Conflict Resolution: White Feathers of Peace


Absolutely, I get deeply angry at the carnage that our species demonstrates towards others of our kind and other species, the ones that are a part of the natural world that we dismantle for economic growth. Yet sometimes anger is necessary as it pushes one to where he doesn’t want to tread and to be someone he’d like to avoid since pushing forward can sometimes be hard to face — indeed painful or perilous — when confronting difficulties:

Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be. ~ St Augustine.
How do we confront such contentions — the ones that are used to assault others whether other humans or others that are other life forms? It’s hard to figure out in entirety, but I do know a small answer of sorts.

I know of two actual accounts involving conflict resolution in the 1700’s. They are as applicable then as they are now since their patterns are universal and not time-bound in terms of dispelling wrongs. Therefore, they point a way to create a bond both between peoples and people with other kinds of life rather than simply resort to slaughter. So they are important since they create a way forward instead of theft of the others’ resources and lives. So I want to share these visions.

The first narrative I was taught as a child when I was around eight years old. Its message stuck to me and I tried my best to apply it in my own life ever since and even as a young child when I saw children fighting, adults bullying or had harm done upon myself by someone else young or old.

The fact is that if we all strive very hard to do the work of
Alternatives to Violence Project: AVP-USA, Inc. ,Alternatives to Violence Project International, Inc. – Supporting people …  and Alternatives to Violence Project – Wikipedia, we can diffuse much (not all) violence and support harmony. AVP was started by family friends of mine and my parents when I was young.

They and their associates at Scarsdale NY, USA Friends (Quaker) Meeting taught me this true tale, which shaped my life early-on. Apparently earlier events like these shaped theirs, too, since they came up with AVP as a way to push life forward in positive ways!

In short, they used the positions in the tales to find their own directives forward. They show a good example that such initiatives can carry onward generation after generation.

Please forgive me that I may not have accurate details. It was so long ago that I heard this account and started applying its way of being, its underlying message, in my life.

The story, thus, goes something like this:

A Quaker woman in the 1700’s was cooking dinner. She was typically dressed in a plain gray dress as Quakers have typically put no stock in vanity and self-aggrandizement, especially when pertained to showing oneself off oneself as special due to wealth, power, physical attractiveness or other forms of self-glorification.

These types of basically empty, superficial fatuousness seemed antithetical to maintaining focus on what did matter, which was to live rightly in support of life around oneself in relation to one’s own highest values, ethics and standards in life. Accordingly, the wrongful views of rising one’s self-image in the eyes of others through show were seen as ugly distractions and not comfortable to accept as a way of life.

In a similar vein, she and her husband kept no lock on their front door. Instead, they wanted to be available to everyone and everything that came their way. They simply and basically wanted to serve life forward.

So one day two Native Americans burst through the door. They had sharp cutting knives, bows and arrows. They were glaring and looked angrily at the Quaker mother and her little two year old child playing on the floor with a crude doll that the mother had stitched out of old cloth from worn-out clothing.

The woman smiled back while stirring stew in a pot perched on a long attached prong over the household fireplace, a meal that she had made for the night’s dinner. Then, she, still smiling but scared, got two bowls from her shelf, filled them with stew and placed them with spoons on the rough basic dining table that her husband had built from a tree taken from a nearby forest.

Afterwards, she got two mugs of water and put them also at the table. Then, she said, “Eat. You must be hungry.” She made hand motions about putting food in the mouth and rubbed her belly. Then she moved her hands to them and took her hand motions through to the table. She was clear in beckoning them to eat.

They didn’t speak English, nor her — their language. No matter — the understanding was straightforward. Her meaning was clear.

So they sat down at the table to eat as they were, indeed, experiencing hunger pangs as they had spent a busy day trying to find white-people invaders, who had destroyed many members of their tribe, ruined their land and undertaken other assaults again their kin and the natural world.

Afterwards, the Natives bowed to her and the leader of the twosome took out a white feather from his headdress and attached it onto the outside of the door into her one room home. They also made sure to go around to every other household in the vicinity and look for people dressed in plain gray clothing. They then attached a feather to the outside of each of their doors.

The feathers symbolically meant peace: “Avoid killing humans here.”  For the natives in the region, the feather-sign was a universal symbol of sheltering and maintaining oneness with a particular household.

Meanwhile all that it took to dispel the murder that may have taken place of the woman and her little child was a simple act of caring — a meal, water and a smile. How easy!

Yes, all that it took was a helping hand, a gesture that indicated that I honor your life and want to not destroy it. I want to foster it, even if in a small and simple way so I can care for you with whatever little that I have in my home, such as a meal.

