A friend phoned me recently, asking if he could borrow our Ford Flex. He didn’t say why he needed it, and I didn’t want to appear nosy, because if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s nosy, so I just said sure, come get it. A bit later I was looking out the window and saw my friend hurrying up our driveway, glancing all around, scurrying along the way you do when you’ve broken something and want to get away quickly before someone notices. I could tell he didn’t want to talk with me.

Later that day, I was at Larry’s Marathon getting the oil changed in our other car and I noticed my friend’s car up on the lift being worked on. There were a bunch of mechanics working on it. I knew it was something serious, because they were looking at their service manuals, and you know how messed up something has to be for men to read the directions.

Even though it was none of my business, I asked Larry what was wrong with my friend’s car, and he just shook his head and said, “Everything that could possibly be wrong with a car. It’s the worst car ever made.”

I was surprised to hear Larry say that, because my friend was always bragging about his car, saying it was the best car he’d ever owned, urging me to buy one just like it, that I wouldn’t regret it.

A few days later my friend brought our car back. Before I could even ask him about his car, he started talking about my car. “I didn’t realize you had that many miles on your car. You ought to sell it while it’s still worth something and buy a car like mine. It’s the best car I’ve ever had.” I didn’t tell him I’d seen his car at Larry’s, for the same reason I don’t tell the Jehovah’s Witnesses they’re wacky when they knock on my door. Once someone is convinced they’ve found the perfect car, the true religion, the honest politician, there’s no dissuading them.

We’ve been talking about the importance of acknowledging our missteps, those moments in Quaker history that in hindsight weren’t too bright. We Friends are eager to applaud the virtues of our spiritual ancestors, and they did many things well, but it’s just as important to be mindful of our historical shortcomings so we don’t repeat them. Healthy religions aren’t afraid of scrutiny, so we’ve called this series What In the World Were We Thinking?

One of Quakerism’s historical errors was assuming that because we found meaning and purpose in silence, everyone else would too, not unlike my friend, who, convinced he’d found the perfect car, wanted everyone else to buy one too. But just because something works for us, doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

In 1829, Quakers in Philadelphia, wanting to rehabilitate inmates, designed a prison, the Eastern State Penitentiary, which would isolate inmates, removing them from each other’s negative influences. Friends believed that silence and isolation would help inmates reflect on their crimes and inspire them to change their ways. Because silence had been helpful to us, we believed it would be good for everyone. Unfortunately, it turned out that solitary confinement had a catastrophic effect on some inmates, driving them to insanity and even suicide. It didn’t occur to us that a blessing for us might be a burden to others.

Our biases, when imposed on others, exact a toll. When my grandfather was 13, his father removed him from school and sent him to work in a factory. His father had done the same thing to him, and he told my grandfather, “Be glad you don’t have to waste any more time going to school.”

But all it did for my grandfather was make him sad because he loved school and wanted nothing more than to attend college, which he finally did at the age of 62. But he never forgot what he came to call “his wasted years.”

Never forget that what feels like a blessing to us might be a burden to someone else. Believing the best way to discover meaning and purpose was to sit silently, it didn’t occur to those Pennsylvania Quakers that other people might find meaning and purpose in music, art, in literature and nature, in human intimacy, friendships, travel, work, or sacraments.

The presumption that just because something works well for us, it will surely work well for others, is still a common misperception. Last week I found myself telling my perfectly content 61-year-old brother who’s lived in apartments in the city his entire adult life, that if really wanted to be happy he needed to buy a farm in the country.

Years ago, I had a Quaker minister friend who left pastoral ministry to become a doctor. He was an excellent pastor, so it really surprised us, his fellow Quaker pastors, and we talked about it behind his back. We all agreed he was making a big mistake, that he was too old to start over, that he wouldn’t like it. We predicted his ruination, but he applied to medical school, was accepted, and became a doctor anyway. As it turns out, an excellent doctor. I was talking with a mutual friend about him not long ago. I said, “You know, I bet he wishes he were still a Quaker pastor.”

Our friend said, “I don’t think so. I see him pretty regularly and he really loves being a doctor.”

I was sad to hear that. I hate it when people enjoy things I don’t think they will.

My friend Jerry went to Las Vegas last week. He took his grown daughter. I told him he shouldn’t go, that he’d get hooked on gambling, hang out with the wrong kind of people, and ruin his life, but did he take my advice? No, off they went and though they told me they had a great time, I suspect they’re lying and that they’ll die and go to hell any day now.

Of course, something else might happen.

I might learn that just because I fear something, doesn’t mean everyone else should.

I might learn that what makes me happy might make someone else miserable.

I might learn that the very thing that sets me free, might feel like chains to another.

How much lovelier our world would be, how much happier we all would be, if we each followed our high and holy leadings, and were content to let others follow theirs.