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Simplicity, Equality, Community in a time of Pandemic

Every month, Chicago Friends School contemplates one of our Quaker values during our reflection time.  This month’s Quaker value is simplicity, which is ironic in a time when simplicity, in the form of social distancing and quarantine, is being forced upon us.   

Simplicity is often one of the hardest values to explain to kids.  Why would you want things to be more simple?  As Quakers understand simplicity, it has more than one component:  It means paring away what is unnecessary to focus on what is necessary; it also means only taking what you need so that others can share in the world’s resources.  Both of these are immediately salient right now.  

During reflection, I often ask kids what one Quaker value has to do with another:  For example, what connections exist between community and equality?  During this pandemic crisis, I have seen first hand how three Quaker values: simplicity, community, and equality are deeply interwoven.  As a simple example, toilet paper hoarding has been in the news. Everyone needs a certain amount of toilet paper.  Living according to the Quaker value of simplicity would urge us to take only what we need.  This frees up the resource to be shared equally within the community.  Further, if we have faith in our neighbors’ ability to play fairly and our broader community’s capacity to replenish the supply, people won’t take more than their due and we’re all equally ok.   Everyone has the equal ability to comfortably, well, you know… 

Spaces in our intensive care units and the health and energy of our health care workers are also a limited resource that our communities must share.  Right now, as a school, as a city, and as a country we are conducting an experiment to test the idea that when most of us give up some freedom to move and congregate, we will slow down the rate of congestion, and in doing so, we will conserve these vital resources for those who need them the most.   

In my lifetime, we have not done such a thing.  We are being asked to practice individual voluntary simplicity so the community as a whole has the best chance of coming through.  This kind of patriotism has been rare in my lifetime and through all the worries I’m experiencing, I’m also finding hope in it.  I am also finding hope in those who are working to make sure that everyone has supplies and food as we struggle through this crisis.   

 Let us all hope we are able to embrace our community, even when inconvenient.  Let us hope that we are all able to meet this challenge with our reserves of humor grace and forgiveness intact.  Let us hope that it gives us opportunities to get closer to each other, to clarify our priorities, and to truly cherish what we have.  Let us come through this experiment having affirmed that when we all share, we all thrive.  

Karen Carney

is the head of school. Karen’s career demonstrates a rich and diverse set of skills: project oversight, curriculum development, educator training and mentoring, and classroom instruction. Prior to coming to Chicago Friends School, she worked as a senior specialist in science curriculum for American Institutes for Research. Before this, she oversaw educational programming at the Adler Planetarium, first as its director of education and then as associate vice president for visitor experience and learning. She has also worked in instruction and teacher development at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Learning Sciences Research Institute and has authored more than 20 scholarly papers, book chapters, and conference presentations.

Karen is an active, dedicated Friend (Quaker) and has held various leadership positions at the Evanston Friends Meeting. She enjoys baking, cooking, and painting and is a member of the Playmation improv comedy team.