Quakers and Business

I sometimes wonder whether I am really a Quaker at heart. I like the way that they value, use, and are comfortable with silence. I like the way that they like to think things through rigorously and seek to live in a principled way. I like the way that they seek to make decisions by consensus and give those who disagree, but do not want to get in the way of a majority decision, the ability to “stand aside.”

So I read with interest a recent article, written in the light of the likely takeover of Cadbury in the UK, called “The Quaker Brand.”* Cadbury was one of a number of businesses set up by British Quakers in the 19th Century. The Quakers were keen to provide good working conditions for their staff, and a visit to their Bournville site in Birmingham is fascinating – and not just for the opportunity to eat lots of chocolate!

What interested me particularly in the article was that the reason that the Quakers became such good businessmen was because, being outside the Anglican Church, they were banned from universities (until the middle of the 19th centrury). This effectively excluded them from careers in law, science, or medicine – and of course their pacifism excluded service in the armed forces. There was also good networking within their religious community. These developments resonate with the Jew's dominance of financial activity in Europe in earlier centuries due to their exclusion. It is interesting to see the way in which the closing of doors to certain activity can shape whole communities in a way that brings benefit, although it can be (very) painful at the time.

I find it a scary thought that the focus of British intelligentsia on law, science, and medicine continues today to the detriment of creative industry. As I have sought to live out a vocation in the world of business for most of my working life, I also find it alarming that this establishment position was colluded with by the Anglican Church which in earlier centuries had a stranglehold on most of the education system. The Christian faith calls for a positive theology of work, but this perhaps explains why many (Church of England) churchgoers say that they find a complete absence during church worship of connection with, or affirmation of, their work.

Yes, maybe I am really a Quaker!

*The Week 30th January 2010

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