‘We have no choice but to respond to the fear.’

Thought for the week: Paul Henderson has the germ of an idea

'Our response to Covid-19 must be rooted in international understanding.' | Photo: Vanessa Santos, UN Global Call Out To Creatives.

The impact of Covid-19 is going to be profound. Quakers are responding energetically, the Build Back Better campaign being an excellent example. But are we sufficiently engaged in probing the deeper significance of the crisis? Quaker history tells us to live adventurously to address questions of universal significance, with ‘the readiness to go forward experimentally, without assurance’ (Quaker faith & practice 26.39). The secret to effective reflection and action often lies in preparation. I offer the following suggestions for consideration.

Encouraging alternatives is critically important. We should celebrate thinkers with different, unusual perspectives. This is the main message I take from Tom Shakespeare, who said in his Swarthmore Lecture that ‘As Quakers… we need to be a constant disturbance in society.’ Often, an idea seen to be eccentric, even outrageous, can turn out to be central.

An international perspective is essential. Pierre Cérésole, Duncan Wood and Sidney Bailey (among others) exemplify this commitment. Our response to Covid-19 must be rooted in international understanding.

Extolling the importance of leadership may be counter to the intuitions of some Friends. But I think we should put any such doubts to one side. Inspired individuals can provide leadership because they articulate key ideas at a critical time. This leadership can, of course, arise from worship. Here, an individual’s leadership reflects the beliefs, values and judgements of the group. It becomes a shared concern.

Our testimonies should always be central. Truth, peace, simplicity, equality and sustainability are not beliefs, they are acts of witness and should be the bedrock of any response.

For many of us, the fear of the unknown is more haunting than the virus itself. We have no choice but to respond to the fear. We must look at the wider context, the macro level as well as the micro. This will lead us to make connections between the virus and other issues. Covid has revealed the extent of poverty and inequalities in our society, for example, as well as the inadequacy of the benefits system. It has also shown the number of isolated people, particularly those with mental health difficulties and abusive partners. But there is evidence that mutual aid groups have increased significantly over the last six months, and these may provide the basis for the development of new forms of community support and action. 

Friends’ commitment to truth requires us to grapple with difficult, complex philosophical and political matters. We will have to make choices as to who and what we support. We must look for clear and challenging thinking. The need for this will become particularly acute as we experience the looming economic recession…

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