This article was first published in the Older Womens’ Network’s OWN ELETTER
– October 2016, Vol. 3, Issue 3
I’m grieving the death of Ursula Franklin, and remembering her with gratitude.
Six years ago, Ursula revived “Scrupling”. She and other Toronto Friends were finding that writing letters to government was not accomplishing results, so they looked for another way of bringing about action on the urgent task of rebuilding good, accessible, responsible government. The problem at hand was how to stem the decline of representative democracy, a trend of concern to many citizens and to many elected representatives.
Scrupling is an old Quaker practice. When faced with difficult issues such as war and slavery, Quakers sat with neighbours to listen, share and search for ways to respond, each within their own sense of responsibility. The session was not a debate or argument to win or lose, but rather a serious, heartfelt search for ways to move forward.
Toronto Friends invited their MP, Carolyn Bennett and other politicians to participate. The session was so successful that I asked Ursula to mentor a group at First Unitarian Congregation, which she gladly did. Again, Carolyn Bennett participated eagerly.
Representatives of the other parties, including senators were invited. Only the
Conservatives refused to attend.
Since then, we have used scrupling as the format for many discussions of contentious issues. We even held a scrupled all candidates’ meeting during the last election campaign – to rave reviews. We have also passed along the guidelines to others, as far away as Africa, which pleased Ursula immensely.
How does scrupling work?
Participants are asked to focus on 2 questions. The questions scrupled at our first gathering were:
1) Why do certain policy issues of concern to the public not receive parliamentary attention & resolution?
2) What can we, as a community, do, after trying traditional means of communication unsuccessfully and finding ourselves faced with lack of response?
Here are a few guidelines passed on to us by Ursula:
– The core of the session is a group of people who know each other, and who are willing to adhere to the ground rules. It is not an open forum. Participants come with heart and mind prepared to try a different mode of interaction.
– Elected representatives from all major parties are guests of the community, present to share their perspectives and to help find solutions in a non-confrontational atmosphere.
They sit in the circle and participate according to the same guidelines as everyone else.
– The sessions are off the record, to encourage a safe and productive environment for discussion (no media present). What is said here stays here; what is learned here leaves here. (Note: This rule was modified for the wonderful all candidates’ meeting.)
– Purpose is to share perspectives and try to find solutions that everyone can support.
– Process-based, not issues-based. Focus is on process problems that prevent issues from being discussed and resolved.
– Session begins in thoughtful silence, and there is silence between speakers.
– Each speaker has a maximum of one minute.
– Due to the time restrictions, some people may not have a chance to speak, but all will thoughtfully listen.
– No speaker will repeat what someone else has said.
– There will be no formal introductions of everyone. Instead, as you stand to speak, please state your name and how this issue is connected to you.
Ursula saw Canada’s social fabric being torn apart by huge hands. She called on
OWN and all of us to take away the power from those hands, and work to restore our social fabric.
It would be a wonderful tribute to Ursula to carry on this innovative tradition. Let’s organize an OWN scrupling.