Acceptance Speech by Miss Margaret A. Backhouse, representing the Friends Service Council, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1947
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, friends,
It is with sincere gratitude and great humility that I accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Friends Service Council. In so doing I am officially representing the international work of the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain and Ireland, which also includes Australia and New Zealand. By reason of my temporary office as chairman of the Council, it has fallen to my lot to receive the honour, but I am glad to know that Henry Cadbury and I are standing for a circle of Friends in almost every country of the world. Although we speak in many languages, we are intimately linked in a common faith and in endeavouring to express our principles in daily life. The Society of Friends is proud of its tradition and the faithfulness of its forebears, and it is clear today that the Nobel Committee has honoured this generation in the light of their tradition as peacemakers.
The Quakers, as the members of the Society of Friends are familiarly called, hold their views on peace not merely as a protest against war but because of their basic faith in the potential Christ-likeness in every man, resulting in an attitude of life that makes peace a necessary and natural outcome. This is a very high ideal.
Quakers are very ordinary people and they are prone to all the ordinary temptations caused by the primitive emotions of human life. There are many times when individuals fall below their own standards, but the strength given to the whole group has enabled the Society to maintain its peace testimony throughout the three hundred years of its existence.
Today as we live in the shadow of two great wars, we are all conscious not only of the horror of war itself, but of all the aftermath of human misery – starvation, homelessness, and many other forms of physical suffering. We know too of the greater evils of lowered morality, bitterness, violence and self-interest that sow the seeds of misunderstanding and strife. Seeing all this, the Society of Friends is humbled when it realises how little it has accomplished; but the receipt of the award is exhilarating. This recognition of endeavour must serve to stimulate greater effort.
There is always a danger that the ideal of peace becomes merely the negative to war. In the history of the Society of Friends there have been many occasions when resistance in the name of peace has been necessary. Quakers have suffered imprisonment and even death for their insistence that war is wrong and their refusal to take part in it. By this means they have won greater tolerance but the more difficult work is yet to be done. War will not cease until mankind has learnt the positive nature of peace. We speak of the present and the between-the-war period as “peace-time” but we all know that it would be truer to describe the condition as the period when there is no official warfare. There is not peace in the minds of men and there will not be until we have replaced misunderstanding by sympathy – fear by trust – jealousy and hatred by love. This is a very difficult job when thought of on the world-wide scale, but it is not so difficult when we think in terms of individual responsibility. This is the task before us, not only of the Society of Friends but of all mankind. Love is very infectious and if Quakers have started the infection they will rejoice.
Their work and discoveries range from the Earth’s climate and our sense of touch to efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.
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