Friday, 3 July 2009

Concerns, making decisions and nominations

I read the following remarkable passage by John Macmurray in "The Creative Society", written in 1935. Though John Macmurray later became a Quaker, at this time he knew little or nothing of us and our ways. Yet in this passage, to me, he succinctly locates the nature of concerns, the "sense of the meeting" and the nominations process in his own understanding of how true communities should function and get things done. The context of the passage is analysing the relationship between Christianity and Communism, and in particular highlighting the limitations of both as practised.

"What practical steps are we to take to provide an expression for our Christianity in the social field? This question often is associated with a demand for 'leadership,' and the leadership that is meant is the leadership of someone who will tell us what to do and show us how to do it. This form of demand is thoroughly misguided. It is conspicuously anti-democratic and, therefore, anti-Christian. “He that would be first among you let him be your servant." It is of the first importance to remember that Christianity looks for the creative source of social integration in the common people. Until there is a Christian society which knows what it wants and what it must do, leadership can only be a case of the blind leading the blind. When there is a society which knows what must be done, leadership is never a difficulty, because the leader is then merely the agent or the servant of the purpose which he shares and which he is responsible for carrying out. Only within a body of people who are united on the basis of real Christianity can the understanding of what must be done arise [The sense of the meeting]. And this understanding must arise in them. It cannot be given to them from outside. They must first discover the action which they have to take in the social and political field [concern]; then they can commit the carrying out of this defined common purpose to agents of their own choosing [nominations]. The whole principle of democracy involves this. There is a curious idea abroad that only specialists and experts are capable of answering the fundamental questions at issue in modern society. This is the reverse of the truth. The expert and the specialist, the highly trained and highly cultivated individual may be useful and essential for solving technical problems about the means by which the general solution can be carried into practical effect, but they are positively disqualified for deciding what the general purposes should be. There is nothing paradoxical in this."

It is all to easy to say what we do not do: We don't have leaders, we don't vote, we don't have elections, etc. But unless we know what we do do, and why we do it, and ground our understanding of what we do in our lives together, we can all to easy throw the baby out with the bath water when difficulties and problems arise and we crave solutions.

1 comment:

S Fred Langridge said...

On a couple of occasions recently, I've tried to explain Quaker decision-making to atheists. I've run into problems because without the concept of 'finding God's will', it sounds like either consensus or majority-rule. I need to find a way of expressing 'finding God's will' without turning off the ears of people who don't like the G-word. ('Finding the right way forward' is my best approximation so far.)