Tag Archives: responsibility

W is for … wars and rumours of wars

It’s pretty grim out there in the world. War has been on my mind, not because it’s something I like to think about but because it seems to be on the news daily and although it’s hard to be sure, it seems to be getting worse.

I’m part of the post war generation old enough to understand that war is awful without having had to live through it. A friend once described my generation’s experience of war as walking into a cinema just after the film has finished but knowing that it was incredibly painful for those who were there.

We’re a generation – especially in Europe, and even more so in Western Europe – who thought this would never happen to us. And so far, in some ways, of course it hasn’t.

We kid ourselves, though, if we think there’s no war. And it is happening in a number of different ways all of which affect us and other people in different ways.

I am reminded of John Woolman’s famous quote: ‘May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.’

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First, there is the language that is being used. Whatever problem we face we seem to be waging war on it: the war on drugs, on terrorism, on gangs, on poverty, on disease, on cancer, and probably of all sorts of other things you can think of. We even have a well-respected charity in the UK named ‘War on Want’. And whilst we all know what we mean by that ‘war on…’ phrase, maybe we should stop and think before we use it.

Then there is the endless coverage of fighting in all sorts of places. And it’s not just actual wars. It’s whatever happens to be today’s worst atrocity. Hours and pages of media exposure; it gives those who would perpetrate these acts (which are crimes) the oxygen of publicity. That’s what they want. It has a double effect: it gives them their moment of fame (and glory) and thereby acts as a recruitment tool; and it makes the rest of us nervous and fearful. And on the back of both our governments find ways to restrict our freedoms, the very freedoms we are supposedly defending and which are supposedly under attack from those who wreak carnage on the world.

There are the stories of the victims; the refugees, the orphans, the maimed, the people who have lost their homes, their livelihood, their often already few possessions. We see them briefly. In tents in the snow in Syria; covered in burkas in Nigeria (that’s if they are women that have been captured by Boko Haram). They don’t often hold the limelight for long. They are soon forgotten in the rush to cover the next atrocity.

They never really get a voice. They often are just seen as ‘victims’: and to make them ‘innocent’ victims they generally have to be young or old, and preferably women.

What if we heard their views clearly? What if the media named each victim who is known? What if their stories, the way they are affected by the mayhem around them was the focus of the media coverage? Maybe that would have a different kind of impact on those who might be tempted to get involved in violence, be that in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, or on the streets of Paris, Copenhagen or London.

And of course, we must not forget the fact that our own society is being militarised. That too has an impact on war and the rumours of war.

And this has been stepped up quite significantly. The 2014 Quaker Peace and Social Witness publication: The New Tide of Militarisation shows this clearly including:

  • A programme costing £ 10.85 m to expand cadet forces in state schools
  • A programme of fast-tracking ex-military personnel into the education system
  • Statements by government ministers such as ‘Every child can benefit from the values of a military ethos.’ (Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State for Education)
  • The introduction of an ‘Armed Forces Day’
  • The increasing insistence that anyone in the public eye (especially on TV) has to wear a red poppy during the run-up to Remembrance Day
  • The prominent role of the military in the security arrangements around the 2012 Olympics – including a warship moored in the Thames.

The publication has much more information and is well worth a read.

But the point here is: if we allow our world to be militarized to the extent that it is, then we must not be surprised that we are confronted daily with violence and war. If we do not understand that violence is violence and war is war (and it doesn’t matter who perpetrates the violence and war for what end) then we will continue to have war and rumours of war.

So we need to become much more active in challenging the use of military language, the militarisation or our society, the effective glorification of violence in the media by hyped up reporting of atrocities and neglect of the reality for the victims.

We must also continue to work on the root causes of violence and of unrest. We have much to do.

 

V is for … Values

Recently, at a board meeting of a small Quaker organisation the one board member who isn’t a Quaker asked us: ‘So what are Quaker values’? Not an unreasonable question as we had been going on about the unique selling point of the service we provide being ‘the Quaker values’.

The immediate answer he got from one of our number was: read Advices and Queries. I didn’t really think that was a sufficient answer but couldn’t come up with anything quick and straightforward either.

I googled the Quaker Social Action publication ‘The Q-BIT at the Heart of a Quaker led organisation

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I sent him a copy by e-mail and I referred him to page 24 (of the pdf) where in a nice and accessible box you can find the following:

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Of course, the issue with any such list – just as much with a list of our Testimonies which are often used in such discussions – is this: (a) do we live up to these values? And (b) are they unique to Quakers?

Why do these two questions matter? They both matter because they are about authenticity and about identity.

Of course, we don’t always live up to all of these. We’re not perfect and we don’t claim to be perfect. It’s more important to own them and to keep trying. And of course, in theory we do. But in practice, certainly in Britain in Europe more broadly, we don’t have enough diversity within our group to be able to hear all voices and views, for example.

But the question of uniqueness is probably the more controversial. The issue here is that we claim values that others would also claim and maybe they interpret them differently but is it right for us to claim them as ‘Quaker’ values.

It puts me in mind of the discussions in the political sphere of ‘British’ values, many of which are far more universal than that.

So where does that leave us?

The one thing we do seem to have in common and seem to have uniquely in common is our worship based on silence; our willingness to shut down the noise which we are otherwise constantly confronted with; the willingness to accept that silence – as much in a group as on our own – can be uncomfortable because it tends to bring out all sorts of thoughts that we normally try not to allow any space for. It is a silence that makes space for the crucial question: what is really important? What is it that really matters? What do I want to spend my time, energy and money on?

