What Quakers say

This is what our Quaker community have been talking about recently

The Quaker UN Offices

As part of my doctoral research into complexity and peace in organisational change, I contacted two representatives from the Quaker UN Office, for a fascinating discussion about the role of the meeting houses, how silence and peace can be off-putting, and the importance of humanising the process of diplomacy.

The Quaker UN Office has many functions, working “with people in the UN, multilateral organisations, government delegations, and non-governmental organisations, to achieve changes in international standards and practice.” The Quaker Houses in Geneva and New York provide “a place where UN diplomats, staff, and nongovernmental partners can work on difficult issues in a quiet, off-the-record atmosphere, out of the public eye.”[1]

I spoke to two representatives from QUNO Geneva. They talked about their practices and how they use quiet diplomacy, grounded in Quaker Business methods, to help inspire efforts, de-escalate conflict situations, and to create structure and safety in the negotiation space. 

“Process” and “space” were two themes that came up a lot. The QUNO offices in NY and Geneva are based in beautiful homes near the UN, providing a confidential space to discuss and negotiate. The process of holding the space goes “beyond Chatham House Rules” as those facilitating don’t write reports or discuss publicly which countries attend. The Quaker Houses, a brownstone in NY and a large, prewar family home in Geneva, avoid a UN corporate space, offering diplomats and UN colleagues a calm, safe and warm space in which to relax. This is a powerful way to take people away from the work environment, seeing people – not their business cards. The space goes beyond hierarchy, beyond countries and alliances, where all contributions are welcome. The process of the meetings are important, and different too. “Quiet diplomacy” enables an ethical focus on issues, a focus on the human impact of decisions being made. While avoiding a pre-set agenda; conversations can emerge, as led, by the people who come. There is structure, however. Although Quaker Business meetings will start with silence, this can be too jarring for many, so in these meetings a question is asked. The question is a “personalising” one, for example “What fear have you brought with you today?”, or “What keeps you from being here?” This helps attendees be present, gets them away from anything that they’ve experienced before the meeting, and levels hierarchy. The facilitators encourage everyone to only speak once, before opening up the meeting to more free-flowing discussion, slowing down the process, and ensuring that everyone who wants to speak, speaks. The attendees are also reminded that some people take a while to gather and articulate their thoughts, so it’s recommended that a pause is taken between speakers. This structure serves to highlight diversity, alongside equality, giving everyone equal time to speak.

We talked about “peace” and my concern that it’s a strange word to use in corporate settings. In the area of climate change, the word “peace” too, could be seen as odd, out of place, jarring or distracting. In other areas, “peace” could indicate to people that there is no room for challenge, or creative conflict. The representatives explained that conflict wasn’t a negative. Violent conflict, however, is not a given, and that challenge is an important part of feeling heard. In the context of the QUNO, the term “human rights-based” is often used, which could also serve as to what I mean when I talk about peace. When making climate policy, for example, it’s important to respect rights – human rights, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, gender, youth, biodiversity, etc. It’s about making a “just transition” and doing due diligence to ensure meaningful participation, which results in a more sustainable solution. The outcome maybe the same as it would have been without this process, but there is importance in the “how” things are done. It’s not about creating an unrealistic paradise, but discussions and decisions need to centre around all people. 

The QUNO holds a space for people to listen and be heard; humanising the decision-making process, creating structure to ensure safety, encouraging conflict and resolution to promote growth, and ensuring that every person has a voice.

HA-W

[1]https://quno.org/about

One of our new friends said this: "Coming along on a Sunday is so important to me because prior to coming through the doors I feel wound tightly, tired, fatigued, exhausted. Too many demands and pressures. My mind doesn't stop talking, being busy and my body is constantly busy, but knowing as I walk through the door I can completely leave all of that behind, there's no expectation of me from anyone else or myself. I can completely just be in the moment for the hour.
In fact on Sunday I closed my eyes. I wasn't asleep. I allowed my thoughts to move around my mind and they passed through very quickly. As I noticed my breathing calming down I was very aware of the room, the peace and quiet, the noise outside, but it didn't disturb, in fact I feel very privileged to be in this beautiful calming space which is facilitated by the friends around me, for which I am extremely grateful and I really hope to keep maintaining the feeling I get on Sunday throughout the week." S.J

 

Quakers are well known for their Peace work. A new friend pointed this paragraph out from a pamphlet:

'We open our eyes to the many forms of violence around us, including the 'structural violence' of economic injustice, institutional racism, discrimination against women, and cultural oppression. We open our eyes too to the seeds of war in our own hearts and in our own lives.'