We CAN all do this gesture. It can take so little from us — sometimes just a meal for two others or something else equally small. Sometimes it’s just a gesture with one’s body, such as reaching out a hand to touch.

Here’s another similar narrative. It reminds of the value of one’s being inclusive towards others from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnical groups, life conditions or whatever else differentiates us in presumptions of superiority, higher power or another sort of above position (such as can be shown through fancy dressage)  from “the other.”

What is “the other” in terms of us? Here, see for yourself:

What is Otherness? | The Other Sociologist

Oct 14, 2011 – Often notions of superiority and inferiority are embedded in particular identities (2003: 2). Social institutions such as the law, the media, education, religion and so on hold the balance of power through their representation of what is accepted as “normal” and what is considered Other.

The Other – Academic Home Page

Feb 4, 2009 – The Other is an individual who is perceived by the group as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way. Any stranger becomes …

As with the Quaker woman serving food, there is no “othering” demonstrated here in this next narrative by either potentially contentious sides to an affair. In short, it is literally another “white feather” event.

The Feather of Peace
An Incident in Quaker History

This little story, here retold for children, is a favorite of Quaker historians. It narrates an actual happening in the Friends Meeting in Easton Township, Saratoga County, New York.

It was a summer morning in the year 1775, and the sun shone brightly on the little cabin which served as a Meeting House for the Friends of Easton, in New York.

It was a warm, sunny day, but the hearts of many were troubled. It was a time of strife, and reports came that bands of roving Indians were on the warpath. Even the children knew that something unusual was in the air and sensed that the older and weightier Friends of the Meeting were ill at ease.

Zebulon Hoxie, the patriarch of the Meeting, sat on the facing bench, and beside him sat Robert Nisbet, a visiting Friend, who had walked through the forests for several days to meet with them.

The children were restless, and the silence of the Meeting weighed heavily upon them, so that it came as a relief when the visiting Friend rose to speak.

Robert Nisbet was a kindly man, and he knew well the fear which lay heavily on the hearts of the Easton Friends. They had stayed in their peaceful homes even though their neighbors had all fled to the larger settlements where they hoped for safety from the Indian raids.

The visitor spoke: “The Beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long.”

His voice faltered and then went on, calmly and tenderly: “And how shall the Beloved of the Lord be thus safely covered? Even as the psalmist says: ‘He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.’ You have done well, dear Friends, to stay on in your homes, even though all your neighbors have fled, and therefore are these messages sent to you by me. These promises of covering and of shelter are truly meant for you. Make then your own, and remember the words of the Scriptures, ‘Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day.'”

Now the children knew why the stranger had come. Now they knew why their parents were troubled. It was the Indians! Would they really come, and, if they did, were they as terrible as people said?

All was quiet in the Meeting House. Here and there, a child managed to steal a look through the windows or through the chinks between the logs. Outside, there seemed to be a faint rustling in the bushes, though there was no breeze. Suddenly, above the window sill, appeared the tips of several moving feathers. Then an Indian chief appeared in the doorway, looking with piercing eyes at each Friend in turn to see if there was any weapon present; but the Friends were entirely unarmed. Neither gun nor sword was to be found in any of their dwelling houses, so there could not be any in this peaceful Meeting.

A moment later, other Indians stood beside their chief. Yet the Friends sat on, without stirring, in complete silence. At last, Zebulon Hoxie lifted his head and met the full gaze of the chief. No word was spoken. Steady friendliness to the strange visitors was written in every line of Zebulon Hoxie’s face.

Minutes passed, and then the Indian’s eyes slowly fell. He signalled to his followers, and each slipped silently into a nearby bench. Then began one of the strangest meetings ever held in the Society of Friends. Not a Quaker stirred, and the silent Indians sat peacefully with them. At last the Friends on the facing bench shook hands solemnly. The meeting was over, and the Friends greeted their visitors.

Then the chief spoke: “Indian come to kill white man. Indian come, see white men all sit quiet: no gun, no arrow, no knife; all quiet, all still, worshipping Great Spirit. Great Spirit is Indian, too. Then Great Spirit say to Indian: ‘You must not kill these white men!'”

Then the chief took a white feather from one of his arrows and stuck it firmly over the doorway, saying, “Indians all friends when see this feather.” Then he turned and, with a sign to the others, led the way into the forest while the Friends watched in silence – except for Robert Nisbet’s quiet words: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.”
~ From “The Feather of Peace” – a story from Quaker history …

We all need to offer a feather of peace. If not, then we are all at peril as we continue to tear apart each other and the world around us. Let’s at least do our best to bring this little feather forward to others.

Indian Dreams – Sacred Spirit – YouTube


Sally Dugman is a writer from MA, USA.


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