Training In Relatedness
Modern Friends are searching for some new alignment of their lives to accord, in the new circumstances, with their old convictions. Those convictions include the recognition of human unity, with the conclusion that no man may achieve his real good at another man’s expense, the belief that pacifism or non-violence is a whole view of life affecting not only our behavior as regards war and war preparation and war rumoring, but also our behavior as regards industry, business, education, work, meeting and family life, and the relation of the self to all others everywhere.
After the long quietistic period in the Society of Friends, the new responsibility took mainly the forms of education—really propaganda in a good sense—organization, and administration. Many committees were formed, some for spreading information and affecting attitudes, such as peace committees, race relations committees, and social order committees, some for administering funds through institutions, such as school and settlement boards. As Friends grew in financial and social status, they undertook more and more work of benevolence through these channels, a sort of increasing “white man’s burden”, the noblesse oblige of the well-to-do religious person.
It is often said, and I think it is true, that Friends have accomplished ends and have had influence out of all proportion to their numbers. Nevertheless thereis a growing sense that the means we have developed for implementing our principles are now inadequate, a realization that new means have to be found if the brotherhood of man through the practice of peace is still to be affirmed with convincing power.
At times we get from within an oppressive intimation that our peace work, our educational and inter-racial work, our testimonies for justice and equal opportunity, are all a sort of bubble floating on a very ordinary brew wherein are mixed, by way of our individual lives, the ingredients of self-interest, luxury, race and class insularity, violence through competition for or acceptance of conventional rewards in money and status, fear of the loss of these, and much else that is irrelevant and incongruous when set beside the great principles which we enunciate and want to exemplify.
It may be that some of our organizational and institutional work needs to give way soon to a kind of new relating of each of us to our environment, through more localized work and a more nearly total involvement of ourselves.
Some of us are not very closely connected with the communities where we live or those where we work. As middle-class people, believing in fresh air for the family, we spend much of our spare time getting from our work in town to our homes in the country. The city is not our community; we only work there. The country is not our community; we only live there. We know hardly any of our neighbors; our children go long distances out of the neighborhood in order to attend the nearest Friends’ or other suitable private school; there isn’t any community— justa lot of people living in the country and commuting to school, work, and committees. Committees in this modern unrelatedness are our salvation and at the same time our undoing. We try to remedy our isolated condition by serving on many committees of which the members are gathered from all parts of the surrounding country or from all over the nation, to attack the problems that are threateningour life.
In the meantime, are we living as if we believed that all men are brothers? Are we living in the spirit that takes away the occasion of wars? Are we living as if peace were possible, present, potent, a living and dynamic way? Or have we substituted multitudinous “contacts”, the great word of our present decade, for community? Have most of us a “beloved community” which is an actual, day-to-day experience of mutuality, a warm entity, creative, if often uncomfortable?
It begins to be clear that although world-shaking events, good and bad, are precipitated by central authorities, by dictators like Hitler or spiritual leaders like Gandhi, they are prepared for by tiny experiences, growing attitudes far back in the smallest social and political units of the country. Literally, war is prepared when the people are not nourished on peace. This is why Gandhi has sent his non violent workers out into every remote part of India, that when the time comes for new pressure toward freedom each smallest locality may have an indigenous movement toward non-violent self-rule, and that through long habit of working together in concerns of daily life the communities may be disciplined to harder tasks of self-suffering resistance and responsible initiative. Sound growth cannot be fostered by proclamations, edicts, encyclicals, or propaganda, not even by the centralized educational institution, however enlightened. It must be fostered at the centers of growth by workers who are buried there, yes, but not lost there.
I was being shown lately a diagram of a tiny cross sectio of cortical tissue, and I saw how seemingly lost in the complex system are the points at which incoming sensory stimuli are transmuted to outgoing motor impulses. Perhaps those of us in whom concern for the good society has become the paramount, consciously accepted drive of our lives have not placed ourselves deep enough at the center of society to effect transmutation of our concern into action that takes place through the only instruments possible, human lives, massed human lives. Hertha Kraus said recently, “We have not found this powerful thought of love yet, out of which means would come for sound and reasonable action.” Perhaps we have been trying to work out on the surface of the organism, forgetting that change takes place inside at the growing center.
