Eighteenth century Quaker John Woolman called for living in “right relationship” with the world as he witnessed to his generation against the evils of slavery, oppression, and materialism— which he warned were causing injury to future generations. Interpreting Woolman’s principle for a new generation are Peter G. Brown & Geoffrey Garver with their new book Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy (2009). The book applies Woolman’s right relationship frame to the injuries visited upon future generations by exploitation of our planet’s finite resources.
Brown and Garver pose five basic questions:
- What is an economy for?
- How does it work?
- How big is too big?
- What’s fair?
- How can it best be governed?
Their answers to these questions include “an acute awareness of ecological limits, … a fundamental focus on fairness and a concern with the spiritual, as well as material, well-being of the human race.”
It’s interesting to put ecological consciousness in the context of the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers, and their effective lobbying organization, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, which has a highly energy efficient and welcoming office space across the street from the Senate office building. Some of the most conscious people I’ve known – in terms of their relationships with people, animals, ecosystems, and the global economy – happened to be Quakers. At Oxford I often attended a Quaker meeting that was remarkable for the quality of its random spoken reflections. World class scholars would stand, reflect briefly on the spiritual significance of the thoughts running through their minds that week, then return to mindful silence.
The legendary Quaker plain-spokenness and respect for the prophetic potential of each person are a good fit for troubled times. At a time when so much so-called faith is linked to violence, voices of faith raised in defense of peace and life-sustaining community are a tonic. We need silence, and the light of every human soul.