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© Bahá’í World Centre

THE BAHÁ’ÍS MUST WORK WITH HEART AND SOUL TO BRING ABOUT A BETTER CONDITION IN THE WORLD

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Paris Talks, page 99)

From time to time it comes to seem appropriate to republish a much earlier sequence from 2009 on the Bahá’í approach to healing our wounded world. Recent events across many countries again makes it seem timely to revisit this sequence. This is the last post.

What do we do?

We have looked at the plight of children. We must face the truth. We are all responsible and we all need to respond to the challenge: we must all do everything in our power to change this situation for the better. The same message already quoted from our world centre states:

Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realisation should spur us all to urgent and sustained action in the interests of children and the future.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

Obviously the whole problem cannot be fixed overnight but we have to start somewhere. This need to do what we can sustain over a long period, however small a step that may seem, has led to a concerted attempt to provide classes for children in as many localities as we can using all the resources currently at our disposal, though these are as yet inadequate to the task that faces us:

Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, they extend their efforts widely to involve ever-growing contingents of participants in classes that become centres of attraction for the young and strengthen the roots of the Faith in society.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2008)

Young people, on the threshold of independence, have comparable needs which we are seeking to learn how to meet:

[We] assist junior youth to navigate through a crucial stage of their lives and to become empowered to direct their energies toward the advancement of civilization.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2008)

JY KIR_0863

How should we treat them?

We must appreciate fully and whole-heartedly

. . . the imperative to tend to the needs of the children of the world and offer them lessons that develop their spiritual faculties and lay the foundations of a noble and upright character. . . [and] the full significance of [our] efforts to help young people form a strong moral identity in their early adolescent years and empower them to contribute to the well-being of their communities.

(Universal House of Justice: 20 October 2008

Character building and society building are inextricably linked. The positive results of doing it properly are beyond dispute.

But how do we do it?

The House of Justice seek to define the qualities a community should possess:

An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behaviour toward them – these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline,  the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

It is perhaps worth dwelling a little on what they might mean by discipline and hardship, not positive ideas in many people’s thinking today.

Layard and Dunn, in an article in the  Sunday Times on 1st February describe four styles of parenting and point out what they feel is the optimal. These are: disciplined, authoritative, neglectful and permissive.

Researchers have studied the effects of each upon the way in which children develop. They agree that the style that is loving and yet firm – now known in the jargon as authoritative – is the most effective. In this approach boundaries are explained, in the context of a warm, loving relationship. Without boundaries and the management of frustration that these require children to learn, it is hard for them to develop the kind of impulse control that the work on emotional intelligence suggests underpins a successful life in society. All too often childhoods are  seriously warped by indulgent neglect, though it is the cruelty of an abusive background that more often hits the headlines.

More recent work highlights the way our schools are increasingly focused on preparing our children for the competitive employment market place, and neglecting other important elements of character-building. Speaking of the American system, John Fitzgerald Medina, in his thought-provoking book Faith, Physics & Psychology writes (page 319):

Within the mainstream educational system, students spend endless hours in academic tasks almost to the exclusion of all other forms of social, emotional, moral, artistic, physical, and spiritual learning goals. This type of education leaves students bereft of any overarching sense of why they are learning things, other than perhaps to obtain some lucrative job in the distant future.

He is not the only one to have concerns about the direction the American education system has been heading. An example of the current state of play in the States comes in a blog post on the NY Times site from a philosopher father after encountering issues with his son’s education. He summarises what he has learnt:

In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.

He spells out the implications of this rampant moral relativism:

. . . . in the world beyond grade school, where adults must exercise their moral knowledge and reasoning to conduct themselves in the society, the stakes are greater. There, consistency demands that we acknowledge the existence of moral facts. If it’s not true that it’s wrong to murder a cartoonist with whom one disagrees, then how can we be outraged? If there are no truths about what is good or valuable or right, how can we prosecute people for crimes against humanity? If it’s not true that all humans are created equal, then why vote for any political system that doesn’t benefit you over others?

