Simon Fisher, 'Spirited Living: Waging Conflict, Building Peace'

IssueFebruary 2006
Review by Jenny Gaiawyn

Spirited Living is an essay written from the 2004 Swarthmore Lecture in which Simon Fisher, an experienced peace worker, lends a personal viewpoint to a call for Quakers to become more actively involved in peace activism or conflict transformation.

From the first chapter, the current status of the overall Quaker movement is challenged. It is represented as a somewhat confused and benign force in the global peace movement. The brief history of the Quakers given, including some of the courageous and successful peace-work carried out by Quakers, shows how the Religious Society of Friends (RSF) has moved from its radical roots.

The core text initially examines the prevalence of violence throughout the world, arising as a result of a rapidly changing society, and it is suggested that entrenched ideas and systems encourage the pervasion of violence on all levels, presenting an unprecedented challenge to those who believe strongly in peace.

The importance of working on the roots of violence, along with the structures that support violence, is then examined along with the significance of reconciliation in creating sustainable conflict transformation. The final three chapters provide a way forward, from the individual level to the Quaker Movement as a whole, and consider the risks and opportunities that such a path will entail.

Numerous case studies are used to provide insight into real life situations where some form of conflict transformation has been successful. These provide powerful support to the theoretical basis of the book's arguments. Through including many of the problems encountered, the examples avoid creating heroes from those involved, a pitfall that can be disempowering for others working in the field. The variety of cases shows how broad the remit of peace work can be and Fisher points out that it is often easier to recognise violence that is physically distant from ourselves, but that there is a vital importance in acknowledging and challenging violence - and its roots - in our own communities, be that the RSF, the home, neighbourhood, workplace, etc.

A key theme is the reinterpretation of words used when talking about peace and violence. The concepts of peace, violence and conflict are freshly re-examined, with a positive interpretation of conflict being introduced. This is repeated throughout the book, where actions generally thought of as feeding violence, such as conspiracy, confrontation and contradiction, are shown to be essential tools in conflict transformation. Fisher is not advocating a benign status quo where harmony and peace reign supreme, but instead illustrates how sustainable peace comes not just from the cessation of violence, but through finding active ways to transform conflict into a creative force.

Signposts at the end of some of the longer chapters provide a useful summary, whilst small boxed sections and diagrams are well used to give a pause for thought or to illustrate ideas. Despite the book having a specific message to give to the target audience, there is much that can be gained by anyone interested in working towards a more peaceful world. The final two sections provide an opportunity for the reader to expand upon the experiences and thoughts in the book and make active changes within their own life. This is a positive and well-constructed book that is not only realistic about the challenges and problems for those involved in conflict transformation but offers guidance and ideas about how to move forward.

See more of: Review