecological dimension: that Friends should not use more than their fair share of the Earth's limited resources.

Simplicity in dress Edit

Friends used to have a strong tradition of simple dress, more properly called "plain dress". conservative branches of Quakerism, which is today represented by meetings such as Ohio Yearly Meeting, where there exist Friends who have kept plain dress alive up to the present day. The number of contemporary Friends voluntarily taking traditional plain dress back up is growing and has been dubbed (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) "The New Plain".

Outside of "Conservative" yearly meetings, the vast majority Quakers today are all but indistinguishable from non-Quakers as far as style of clothing is concerned. However, many Friends still choose to have a more simple and utilitarian wardrobe than most people. Many Friends still desire to avoid the pride and wastefulness of wearing expensive, fancy clothes. There is even a growing "new plain" movement among contemporary Friends in favor of voluntarily taking traditional plain dress back up.

The previous practice of plain dress is the cause of one of the common misconceptions about Friends: the logo for the Quaker Oats company - a man with a large hat and black coat, intended to look like an old Quaker - is very recognizable. While the image does not depict a style of dress that was ever common among Friends, it has become a lasting image for many Westerners.

Simplicity in speech Edit

Early Friends practiced plainness in speech by not referring to people in the "fancy" ways that were customary. Often Friends would address high-ranking persons using the familiar forms of "thee" and "thou", instead of the respectful "you". Later, as "thee" and "thou" disappeared from everyday English usage, many Quakers continued to use these words as a form of "plain speech", though the original reason for this usage had disappeared; their usage was also grammatically distinctive, saying "thee is" instead of "thou art", a holdover from a dialect formerly common in the north of England. Today there are still Friends that will use these terms with other Quakers.

In languages that today maintain the T-V distinction, usage varies. Following the British usage, early francophone Quakers preferred the use of the more informal tu to address even those who would by convention be addressed with the more formal vous. In more contemporary times, however, usage has swung the other way, and French-speaking Quakers today are more likely than others to use the formal vous. In part, this is a recognition of the complexity of the notion of simplicity in speech, whose intent might be understood to be not a requirement of informality, but a desire to address everyone "simply", i.e., uniformly. The rejection of the past use of tu by white French missionaries to refer to Africans may be a factor in the contemporary francophone usage. [1]

Honorific titles, even Mr., Mrs. and Miss were often avoided by early Friends. Instead Friends tended to address each other by first and last name with no title. This often holds true among Quakers today. In many Quaker communities children address adults by their first names, and in many Quaker schools teachers are called by their first names as well. This practice is now considered more a part of the Testimony of Equality than a part of the Testimony of Simplicity.

Early Friends also objected to the usual names of the days and months in the Mars (March) or Gregorian calendar was adopted, "First Month" was March rather than the current January). Many Friends organizations continue to use the "simple calendar" for official records.

Additionally early Friends did not, and many modern Friends do not, swear oaths, even in courtrooms (a choice that is protected in the United States by the Constitution, and one that can be problematic elsewhere). Instead they "affirm" that they are going to tell the truth. This was considered an aspect of simplicity because it was simply telling the truth rather than embellishing it with an oath, which is not necessary if one is supposed to always tell the truth. In a similar manner Friends avoid haggling over prices. They simply set a fixed price that was fair, which went against the custom of earlier times, but was simpler and more honest (this practice is generally considered more a part of the Testimony of Integrity than a part of the Testimony of Simplicity).

Simplicity in general lifeEdit

The Testimony of Simplicity is an important part of Quaker life, and many examples of its influence can be seen in both day-to-day and ceremonious practices. In keeping with the testimony, for example, many meetings that have care of a graveyard ask that those erecting monuments to deceased Friends keep the testimony in mind and erect only a simple, low-lying stone.

Misconceptions Edit

People often have several misconceptions about Quaker plainness.

  • People often confuse the Amish and the Mennonites with Quakers. Although one can note similarities among these groups, the Amish and the Mennonites are separate and different from Friends.
  • Many often think Quakers in all periods and all places had a required "uniform" that was recognizable. The truth is that the typical dress of the Quakers was subject to the individual conscience in most times and places, and the actual practice has always been varied.
  • Finally, Quakers do not consider poverty to be inherently virtuous.

Sources Edit

  • Fager, Charles E. "The Quaker Testimony of Simplicity". Quaker Religious Thought, Vol. 14, #1. Summer, 1972.
  • Foster, Richard J. Freedom of Simplicity. Harper & Row, 1981. ISBN 0-06-104385-0
  • Pym, Jim. Listening To The Light: How To Bring Quaker Simplicity And Integrity Into Our Lives. Rider Books, 1999.
  • Whitmire, Catherine. Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity. Sorin Books, 2001. ISBN 1-893732-28-2

External links Edit

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