In what we have been doing at the Delta Cooperative Farm, we chose the simplest sort of a beginning. We went to a place where a new community was being created upon a definite hypothesis or outline of idealism. It was comparatively easy there to relate ourselves organically to the community that was growing. Stark need made the basis of fellowship, and the striving to meet that need in a new pattern of non-competition or cooperation with one’s fellows made the method through which fellowship was to express itself in community forms. No money-success nor personal distinction was to be expected for any member of the cooperative, but rewards and success in the form of good life in a simple and friendly setting were expected.
Not everybody, however, can give himself such a short course in community living. Many must remain in and deal with a complex, artificial potpourri of urban or suburban life in which it is almost impossible to see where any outlines of community exist. If society is to be re-integrated through the growth of character fostered in world community and through individual responsibility expressed in world community, then I think we pacifists who feel that we have entertained once that “powerful thought of love” will have to cut clean through whatever is merely conventional and sectional in our way of living and move over, often physically but not always so, into relatedness to whatever life is at hand that represents a growing point for community.
For some this might mean living in very poor localities and starting simple, neighborly buying organizations such as might grow into local consumers’ cooperatives to lighten the burden for those living near the edge of want, while freeing their patrons from continuing to support as consumers a system known to be exploitive and to have its inevitable issue in war. For others it might mean making their own home a center for recreation in a street or section where young people have no place to go for companionship, or children for play. If the relationship between neighbors is once made real in some such simple way, other means of developing community life and responsibility will open out before them.
Some person may feel that the permanently unemployed, so-called “unemployable”, group in an industrial neighborhood could be drawn together into gardening activity that would recall their self-respect by supplementing their living and even making them able to help their neighbors at times. As the new chemical gardening comes into more practical phases, this device might become feasible even in congested industrial neighborhoods.
Women living near together can almost always find common ground and work in which they can join to lighten their burdens, improve their homes, and educate themselves to better care of their families. Take a simple instance. Surprising numbers of the very poor have never learned to knit. If a little collaboration for the buying of yarn, needles, and instruction books is arranged, a large number of women can knit garments cheaply and with enjoyment. While doing so they may hatch farther-reaching ideas for collaboration.
These are simple beginnings. Almost all of them call for the persons who would be the stimuli of growth to live at the center where growth is expected, and to live as nearly as they can at the same economic level as their neighbors. The settlement house that sets an unattainable standard of beauty and material dignity is superseded.
By very plain living, which would be in itself one of the means of attaining close relationship with the neighborhoods of their choice, some people would automatically set free sums of money which could be made available for financing simple enterprises that represent growth in community. But at the beginning probably the advent of the family or families who wanted to become neighborhood friends should not be marked by the arrival of money for a project. Let beginnings be simple and based on what anyone can give out of himself, and as the right project for community effort comes into view let there be a source from which modest help can be obtained.
Probably it is not best for families having incomes beyond their new needs to keep control of their own surplus. These surpluses could be pooled for a sort of foundation from which small well-considered community projects could borrow or receive help. If the individual keeps control of available money, the danger is that he will be carried away by the needs of his neighborhood and become a benefactor. He should probably place himself out of that danger and meet the needs, at first in any case, only as any neighbor would, by sharing what he has for his own use.
Of late there has come to the fore another kind of organization which should be increasingly a development in community. This is the labor union.
At its worst the union is a pressure group without responsibility. At its present best it is a community of workers, recognizing that the interests of sound industrial management are its own interests, striving to find out what is its true share in the responsibilities and rewards of industry. Between these limits there are many degrees and beyond the best are unlimited possibilities. To wash our hands of unions in order to condemn what we deplore in their methods is only to deny ourselves the opportunity to assist and enlarge what is right in them. It is to refuse in a niggardly way to take upon ourselves any of the burden of adjustment to new conditions from which we all alike both suffer and benefit.
