Real solutions to sustainability run against the core values of modern society – in particular its commitment to individual liberty in the competitive pursuit of material self-interest. Tensions can seem insoluble because issues are always discussed through oppositional debate, where protagonists lose face if they give ground.

Ultimately, to survive, society will need to establish some kind of social solidarity. There are many possible forms ranging from hierarchical control to egalitarian consensus. The anti-globalisation movement and its offshoots has sought to develop the latter. The risk is that crisis will force many countries in the direction of hierarchical control.

Quaker approaches, characterised by Patricia Loring as a “listening spirituality”, offer an alternative approach to solidarity that goes “beyond consensus”. Individual positions and insights are respected while finding a collective way forward. Good Quaker practice requires personal discipline on the part of most of the participants, and it works best when those participants are also experienced. However, it can also be very effective and inspiring when practiced with people with no experience at all, including non-Quakers.

The Transforming Impasse report is aimed at Quakers and non-Quakers interested in political organising and effective group decision-making. The paper assesses the potential for application of Quaker Business Method and other Quaker practices in non-Quaker environments, such as activist groups.

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