31 December 2011


In 1969, I had no idea who Betty Friedan was.  I was, and still am, about as a-political as they come - and in 1969, with my world having fallen about my ears, I was, if possible, less interested than ever in such matters as Women's Liberation.

It was not the name of the person who would run an encounter group at the Unitarian Church in Honolulu that interested me.  I think that, at the time, anything that seemed to point a direction away from where I was would have been attractive.

I note, from that Wikipedia article linked above, that in September, 1969 that Unitarian Church "...made national headlines when it offered refuge to U.S. servicemen protesting the war in Vietnam...", so I suppose it was politically active, so that hosting an encounter group run by Betty Friedan fits in well.  (I also note that, according to that same article, that church was "... where President Obama attended Sunday School during his youth."  As he was born in August, 1961 and would have been eight in October, 1969, I seem to have brushed the sleeve of greatness - but that's another story :-)).

It may have been Tom Bratt, again, who told me about the week-end with Betty Friedan.  For it was to be a week-end retreat.  We would spend two nights in sleeping bags (or whatever) sleeping in the church hall.  I don't recall how much it cost, but I don't imagine it would have been cheap - with Ms Friedan, and meals, to pay for.

I went.  I was, in fact, bowled over by the experience.  If I were to summarise the ethos of the thing, I suppose the following few points might be made:
  • fear is often bad
  • the body is good
  • openness between persons is good
With these points, few would differ.  Others more questionable are:
  • man is inherently moral - only fear or closedness makes him bad
  • all desires are good when embraced by all parties involved
  • openness will always have good effects
Whether I have correctly interpreted the ideas behind these groups, these are the ideas I inferred from them.  We did various activities:
  • blind walk - blindfolded, you were led around by a partner - to teach you trust and to allay your fears
  • blind fall - blindfolded, you let yourself fall backwards, to be caught by your partner
  • expressing your emotions about persons - sitting in a circle, you tell how others make you feel
These and similar activities have become so orthodox today as to have passed from radical newness through truisms to pieties to be rebelled against - but for me at the time they were radical, seemed to promise a revelation, a genuine enlightenment.

The retreat finished some time on Sunday.  Was it the next week-end that a meeting was called for those participants who wished to engage in a series of such 'encounters?'  I think it must have been then - it was certainly a decision made soon, and enthusiastically.  We - we may have been 20 or 30 people, I think - determined to meet weekly, indefinitely, at the Church, for our own amateur group meetings.  It is clear to me that these became important to me.  I continued to attend them from their beginning until sometime in, perhaps, April, 1970.

I suppose the first of these group meetings happened the following week-end (if they were on week-ends - may have been evening meetings).  Notices advertising the meetings were widely-enough distributed that the attention of several persons was drawn to them - amongst them Susan.

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