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the Friend INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS VOL 169 NO 49 3 Thought for the Week: Quaker business method Jill Segger 4-5 Meeting for Sufferings 6 Love thy neighbour Lois Lodge 7 How you share it Anne Eardley 8-9 Letters 10-11 Lessons from Zambia Lyn Schumaker 12-13 Where does money come from? James Bruges 14-15 Gerhard Richter: Panorama Rowena Loverance 16 q-eye: a wry look at the Quaker world 17 Friends & Meetings
Setting the scene in ‘Unable, Unwilling’, one of two games showcased at the recent Quaker Centre games evening. See page 16.
Cover image: Young people in the Kamanga Dance Ensemble (Kabe) performing traditional Zambian dances. Photo: Timothy Mgala. See pages 10-11.
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the Friend, 9 December 2011 Thought for the Week
Quaker business method
One-upmanship, adversarialism, having the last word, getting the upper hand. All these destructive tendencies are commonplace in our daily lives – in the workplace, at Westminster, on the streets and in our interactions with authority and commerce. We live in a culture which has been made mistrustful through fear of being ‘taken for a ride’ and which, increasingly, believes in getting its retaliation in first. This pervasive, low-level suspicion and hostility does not make for cooperation, nor for the creative thinking which seeks solutions rather than dominance. It cannot create a respectful and nourishing space in which old ideas may evolve and new thinking can flourish. It affects us all because it is the atmosphere we breathe and the climate in which we plant and cultivate our spiritual, intellectual and emotional responses.
Last spring, our democracy had an opportunity to take a small, admittedly incomplete, step towards a fairer form of voting. But vested interests prevailed and we remain stuck in the first-past-the-post system of representation. It was another victory for the ‘winner takes all’ style of binary interaction, which leaves many feeling diminished, not necessarily because they have ‘lost’ – most are mature enough to realise that not everyone can have what they want – but because they feel unheard and disregarded. This is fertile ground for the growth of resentment and conflict.
The Quaker business method is both antithesis and antidote to the prevalent political, professional and personal manner of decision making, which so often leaves bitterness in its wake. Where there is no lobbying and no voting, the confident cannot gain advantage over the diffident and the unforeseen stands on an equal footing with the expected. The voice that is instrumental in encapsulating the Spirit may be the least eloquent or articulate in terms of worldly debate. Here are the radical inversions so central to the teaching of Jesus and which have served us well for three and a half centuries, from Meeting for Sufferings to the ordering of the affairs of the smallest Local Meeting. Many of us will have known occasions outside the proceedings of the Religious Society of Friends where experience of our business method has enabled us to offer an alternative path through complex and polarising situations. We also need to recognise the Spirit, even when it is found in an unexpected location and under an unfamiliar name.
I see the Occupy movement as a sign of hope in the face of a growing financial crisis and a decline of trust in government. Roger Iredale, writing in last week’s Friend, called it ‘hope against might’. The movement has read the signs of the times and is offering not just a sign of contradiction, but an opportunity for a divided society to learn that a different mode of governance is possible. The General Assemblies, through which Occupy manages its day-to-day living and longer term strategy, are non-hierarchical, inclusive and willing to take the necessary time to come to a common mind. They may not speak of ‘waiting on the Spirit’, but I believe that is what they are doing.
Quaker Faith & Practice, advising on Meeting for Worship for Business, reminds us that ‘open minds are not empty minds’. Let us take those minds into the public square and see what love can do.
Jill is a member of Bury St Edmunds Meeting. She is a freelance writer and associate director of the Ekklesia thinktank on beliefs and values on public life.
the Friend, 9 December 2011