My strong impression is that the UK system, under the influence of Michael Gove and his successors, has moved a long way in this dehumanising direction also. There is ample evidence to justify this view. Confirmation that Medina’s bleak picture applies at least to some extent within the UK can be found, for example, in an article in the Guardian of February this year which quotes recent research:

The survey of 10,000 pupils aged 14 and 15 in secondary schools across the UK found that more than half failed to identify what researchers described as good judgments when responding to a series of moral dilemmas, leading researchers to call for schools to have a more active role in teaching character and morality.

“A good grasp of moral virtues, such as kindness, honesty and courage can help children to flourish as human beings, and can also lead to improvements in the classroom. And that level of understanding doesn’t just happen – it needs to be nurtured and encouraged,” said Prof James Arthur, director of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, which conducted the research.

There was also a piece by Layard on the LSE website in January this year:

In a path-breaking analysis using the British Cohort Study, we found some astonishing results. The strongest predictor of a satisfying adult life was the child’s emotional health. Next came social behaviour, and least important was academic achievement. This is exactly the opposite sequence to the priorities of most (but not all) educators and politicians. Indeed the last Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, deliberately reduced towards zero the importance which Ofsted should give to the emotional wellbeing of students.

A recent article on the Greater Good website emphasises how important it is to include a moral component in the curriculum and shows that there is widespread concern about this issue:

Many schools are hopping on the bandwagon to teach “performance character”—qualities such as perseverance, optimism, and creativity— because it has been shown to lead to greater academic success. Fewer, though, are also teaching moral character, which focuses on qualities that enhance ethical behavior, including empathy, social responsibility, and integrity.

The challenge is that performance character by itself is not necessarily good or bad. A person can exhibit great perseverance and creativity, but use it towards bad means—take your pick of corporate scandals to see this in action. To blunt ends-justify-means thinking, schools need to balance achievement-oriented performance character with the ethical orientation of moral character, while also teaching emotional skills.

Case in point: A recent study found that students at a middle school that emphasized moral character demonstrated higher rates of academic integrity than students at two middle schools that taught only performance character. In other words, the students who cultivated their moral backbone were less likely to cheat than the students who developed perseverance.

Researchers also refer to other things such as mutual respect, commitment and education in parenting. The Bahá’í view goes further even than this:

An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel they belong to the community and share in its purpose. They must lovingly but insistently be guided to live up to Bahá’í standards, to study and teach the Cause in ways that are suited to their circumstances.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

The current state of play within our schools suggests that Bahá’ís and others have a crucial role to play in supplementing the deficiencies that are crippling our educational system.

The Needs of Young People

They describe the special needs of a sub-group of young people:

[Those between the ages of, say, 12 to 15] represent a special group with special needs as they are somewhat in between childhood and youth when many changes are occurring within them. Creative attention must be devoted to involving them in programmes of activity that will engage their interests, mould their capacities for teaching and service, and involve them in social interaction with older youth.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

Paul Lample explains that this has led to

[a]n effort to endow youth with the capacity to conquer the word and unravel its meaning both for their own spiritual upliftment, and as a basis for social action. The work with Junior Youth broadened beyond efforts for SED to become a fourth core activity.

(Paul Lample: Revelation & Social Reality page 135)

JY BRA_4762Parents

The role of parents is clearly critical:

. . . parents . . . bear the prime responsibility for the upbringing of their children. We appeal to them to give constant attention to the spiritual education of their children. Some parents appear to think that this is the exclusive responsibility of the community; others believe that in order to preserve the independence of children to investigate truth, the Faith should not be taught to them. Still others feel inadequate to take on such a task. None of this is correct . . . . ..

Independent of the level of their education, parents are in a critical position to shape the spiritual development of their children. They should not ever underestimate their capacity to mould their children’s moral character. Of course, in addition to the efforts made at home, the parents should support children’s classes provided by the community.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

In the end where does all this leave us?

For Bahá’ís the message is clear. In capital letters on page 99 of Paris Talks we find the quotation at the head of this post:

THE BAHÁ’ÍS MUST WORK WITH HEART AND SOUL TO BRING ABOUT A BETTER CONDITION IN THE WORLD

The words immediately above that are:

Let your ambition be the achievement on earth of a Heavenly civilization! I ask for you the supreme blessing, that you may be so filled with the vitality of the Heavenly Spirit that you may be the cause of life to the world.