One of the really important issues is that of equality – or to put it into political terms – the growing inequality, which our society is blighted with. I know that Friends are doing work on this; I know there will be some concentrated effort around this over the next few months. But the question for each of us individually and for our Meetings is this: given that most of us are among the better off – though not among the 1% – what can we actually do practically that will make us ‘patterns and examples’; i.e. the people who are the change we want to see.

One key issue is housing inequality. Can we find a way of demonstrating what that would look like without making ourselves homeless and without creating a massive managerial and administrative burden for someone?

Just a thought and a question! If you have ideas of how to bring that about, please let me/us know.

H is for – what do we do about Hate Speech

Over the last two days I have picked up a lot of very destructive hate speech in the comments to articles in the Daily Telegraph. And example would be this article and the comments which relate to it.

Let me explain:

I have been reading the DT online for the last 12 months or so for the sole purpose to inform myself about how the other side sees things. The DT itself is quite conservative and Eurosceptic and its readers are, on the whole, even worse. But they do represent a substantial part of the population.

In the wake of the ‘trojan horse’ story about schools in B’ham, there has been quite a bit of vitriol in the DT (and no doubt in other papers, too). And don’t get me wrong, I’m as opposed to the things that have supposedly been going on in these academies.

I have checked with a Friend in B’ham who worked in the education sector for a long time and she is broadly confirming that there is some substance behind the allegations.

But the reaction of both the press and the public commenting in the press is really quite worrying. If you read some of the comments associated with the article (above – see link), you’ll see that people are talking about civil war, about targeted assassinations, about riots to deal with minorities, about the military intervening and so on.

Now, I don’t think any of this is really likely; but I do think that having this kind of stuff out there on the internet is very dangerous and very damaging so long as there is nothing coherent that puts another voice into the mix.

A few days ago, I actually commented on another article in the DT about the story that there was discrimination and non-adherence to the national curriculum going on in 3 schools in B’ham. It appears to be part of the same ‘plot’ as the trojan horse story. And because I said something to the effect that it is important to deal with such breaches of standards and governance in academies through judicial means rather than whipping up hate against whole communities, I got an avalanche of relatively negative comments back ranging from telling me I was part of the problem by saying these things to some comments that were considerably worse.

I don’t really mind getting that sort of stuff – it doesn’t really affect me personally. But I do think there is a need for a different voice to be broadcast effectively, that addresses such problems in context and highlights responses that are reasonable, lawful, non-violent and – dare I say it – rational.

I am at a loss on this one; I don’t know how as Friends we can stand up against such hate speech in a way that is visible on the Internet, on social media, in the on-line papers and that is heard by the communities that are being vilified.

I await your comments and ideas.

F is for being Fortunate

It’s one of those things we often forget.

The weather gets us down (though it’s been pretty good these last few days); the government gets us down – some things never change; we have some health issues; we have problems with the car, the roof needs fixing. So we can get wrapped up in the things that a wrong with life, the things that make it frustrating (and believe me, I could produce a very long list of them here, but I won’t), and the things that we don’t like.

What we forget is how fortunate we are. One of the things that I try to do in Meeting on a Sunday (I should do it more regularly, but at least on a Sunday morning I have a space to do it and no excuses for not doing it) is to consider why I am incredibly fortunate.

I have just looked on the Internet for some of the images and messages that sometimes land in our inboxes or on our Facebook timelines that remind us of this. Here are just some:

  • I am alive.
  • I am able to see the sunrise and the sunset.
  • I am able to music and bird song
  • I can walk outside and feel the breeze through your hair and the sun’s warmth on your skin.
  • I didn’t go to sleep hungry last night.
  • I awoke this morning with a roof over your head.
  • I had a choice of what clothes to wear.
  • I have access to clean drinking water.
  • I have access to medical care.
  • I have access to the Internet.
  • I can read.
  • I haven’t feared for my life today or ever, really.
  • I have had some challenges, and I have learned and survived.
  • I have – mostly – the freedom to make my own decisions.
  • I live in a country that protects my basic human rights and civil liberties. And even if it’s far from perfect, it’s a lot better than some places.
  • I have a friends or relatives who look forward to our next get-together.

There are many of these lists on the Internet, some designed in a very eye-catching and mind-catching way. Here is one example that I like.

It reminded me of a song, sung by Joan Baez on one of her early records (you know, when they still had vinyl) called ‘There but for fortune’. It was actually written by Phil Ochs and the words are:

Image of Alphabet blog F

 

Why I am writing about this?

Because I want to remind myself and all of us that this kind of ‘being fortunate’ – not earned, not deserved, just given to us because of where and when we were born and where we live – brings with it responsibility. Responsibility to share what of that fortune we can share – and speaking strictly for myself, I don’t think I ever do enough of that; responsibility to keep in mind our fortune and stop complaining when a few things go wrong; responsibility to identify the reasons why others are so much less fortunate than we are and to do something, anything, to change that.

The responsibility that comes from the recognition (so ably expressed by William Penn in 1682) that ‘True Godliness does not turn people out of the world but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it;
not hide their candle under a bushel,
but to set it upon a table in a candlestick.’