The labor movement in America, after a relatively long era, though in our great country no eras are very long, of slow growth, spurts of activity in limited fields, and periods of quiescence and conservation, has taken a sudden upward swing in this decade. The most aggressive and unruly infant unions are those now striving to get to their feet in big industries which were developing during the gold rush of the 1920’s, for example the automobile and steel industries. Living standards had risen as the industries reached new peaks of production. Workers all over the country either gained the experience or caught the promise of more spacious living.
Then came the depression with its shut-downs and retrenchments, its dis-employment. The lately-rising worker was put back, pushed, and harried; but he was no longer quite defenseless. He had seen himself as a link in the intricate chain of prosperity and this vision had brought him to himself as never before. He could no longer be disinherited without protest.
There followed a widespread realization that industry as organized, even when its intentions were good, was unable to act responsibly toward the casualties of its own collapse, or even of its own development. Of necessity, government now stepped in with a whole new industry in the shape of national social services and civil works. And from the workers came a new drive toward protective organization in unions.
In large areas the basic demands, the guarantee of men’s right to bargain collectively, followed by wages and hours legislation, have been accepted. Here and there, however, the struggle is still on.
What is the place of the pacifist in relation to this struggle? Our pacifism is based on respect for every human being, on the belief that violent repression begets only violence. We may possibly feel that the union as a pressure group is itself violently repressive of initiative in industry. We cannot, if we are honest, forget that industry has brought this on by its slowness to divide with labor the fruits of new discovery, invention and method. The worker is still the right hand of production and, whatever part may be played by machinery and technique, he is still first partner with ownership. He represents also the largest potential consumer of the goods and services which he helps to make. He does right to insist upon fulfilling his partnership. In insisting upon what he calls his “rights” he is insisting, whether he knows it or not, upon carrying out his full function. And workers’ organizations grow in responsibility as they make this connection.
We who are pacifist, whether employers, ourselves workers, or professional people who are involved mainly as consumers, should be on constant guard not to let slip any opportunities to be of help in the sound working out of this struggle to adjust rewards and responsibilities. More than that, we need to put ourselves in such relation to workers’ organization that opportunities for such help will logically come.
Sometimes the collecting and spreading of the facts in a given conflict are all that we can see to do. Some of this has occasionally been done already. Sometimes some of us may see means to bring together in an atmosphere of true seeking the opposing groups in a given conflict. When conflict brings distress we can sometimes help in relieving it. Some unions are weak and may seem to us so ill advised as to be almost vicious in their effect. We may be able to strengthen them at some weak point, as for instance by helping them to set forth accurate publicity, and thus at once resist unwisdom in method and enlarge the center of responsibility.
If, in these and countless other ways that will occur to us as we go on, we can make ourselves participants in the true development of this movement, we shall be in a position to help deepen and pacify the means used, which shall become at last the ends achieved, by workers’ organizations.
Daydreaming about unions for a moment now, what shall we see as the ends to be achieved? The end, seen down a long vista of change, is secure world-community, peace on earth. But it is very far away and it is threatened by many dangers. What are some of the intermediate goals?
Education, certainly, and alliances for mutual help in times of stress, for security to members or to families who have met misfortune, for experiments in recreation and health maintenance, for cooperation in buying of necessary goods, such as fuel and food, or in obtaining services, such as medical care and housing. Already we see examples of unions that have become in a new but real sense communities. Some, beginning with education for specific union needs, have gone on to projects of further education for their members and members’ families. At its best this is “education by doing” in the matters most relevant to carrying out community purposes. When a union gains strength and vision so that it faces forward to deeper binding of its group life, it has set visible milestones on the road to the realization of industrial community and world community.
