To write this blog, I’ve had to tear myself away from the political news and center in the silence for a bit, just so I can return to a semblance of peace. Without a doubt, we are living through extraordinary times, ones that challenge us to remain calm and loving. It’s too easy these days to fill with rage, to want to rant at someone, to gnash our teeth. The Peace Testimony, which reminds us to be “an instrument of Peace,” is a central fixture of the Quaker faith, and yet sometimes it just feels too hard. How are we to meet public malfeasance, abuse of power and war-like behavior with love? How are we to talk to those who disagree with us and honor that of God in them when we are angry and upset? How do we follow the road of peace in times of conflict and polarization?
This may be one of the single most difficult challenges before us. As Quaker minister J. Brent Bill has said, “I forget to wear the grace of God when I am mad… or on the spiritual war-path.” We all struggle to remember to wear the grace of God, especially in such tumultuous times. But does that mean we should acquiesce, stay silent or – heaven forbid – just forgive and forget?
No. Because being a Quaker does not mean being passive. I’m reminded of the famous quote from Quaker founder George Fox: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”
Does Fox suggest we sit at home and just play nice with the people we already like? Hardly. He says we must get out into the world, live by our values, and find a way to answer that of God in everyone. This is an active command. It means putting ourselves into uncomfortable places, sometimes pushing where it is hard, sometimes finding another way. When society seems divided into warring camps, Fox is saying we need to leave the safety of our compatriots and venture into foreign terrain, because that is where the solutions live.
There are so many divisive issues these days, and most of them are complex, with thorny details that make it hard to decide on best solutions. Should we support peace-keeping in foreign lands or bring our troops home? Should we open our borders or put kids in cages? All of these questions require careful consideration, and sometimes it is tough – amid all the commentary and political noise – to determine what parts have the Light in them.
Fox said the Light is there in everyone, even those with whom we disagree. Few people are evil; most want the best for society, and long to live in a place where they feel supported, safe and appreciated. Many are spontaneously generous, and help others in times of disaster and need, without asking which camp they are from. If we can do that in the face of hurricanes or wildfires, we should be able to sit down together and try to find common ground.
Most negotiators and diplomats know that it helps to start by defining what both sides can agree on, and then working forward from there. The Quaker way would suggest we set aside our own opinions, and instead listen instead to the voice of God in each person. This can be challenging when someone is condemning someone else, or ranting about unfairness, but sometimes we need to listen beyond the words that present and search deeper for the Light inside us all.
Conflict-resolution strategies that can help when you are faced with someone angry or hateful include: staying calm; managing your own response (which means thinking before you react); setting limits so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or threatened; and responding to challenging questions with an open heart. It won’t always work, but sometimes just the effort can make a difference.
In Meeting last week, one of our attenders talked about the Peace testimony and how therapists know that what we resist, or stand against, often grows stronger. Instead, she suggested, we should consider how to create something different rather than just resisting, and to do that by discussing alternatives and searching for fresh solutions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we should resist; there are. But with real listening and an effort to understand those who are different from us, we have a better chance at discerning which approach is most likely to create the best outcome for all involved.
Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.