Letters - 02 June 2023

From Bullying to Participation


I found that the letter in the Friend by Robin Waterston (12 May) spoke profoundly to my condition. 

My dear wife observed that I run away from conflict. Be that as it may, as a child the bullying magpies swooped down on me in the school yard unpityingly, and I never knew how to react. In adult life, in the workplace, I was confronted by more sophisticated bullying. I have known of court cases between work colleagues. For me, however, the answer is not confrontation but transformation.

Sometimes the perpetrator has no idea that they have caused hurt. I was staggered to learn that I had once hurt a Friend. We were able to reconcile the situation and move on to a worthwhile beyond. Yet, it made me humbly conscious of our human frailty. Who indeed is without fault? How poignant is the story in the Gospel of John about the woman taken in adultery: let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.

Sometimes a hidden cord of vulnerability is wounded. There are undercurrents not understood working just under the surface of the mind.

My experience leads me to agree with Robin Waterston that policies and regulations are all very well. Ultimately I sense that the problem cannot be resolved by committee. For the reality is that the hurt from bullying is an inward thing.

To wallow in self-pity may be necessary, but surely only for the moment. To let the problem fester is unhealthy. We must embrace the moment and move on. There must be some positive outcome, though this will not immediately occur. It will emerge. It should make one a more useful member of society.

Like the Australian kangaroo that cannot jump backward, the world only has meaning if it goes forward.

In conflict, to forgive is only the first step. Transformation should be that jump forward. One of the great but simple insights that came to me in a time of distress was the memory of a dear Friend who recognised her inabilities but insisted that she could be an encourager. How positive. How inspirational.

It is akin to James Naylor’s mature realisation, ‘There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong… its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned’.

Let us hold on to this remarkable position. For James Naylor, far more than any of us, had suffered from bullying at the pillory.

Charles Stevenson

This and that

So much in the latest editions of the Friend has been inspirational but it is Andy Fincham’s stimulating and thought-provoking piece (April 28), ‘Lessons from the past’ in ‘more business with Quaker history’, that has compelled me to share my reaction with Friends.

There are so many interesting facts in this article, but it’s Andy’s concluding imagining that has really inspired me, because, and I paraphrase: ‘The research I’ve done suggests four factors that helped (early) Quakers achieve success: promotion of education and access to apprenticeships which helped ensure employability; shared finance which acted as a seed capital for small businesses; shared opportunities and cooperation through the Quaker network; and the acceptance of Quaker discipline, which provided the framework for behaviour, the resolution of disputes, and the maintenance of the reputation of the Society.’

Andy also invites us to interpret the question ‘How does the Truth prosper among you?’ to imply ‘How’s your Meeting membership coming along?’ We are also reminded that early Friends ‘thought big’ and ‘acted big’.

And finally the big one: ‘in today’s context, imagine Quakers across Britain deciding to invest collectively in Woodbrooke. It could be made into a centre of excellence, devoted to promoting ethics in public and commercial life, to students across the world. It could become a credited UK university, offering degree courses in two years through continuous education and at half the fees of the alternatives. To a Fox or a Penn, that would be simple practical Quakerism, helping to mend the world.’ Wow! I am truly beginning to imagine a very different future for Woodbrooke than the one under consideration, and hope Andy’s vision can excite many more Friends into collectively discerning and considering the possibility of such a bold, far-reaching and adventurous future for Woodbrooke, and Quakerism worldwide.

Maris Vigar

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