Quakers believe that there is a spirit within each of us that joins us all together – some call it 'that of God'. It follows that we cannot deliberately harm or kill another person without damaging that spirit. That was as obvious to 17th Century Quakers as it is to us today.
But pacifism is not just ‘thou shalt not kill’. It is an active process of removing situations where violence and war may occur. It is also a complex process of understanding how different forms of violence are related and of accepting that peace does not come overnight.
If one person tries to dominate, control ordamage another person it is no different from a country trying to dominate, control and damage another country. So stopping domestic violence is as important as stopping wars.
How I treat my family, friends, colleagues and the people I meet in the street or on the bus can help the world become a peaceful and safe place.
The food, clothing and other things I buy affect other people’s lives – particularly those who have made those products.
My purchases also have environmental consequences and can result in a lack of resources available in other parts of the world. This in turn can lead to competition for resources and on a global scale can lead to war.
Violence also comes from individuals who are afraid, lack confidence or feel their lives are not under their own control. Hence, social justice systems where people know their concerns are being heard and taken into account are essential.
Even without environmental change there are millions of people in the world who do not have fresh water and/or adequate food and shelter. Inadequate sharing of the world’s limited resources leads to mass movements of people desperate to find their basic needs. Hence the refugee crises affecting millions in many countries.
So for Quakers pacifism is working at all levels of society - personal, national and global. Some individuals are involved in their local or national communities; others work internationally at the Quaker United Nations offices in New York and Geneva.
But there is also a danger in being pacifist. The scale and complexity of the problems can become overwhelming. So we concentrate on our own skills and abilities and our own world. If we are each doing even small things to make the world a more peaceful and safe place, then we are moving in the right direction.
If you would like to explore our peace activities and attitudes further you could look at our recent public statements, some of the investigations by our Peace and Legislation Committee, our World War I Exhibition and other groups and organisations we are in contact with.