Beginning Where We Are

Years ago my husband, Adam, was the national organizer for the Shakertown Pledge. Drafted during the 1970s by a group of religious retreat center directors, the Shakertown Pledge was part of the movement towards voluntary simplicity. Adam was frequently called upon to speak and lead workshops focused on this topic. Among the groups he worked with were several orders of Catholic nuns. When I expressed surprise at this, his comment was simply that everyone starts where they are in regard to voluntary simplicity. A Catholic nun, having already taken vows of poverty, may choose to forego a certain food, for instance, while an affluent businessperson may need to consider foregoing a whole array of lifestyle choices.

"Beginning where we are" characterizes a number of the articles in this issue. In "Meeting God Halfway" (p. 18), Gray Cox suggests that we in the developed world could have a very significant impact on the equitable distribution of resources worldwide if we would undertake to reduce our consumption patterns by 50 percent over five years, but maintain our income levels and redirect the monies freed by this change to directly help poor people, invest in socially responsible enterprises that are working to restore ecosystems and human communities, and lobby our government to make changes for a better future. "Part of the idea of the proposal," he writes, "is to set a goal that is doable enough for the average family to make progress on, in a period of time that is short enough (five years) in order to start moving us rapidly to the levels of consumption that would be equitable globally and sustainable ecologically." In "Simplicity, Poverty, and Gender in the Indian State of Kerala" (p. 14), William Alexander explores how the families of Kerala, India, have achieved levels of wellbeing, in terms of infant mortality and life expectancy, that rival those in the United States and Europe, yet have done so at a level of resource consumption that is far more ecologically sustainable than ours. "In the earliest history of Quakers," he notes, "poverty of material things was a common condition. Within this poverty of things, Quakers created a discipline: the efficient use of the few resources available to them to maximize well-being—a discipline of efficient sharing we nostalgically call simplicity." Might the insights of these two Friends help us all to move ourselves and our world more quickly toward right sharing of resources and ecological sustainability?

Issues of access to resources are certainly driving armed warfare in the world at present. How much more so will this be the case in the future, as huge countries like China industrialize, and people around the world aspire to levels of consumption parallel to those in the United States? As peacemakers, it is important for us to understand the economic issues behind conflict. But there are other aspects that need our understanding as well. Anne Highland, in "Becoming an Instrument of Peace" (p. 6), looks at some of the psychological underpinnings of war and its aftermath by sharing vignettes from her travels in the Balkans in 2002. "As we contemplate the distinction between doing good deeds for peace and being an instrument of peace, we realize that the difference lies in who—or Who—is directing our actions," she writes. So how might we begin to sort out the best ways to address the needs of the world? "We begin with ourselves," writes Elizabeth Watson in "Only the Wounded Can Heal" (p. 10), "for as long as our own wounds nag at us and demand our attention, we cannot hope to heal others, nor bring them comfort." These words, spoken 29 years ago in a talk given at Southeastern Yearly Meeting, still ring true for us today in a very wounded world. Let us begin where we are, Friends, and let us not delay.