How to govern a diverse, widespread community

This is an open letter to my friend, Josiah, about one possible form of government for the focusing community. There might be many possible forms, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I suggest a way to think about diversity of language and practice.

Dear Josiah,
You say that the focusing community is “truly international”. “Truly international” is an odd phrase and not at all clear. I think you mean that we are international: we are present in many countries and languages. And we are not international: our business is conducted in English by English-speakers. And we agree that this is not good.

​Yes, I think that reflection on Quaker governmental structures would suggest good ways in which our institute and our community might be structured: ways that would open our conversations to people in other places and speaking other languages, and ways that would make it possible to realise the elusive ideal of unity-in-diversity.

I did not mean to imply that Quakers ​have no way to make quick​ decisions. Since the seventeenth century, the day-to-day running of the Quakers in Britain has been in the hands of Meeting for Sufferings, who have been under the oversight of Yearly Meeting, but have had considerable executive freedom. Meeting for Sufferings has often made very rapid responses when these have been needed.

The tradition of Quakers is that there are many “yearly meetings”. The international and central level, though strong, is not a governing level. This seems a good model for us because it means that there can be many “yearly meetings”, each with its own traditions and perspectives. By keeping government at a non-central level, Quakers have safeguarded diversity of practice. I would like us to do the same.

​Yes, our institute needs quick decisions​ now​. ​I believe that we all agree upon that. There needs to be some sort of interim administration. I am not sure how such an administration should be formed, but I guess the responsibility belongs to Gene Gendlin alone.

​Your mention of Quaker​ businesses is puzzling. None of these was run by a “yearly meeting”. They are just businesses that happen to be run by Quakers. If I were to open a chocolate shop, I should not expect The Focusing Institute to interfere in my commercial decisions.

But I think your point is simply that businesses need to be capable of quick responses. On that we agree, of course, and there is no doubt that Quaker administration has been able to give quick and energetic responses (originally in trying to protect individual Quakers from intense persecution by governments in Britain and North America).

​I too have no worry about our Co-ordinators. We have seized all the rich opportunities presented by the freedom which Gene has so patiently protected.

I would be full of regret if some coterie of business people with no lived experience of our traditions were to be brought in at the top. I fear that a business mindset would follow, and that the freedoms and liberties that we value so much would disappear extremely quickly.

My suggestion is that we could have quite a large number of essentially independent “yearly meetings”, each one self-governing.

Above them we could have some kind of international non-governing body (like the Quaker’s “World Committee for Consultation”).

So perhaps (for example) there might be a “children’s focusing yearly meeting”, an “inner relationship focusing yearly meeting”, a “French-language speakers’ yearly meeting”, a “mainland China yearly meeting”. Because these bodies would be local and speak local languages (in many cases) or be specialist and bring together different focusing streams (in other cases) they might answer many of our problems.

There would be (1) diversity of languages;​ (2) diversity of practice;​ (3) ​individual freedom to belong to different schools of practice​; (4) individual freedom to set up a new “yearly meeting”​;​ and so forth.

​I am happy to hear of your experience at the Philadelphia​ ​Quaker meeting and to learn that you too believe it would make sense to ​make a Focusing​-Quaker crossing​ for organizing our stuff.

​As for your questions:

1 How does a Quaker approach work over the internet?

​Yes, our diaspora is a central and lovely characteristic of ​our community. ​In the British Focusing Teachers’ Association ​we have made many decisions (even thorny ones) using the internet.

2 English speaking is excluding most of the world at The Focusing Institute.

​I am not sure what the question is here. I guess it is: “What to do?”

I am strongly committed to people meeting face-to-face, so my instinct would be to have the kind of diverse, broken-up structure that I have outlined above. Amongst other things, this would mean that a person could choose to belong to a group of native-language speakers. Or to start one.

I don’t believe that the internet can replace meeting face-to-face. Nor do my business friends. My friend is sometimes flown from Scotland to Korea for a one or two hour meeting, so that she can be face-to-face with the other people.

Yes, I am committed to an international form of governmental process for the focusing world which works for all our people (Co-ordinators and others). You can relax.

And yes, the more things can be dealt with by local people meeting “in their huts”, the happier I shall be.

The biggest threat to us at the moment is the threat of sudden centralisation in the hands of people who know zilch about focusing-and-listening, and even less (though that seems hardly possible) about governance.

At moments, it seems that some of us want that, but I am sure we don’t. The delicate and diverse web of free practice that has spread focusing all over the world is a deeply precious and beautiful thing.

Now, I worked through your points line by line. I enjoyed them. I hope I now sound less vague. I hope I still sound friendly, to you and all our people.

​With love,


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