This piece is the first in a series called "The language of Mercy". Please click on this link to read my disclaimer.
Some of the words and phrases used at Mercy Ministries were ambiguous in meaning. Because of this, they could be used as blanket words to avoid reasonable explanation, or they could change meaning easily depending on the situation or to whom they were being applied. They could be applied as heavily or lightly, as broadly or specifically as desired by a given staff member.
"Mercy appropriate" was one such example.
The word "Mercy appropriate" set the word "appropriate" apart from the limited application it might have in the real world. The idea of it was to make the environment as safe and untriggering as possible. But because of it's ambiguous nature, the meaning changed depending on the subjective understanding of the staff member on duty, what mood they were in and whether or not they liked you. Obviously, each staff member was different so not all of them would favour one girl over another or take their moods out on people, but it was certainly an option available that was exercised by those who did.
For better or worse, here are some of the more defined examples commonly classified under the umbrella of the "Mercy appropriate" counterpart, being "Mercy inappropriate": -
- Non-G rated movies.
- Some G rated movies if they contained themes of witchcraft and sorcery.
- Kissing and similar scenes in movies (which were fast forwarded as we were told to look away).
- The use of the word "fat" in any context (in my experience anyway).
- Talking about a girl who had either chosen to leave or who had been dismissed. This included fact she had left or been dismissed, the circumstances surrounding that and the fact that she had ever been at Mercy in the first place.
- Discussing Mercy graduates who appeared to be doing poorly.
- Saying anything that could potentially disclose your issues or details of your past to other girls to even the slightest degree.
- Discussing with other girls an issue you were having with a staff member, detailing a confrontation you had with staff, saying critical things about staff or the program, or about anything you had gotten into trouble for.
- Discussing current affairs.
- Breaking Mercy rules whilst on weekend leave such as reading a newspaper or listening to non-Christian music.
There were many other things considered inappropriate by Mercy, but from my recollection of observations and experiences, many of us were not aware of our apparent transgressions until we got into trouble for crossing the often invisible and sometimes changing line. Because of this, it was hard to feel sure if a given conversation being had was Mercy approved.
I was often terrified of causing a potential confrontation with staff. I recall one occassion where I heard a staff member mention that there were riots in Cronulla. I had legitimate fears for a relative's safety, however I was afraid to ask about it in case I got into trouble for asking an inappropriate question.
On many occassions, I did not understand why certain things were considered inappropriate, and sometimes I quite frankly did not agree that "X" was inappropriate. However, I learned the hard way to never question staff.
In retrospect, I can see that decisions were made on our behalf as to what would and would not interfere with our recovery rather than empowering us to discern our individual needs and speak for ourselves. So instead of creating a safe and empowering environment, "Mercy appropriate" often had the opposite effect.
I find it of interest that many of the items mentioned in the bulleted list above appear to match up with criteria found in destructive groups, particularly in the area of information control. Click here to compare for yourself the above list to Steven Hassan's BITE model for destructive mind control.