There’s really nothing else that anyone can add after that and it seems to me that it applies to everyone, Baha’i and non-Baha’i alike, each in his or her own way inspired by the purpose of God in this age which is to make us all act upon the realisation that we are one family — the human family.

The whole of humanity is indeed our business.

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Generation after generation of believers will strive to translate the teachings into a new social reality. . . . . . . . [I]t is not a project in which Bahá’ís engage apart from the rest of humanity.

(Paul Lample: Revelation & Social Reality – page 48)

I realise that my current sequences of posts are very much focused on the individual life and its traumas, only incidentally bringing in the context of our lives as a consideration. To redress that imbalance I am republishing a sequence on The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson.

As we saw in the previous post, Ray and Anderson’s book, The Cultural Creatives, tracks the way that the drops of personal aspiration from millions of separate individuals first combine into several different streams before beginning to converge into a massive river of increasing power.

They quote from many peoples’ diverse stories, illuminating what they have in common. This example is typical of many in its feeling of not belonging (page 101):

‘My family was so happy on the golf course, and gossiping round the pool, but I felt like I was in some plastic prison. I finally took my dad’s rental car and spent all of Sunday at the ocean. Sitting on the cliffs watching the white pelicans soar over the Pacific, I felt like I was finally crawling back inside my own skin, breathing the fresh air, at home.’

When this feeling of isolation eventually gives way to a sense of common purpose with millions of others, an awsome power will be released. The authors retell a version of the myth of Amaterasu Omikami, the Great Mother Sun, who, because of a great hurt, hid herself in a cave and plunged the whole world into darkness until the spirits of all living things each brought a tiny fragment of a mirror with them as they danced and sang outside the cave. When she peeped out to see what was going on, they wanted to be able to lift up all their tiny mirrors at once to reflect back to her in all its glory the brilliance of her light to break her gloomy mood and return her to the heavens. The plan worked (pages 345-346):

The power that can be focused by a compound mirror is vast, while that reflected by uncoordinated individual actions has little effect. . . . [I]solated actions can’t make the kinds of changes that are needed now. . . . Our new story is one that requires ten thousand tellers and ten times more to be inspired by it. Our new face needs ten thousand mirrors, each with a unique angle of vision to catch the creative energy available now.

To achieve this kind of concerted action will not be easy even if we manage to achieve a strong clear sense of our need for it. It has always required great courage and huge sacrifices in the past, for groups of people to combine together to right even a single wrong or lift society to a higher level of understanding about one issue only. People have to do what they are afraid to do. The freedom movement in the States is not alone in providing innumerable examples of this heroism and the power of example is of central importance here (page 124):

You do not ask someone else to do what you aren’t willing to do yourself. But they did the things they feared most – they went to gaol, faced fire hoses and men with clubs, took responsibility for their friends and fellow protesters. It swept them into the deepest fear they  had ever known – but then it lifted them  beyond that fear into a strength and steadfastness they never expected.

The rewards of such courage are beyond price and its long term effects incalculable. Paul Begala testifies to that when he speaks of John Lewis (page 125):

‘I live and work in a place and a time when courage is defined as enduring a subpoena with dignity. So it is humbling to be in the presence of a man who aced down Bull Connor and his attack dogs, armed with nothing more than his courage, his conscience, and his convictions. If that ain’t a hero, I don’t know what is.

A key aspect of this kind of courage is practising what you preach (ibid):

‘Walking your talk.’ In the all-night meetings and councils of the freedom and peace movements, and the consciousness-raising groups of the women’s movement, this specific insight about social action evolved into an even more basic conviction about living authentically. What you believe in your heart has to match what you do in your life . . . .

There remain other significant problems which, the authors make clear, have dissipated the painstakingly accumulated rivulets of activity in many isolated places before they ever joined all the other brooks to make a stream. These problems pose key questions.

First of all, how do you build on the experience of others who are engaged in basically the same enterprise but in widely separated places. Networks, whose ability to operate is increasingly facilitated by the internet, are part of the answer (page 128):

Most social movements have two arms: the political and the cultural. . . . . . Contrary to the convictions of the political arm, the cultural arm is at least as important, and sometimes far more so, in its effects on the culture. . . . . But the spell-breaking power of the cultural arms takes place in submerged networks.

