Thought for the Day – Helen Drewery – Head of Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) in Britain – 31/12/2012
Good morning. Two incidents of horrific violence have shocked us all in recent days: the church organist killed in Sheffield on his way to Midnight Mass, and the medical student in Delhi whose funeral was held yesterday. In the light of those I want to tell you two different stories about ordinary people’s successful efforts to counteract violence.
A young woman in Year 9 at school – about 14 years old – was walking home through a park at dusk, and saw a group of Year 10 students she recognised from her own school, standing in a circle. As she got nearer she could see that one of them was holding down and punching someone from her year group. He was being hit in the face repeatedly. The crowd was jeering. The young woman was terrified but walked into the centre of the circle and just said ‘stop doing that’, and to her amazement they did, and she was able to take the boy back to his home.
But peace does not just require personal courage. It can be organised for. My second example is set in Kenya. Local Quakers there, learning from past experience, were determined to be well prepared to limit the predicted violence around the coming general elections. So they invited in a British Quaker project to give them training in skills of active non-violence, helping people to see that real political change can be achieved by peaceful means. Already they have launched a campaign to challenge unfair local taxes. The alternative might easily have been a violent riot.
As we turn to face the new year, maybe bracing ourselves for more conflicts and challenges, we need a sense of hope. I try to remember all the countries and communities which don’t feature in the news headlines, because ordinary people are busy keeping the peace. And many feel supported by their faith to do more than they could have done in just their own human strength.
Who knows what violence has been prevented, at an early stage, by the unknown actions of ordinary people? A century ago there were people working to prevent the outbreak of World War One. They failed – but failure is not inevitable. Wars that have been prevented have no names and no dates – documentaries are rarely made about them.
So what would it take for us to be peacemakers, in the coming year? I suggest it takes, mostly, a willingness to build trust, and some skills in cool-headedness, which can be learnt by anybody. And many people find that it really helps to see every human being as unique, precious and a child of God.
It has been said: “there is no way to peace – peace is the way.” Or as Sydney Bailey, a Quaker who worked at the United Nations, put it: ‘‘peace is a process to engage in, not a goal to be reached’.