NOVEMBER 21, 1947
NEW YORK, Thursday—A friend of mine in Philadelphia sent me a pamphlet with this little note: "You must be familiar, probably more so than I am, with the practice in the Society of Friends of taking 'the Sense of the Meeting,' as referred to in the enclosed pamphlet .... It seems increasingly obvious to me that in national or international affairs we need more of the spirit which stand back of this Quaker practice. If all our officials and speaking laymen could have this standard in mind in addressing themselves to USA-USSR relations it might win souls on both sides of this unfortunate fence."
I turned to the pamphlet, which was entitled "On Some Commanding Aspects of the American Man of Business," by Morris Llewellyn Cooke. And I found the following: "I suggest a fundamental revision of the technique used in reaching decisions. The process should be considered as one inviting continuing development."
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When I look back over the arguments that have taken up so much time in the United Nations' committees, I wonder if a practice of first letting everyone have their say and then calling for a brief period of reflection, after which the presiding officer would sum up the "sense of the meeting," might help to clear our minds.
When no agreement is reached, the Quaker practice is to lay the matter aside, and then everyone returns to discussion at a future meeting in a different frame of mind, for they are expected prayerfully to consider the subject in the intervening time. Of course, for this Quaker method to succeed in U.N. meetings, we must realize that individuals, even though they represent their governments, must function with a certain amount of independence of thought, so that arguments will be weighed and considered, accepted or refuted. It presupposes also a real acceptance of the doctrines of democracy and an adherence to majority decisions.
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One of the remarks in this pamphlet that interested me was that "overrating our leaders not only burdens them but, perhaps of even greater importance, detracts from the dignity and status of everybody below." That seems to me something which in a democracy we should take to heart. While it is frequently said that every man is a leader in the framework of democracy, we are rather apt to lean too heavily upon our leaders and expect them to bear our burdens for us.
In Quaker language, what they've tried to do is "to develop a group willingness to accept unanimously what appears to be a balanced judgement of a majority or of the best informed." I wish we were all so disciplined that we could get to the "sense of the meeting" and accept it, cutting down some of the arguments and bickerings which seem to trouble so greatly many of the people who visit the United Nations meetings. Younger people, particularly, who come to listen seem to be impressed by the acrimonious discussions, and to wonder whether people who seem to make so little effort to understand each other can ever really come to solutions which will be helpful to mankind.