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Guilford Board of Trustees

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Birthright Culture

There is a difference between an organization that operates out of a "birthright" culture and one that works from a .
The first is primarily concerned with preservation and legacy, while the latter lean towards an open-ended model of change.
"Birthright" is old Quaker language that some Friends still use to talk about being born a Quaker, as in "I am birthright." "Convincement" is language used to talk about people who convert or become Quakers of their own volition. In the best case, Friends would say that while not all Quakers are birthright, we hope all are convinced.
Birthright culture is a phenomenon within religious communities that are old enough to have generations of families/members a part of that tradition. Many traditions have different ways of talking about how new people enter their communities: outreach, evangelize, etc.
I once heard someone say: “My mother was a birthright but I married a Methodist” - folks who are not even Quaker use this as a point of reference, a claim to the legacy of the religious tradition.
I have heard plenty of Quakers and non-Quakers say, some version of, "That's not Quaker..." (fill in the blank). Birthright cultures police and protect the outer edges & external practices of the identity w/ little to no understanding of the deeper flexibility of the tradition.
Both birthright & convincement map onto churches, meetings, and other organizations in a number of ways. I find these two ways of thinking about organizations helpful because they name unspoken expectations, assumptions, and how people relate to the organization & to one another.
These two concepts also name movement from a sense of "inheritance" (or even entitlement) to a sense of "personal responsibility" and shared ownership over a tradition and community.
I should also say that I am applying these to a cultural understanding, a person need not be "birthright" to experience these cultural issues, perpetuate them, or benefit from them.
Below are some of the characteristics of Birthright culture I see at play in many religious-based organizations (this is not limited to Quakers).
Birthright culture relies on an implicit culture. One learns primarily how to function and relate through exposure overtime rather than through any kind of intentional on-boarding, training, (or apprenticing).
Birthright culture relies on committed to legitimizing legacy. Authority is always insider and traceable. Pedigree is important, even when it’s not (nepotism). Even “bad members” are legitimized in the system, as they find their orientation in relation to the boundary group.
Birthright culture relies on clear about external boundary markers. This can look like piety, personal holiness at the expense of flexibility and play in practice.
External boundaries can be sustained through performance, rigidity in practice, specific language that sets the group apart, clothing, particular narratives that prop up the culture and insulate it from meaningful critique. It can be a kind of “hidden in plain sight.”
Speaking of boundaries, in systems like this there are no boundaries between work and private life. They are one in the same.
To be in the family is to be in the family business. And any questions or challenges to the business is a challenge to the family.
Birthright culture relies is the result of a breakdown in transmission of the tradition. A constant de-evolution, a reliance on repeating what was handed down over time, rather than a personal mastery over the tradition. Memorization takes precedent over writing & speaking remix is strongly forbidden in birthright culture because it goes against the sanctioned, approved interpretations of the "family."
This is about exceptionalism of the group over inclusion of other groups of people that might cause a threat to the stasis of those w/in. It is a light under a basket, sometimes out of protection, often bc others should find them if they really want to be a part of the group.
Birthright can function as a kind of belief on behalf of. It’s a stand-in for actually believing. Or believing is not necessary because you are a part of this group, meeting, org.
For an organization to move away from birthright culture it needs a different model of organization, rather than one that is an untouched family, it becomes a "blended-family," more like a partnership, a marriage, or even a divorced family.
In this new blended-family, new people, new "blood," people "not like us," are brought into the picture and incorporated into the "family tree." This happens through ritual, practice, telling core stories about who we are, & real welcome happens when you learn grandma's recipes.
It could also be said that for an organization to move from birthright to convincement culture it will require a rebirth, not unlike the one Jesus called for in the Gospel of John.
This rebirth cannot be an erasure, nor is it a shaming of your families "silly ways," both of which is what birthright cultures (rightfully) fear the most from newcomers, but rather true & faithful remixing of the old & new in ways where both are recognizable w/ new perspective.
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