For more information, click here to read about the Quaker Peace testimony.

greta thunberg arrest


Quakers in Protests

In 2003 I took part in the protest against the Iraq war. It felt good to walk with so many and I thought the Blair government could not go to war after that. But they did. For a long time I made no active protests.
But I saw Chris Packham on TV recently saying it is time to break the law, and there was Sunak's go-ahead to Rosebank new oil and gas field. I may be unable to change anything but I cannot fail to attend protests where so many factors are intertwined - particularly poverty, inequality, war and climate change.

In September 2023 I attended the biennial DSEI arms fair at Excel London ( Defence and Security Equipment International)  I chose the same day that Quakers attended - several hundred of them. Some good singing. We kept some lorries at bay for a while. For family reasons I did not want to be arrested but that is not difficult. They don't want to arrest you. You can silently disobey for a while before arrests look inevitable.
We are told not to speak to police. They may seem sympathetic but they seek information on everyone.
In the end we cleared the road then a Quaker lady walked into the road and was arrested.
For protests you need to attend some training. You should be given addresses of solicitors and you should not accept a "duty solicitor"
I do not know what has happened to people arrested. They may wait some time before their court case. If possible we should always support people going through this.
Since the arms fair, I attended in Park Lane on 17th and 19th October to make people aware of, and disrupt, an oil and money conference. The protest was run by Fossil Free London and others. One of the main objections was the planned attendance of Sultan al Jaber who will be the Cop 28 president but is also CEO of ADNOC oil company. He claims talking to all sides is essential but we fear greenwashing.
I have now contacted Just Stop Oil. They insist that you attend a day on non violent protest before joining a walk in their name. This is now a part of my plan.
Interested?  Contact JSO
Contact Quaker Roots about the next arms fair in 2025.
Don't complain about the state of our world! Get Active!

TW 

This article includes quite a lot of interesting Quaker history

Guardian Article on peace, from a Quaker

 

Claridge House is a Quaker Retreat near Lingfield

I was incredibly honoured to have had the opportunity to go on a retreat for the very first time at Claridge house courtesy of my Quaker meeting, which was such an amazing gift that it took a long time for me to actually agree to myself to fill out the form and to book that place.

Once done, it was anchored into my diary for many months ahead and gave me something to hang onto throughout very difficult months as I'm training to be a counsellor alongside some incredibly challenging personal and financial difficulties this year

Driving along the motorway that day, I felt I could really leave my responsibilities behind me and I could just take myself to this space; I had no anticipation or expectation, I'd packed a lot of books and some clothes but knew that I was just going away for a few days to escape the world and the demands expected upon me and the expectations of myself.

As soon as I got there the sign said 'welcome - take a breath' - that set the tone for me and was everything that I needed. As soon as I got into my room I just sat there and cried and I cried for quite a while and just let go of a lot of emotion that had been building up in me for quite some time that I was able to let go in a safe and calm way without disturbing or upsetting anyone. 

The sense of peace and tranquility was profound; somebody cooking wonderful smelling food, a very homely home from home in fact it's not an atmosphere I really recognised for myself growing up but an atmosphere I recognise as a mum giving to my own daughters - I needed that nurturing space for me and I definitely received that whilst I was there.

I just sat with myself literally at the table enjoying quiet time not needing to make small talk and wasting energy, I ate beautiful home-made food mindfully I absorbed the peace and tranquility the sound of the trees, people talking in the background, the smell of the grass being cut, just a very simple things that in a  few days  grounded me,  calmed me,  reset me.

it's the only time in the 52 weeks of a year that I actually spent being completely still, peaceful,  happy,  content,  calm in my thoughts and body.  I was very reluctant to leave but I see is an absolute necessity for myself going forwards to stay emotionally and mentally well and healthy.

I am incredibly grateful and it's memory I will always treasure.