The Bartleby Approach
One day, when the narrator asks Bartleby to help proofread a copied document, Bartleby answers simply, “I would prefer not to.” It is the first of Bartleby’s many refusals. To the dismay of the narrator and the irritation of the other employees, Bartleby performs fewer and fewer duties around the office. The narrator makes several attempts to reason with Bartleby and learn about him, but Bartleby always responds the same way when asked to do a task or give out information about himself: “I would prefer not to.” (from Wikipedia, on Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”)
A liberal Mormon friend mentioned to me awhile ago that he’s taken up the Bartleby approach to church. When asked to do things that he finds discomfiting or morally repugnant, he simply replies “I prefer not to.”
I’ve thought about this a lot since our conversation. It seems to me that the Bartleby approach can deflect a lot of tension. One doesn’t have to say, “No, I will not install that pro-Prop 8 sign in my yard because I support gay marriage.” One can simply say, “I prefer not to.” This can, perhaps, work far better than a confrontation. The speaker doesn’t have to explain why they won’t participate, just that they “prefer not to.”
Can you think of ways that you might implement this strategy in a church setting? What might be the limitations of the Bartleby approach? How might it be helpful?