Several years ago a city union leader outlined a plan that was seething in his brain for developing a country summer community for his union. It sounded simple enough to be feasible. The families could enter into this communal experience for longer or shorter vacations, the wage earners commuting cheaply and collectively, the other members of families lightening the cost of the holiday by communal gardening and communal meals and by cooperative buying. He saw the women and children not only growing in health and happiness, but growing also in a sense of partnership with each other and with their men in the effort of the union. He saw them being prepared to stand back of their men in time of suffering, to fortify them in collective intelligent initiative, instead of breaking them down into individual anxious husbands ready to give way to any pressure in order to relieve their families. He saw the summer experience of community carrying over into the more scattered life of the city and binding the members into closer and richer daily life, even when the union was under no stress. This was a shipbuilders’ union, with some religious motivation, and its leader saw it growing strong enough through multiplication of group experiences to be able to make a peaceful protest against war.
It was a shining dream that he pictured to us, but he has never been able to carry it out. Perhaps if some of us in groups like our own Society of Friends had stood nearer to him, we could have helped him realize it.
More recently some young working leaders in another union have told of a plan for an educational station in the country, where young city workers could go from time to time for a few days of concentrated discussion, study, recreation, and experience of living together. It is perhaps only when worker groups have grown solidly together through such close relationships as these outside their jobs that we can expect disciplined, well-coordinated, non violence from them in their times of resistance to whatever is felt to be injustice and violence, and intelligent partnership from them in their fulltime relationship to the industry itself. And,lastly, it is only as this full partnership in industry emerges that we shall have the peaceful evolution from strife between interests to community of interest.
Will we help or will we stand back and watch and often deplore? I think we can answer in only one way if we are to keep up more than a tradition of pacifism in the new world that is here.
I have tried to speak of several sorts of participation in community building. All of them, and others which are not discussed here, call for one thing in greater or less degree, namely, the stripping away of the interest that centers in self and in the maintenance of our particular culture and standard of living. They involve the opening out of our lives to new possibilities of peace, new realization of personal liability, and new experiences of penitence.
It is well that authority is being challenged by change. Authority is vicious to anyone who long exercises it over the lives of others. Unless it is checked by an ever-renewed sense of stewardship it grows into arrogance, and this will happen even though the authority has been taken up as a sacred responsibility, under clear “concern”, with devotion and idealism. There is authority in wealth itself, and I am almost sure that the practice of non-possession, completely or in some measure, is of sound help here.
Someone has said that it is necessary “to melt oneself down into the need of one’s group so sincerely that one comes to understand nothing about success except in terms of the upward attainment of that group.” Out of this unreserved participation develops the authority which I call “leadership from alongside.”
Does it sound like narrow partisanship? It is not that. For another important thing happens through commitment to serviceable work within one’s chosen group. A man may have allied himself with the chosen needy group in a spirit that was partly defiance and resentment. He may have been hurt and indignant at the callousness, exploitiveness, and self-interest of those whom it is hard not to hold responsible for starvation, degradation, war. But as he voluntarily labors to meet needs which are common to rich and poor, to serve, for instance, the basic simple causes of cleanliness and nourishment, there may come in him a new quickness of heart toward those others who are also maimed by our wry civilization, though not starved or uncared-for or dirty. Some of them are overfed, pandered to, and lapped in luxury that destroys them, and some of them are only closed up tightly inside the fear of letting slip what little they have secured for their families. He realizes now that the service is to them also. He is healed of the wound that his resentment made in him. Now his serviceability, even if it is exercised in a very restricted area or group, becomes universal and is no longer special and partisan. He knows now that it is only through taking on the whole burden of hope that he can avoid being crushed under the weight of catastrophe, present and threatening, which grows out of ill-will. Is this then an escape?
Yes. The demands of need are so many, the disasters to which our civilization has brought us are on such a scale, that we cannot again know joy and freedom except through complete shedding of personal ambition, through achieving in ourselves the inalienable security of freedom from fear of loss, through earmarking for our fellow-humanity not one per cent or a tithe, but the whole, of our resource.
We cannot do this except by slow, persistent, painful steps. But joy begins again when the work in us is begun. Was it this escape that Jesus meant when he said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”?