Secondly, how do you pass down what you have learned to those who come after you? Part of the answer to this second question lies in the power of persistency (page 203):

In the consciousness movement, the people who can persevere for ten, twenty, and thirty years are the ones who can have a dramatic impact on the culture – because that is the true time horizon of effective action. Those who need fast results and instant gratification had better go into some other line of work. As a number of Cultural Creatives told us, you have to enjoy the people and the process, and you need the maturity to work in a longer time frame.

Anyone involved in working to change the culture in which they live will have to face the intense discouragement that all too frequently comes when results fail to match up to expectations. A choice point torments us: ‘Do I keep faith with my vision or do I break faith with it?’ Keeping faith beyond what feels like its breaking point is often what brings about a break through, healing the testing breach between vision and reality, at least until the next time.

Much of the power of these processes is invisible, which is partly what makes the work so testing, but it can be calculated to some degree once you understand the typical dynamics (page 109):

To understand the true size of a social movement, think of a target with three concentric circles. The centre is the hundreds of visible leaders, demonstrators, and little organisations. Around the centre is a circle of many thousands of active supporters. and around those two active circles is the circle of the sympathetic millions who are touched by the events, and may simply read the arguments, and as a result make different choices in some part of their lives.

Powerful as these processes are, even when political alliances reinforce them, they are almost certainly not enough (page 154):

To change the culture, you cannot depend on the terms and solutions the old culture provides. . . . Leaving the heavy lifting to the political side of the movements, the cultural side started drying up, and the submerged networks began to lose touch with one another.

They pinpoint the missing link (page 187):

No one knew, or even thought about, how to create cultural institutions to support the work that was so important to them. The first generation practitioners  . . . . . could [hardly] manage their way out of a paper bag. . . . There really was a hole in the culture – the old ways didn’t work, and the new ones hadn’t yet been invented.

And why exactly, in their view, wouldn’t the institutions the United States already had do the trick (page 227)?

The three Bigs – big government, big business, and big media – have difficulty dealing with issues that cannot be isolated from other issues and solved with tools at hand.

Even progressive movements themselves could be rendered ineffective by the same tendency to atomise everything (page 229): ‘Activists, too, are Modernism’s children, believing that they must become specialists.’

Too many people pick off parts of the problem unable to see or agree that they are all interconnected. In the end the core issue cannot be evaded (page 246):

Cultural Creatives may be leading the way with responses directed towards healing and integration rather than battle. For these responses to contribute to the creation of a new culture, grassroots activism and social movements will have to evolve into new institutions. . . . [W]hile new social movements are transitory, institutions can turn the energies of these movements into everyday action.

Rainbow Bodhisattva by Vijali Hamilton

They strongly suggest that this might well involve something much more than a merely materialistic approach. They quote Joseph Campbell (page 299):

“You do not have a myth unless you have an opening into transcendence.” . . . If we cannot recognise the universe and the nations and ourselves as manifestations of “the grounding mystery of all being,” he said, we have nothing we can really trust.

And this quote is not in isolation. They also refer to Vijali Hamilton (page 311):

The true story is that there is a luminous, spacious energy that flows through everything all the time. It’s within matter, within things as well as within space, and you can tune in to it at any time . . . . . It is not otherworldly. It is right here, closer than our own flesh.”

This is so close to the idea that the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith describes:

“O My servants!” Bahá’u’lláh Himself testifies, “The one true God is My witness! This most great, this fathomless and surging ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.”

(Shoghi Effendi: The Promised Day is Come – page 16)

So it’s not surprising that leaps of faith are required of us if we are to undertake these kinds of transformative processes effectively. To use Will Keepin‘s words (page 279):

“The work I’m doing now,” he told us, “is all based on faith.” . . . The crises he went through “led to a whole new gift that I never would have guessed. It developed a quality of trusting in the unknown.”

From a Bahá’í point of view this all makes complete sense. Bahá’ís believe that we are living on the cusp of massive changes in society and civilisation. We believe that, in the words of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘the world’s equilibrium’ has ‘been upset.’ We can sign up to the vision expressed in this book (page 230): ‘When a force for change moves into an inherently unstable time, the potential leverage is very great indeed.’ We believe that science and religion are not at odds. We can see how they could work together for the betterment of all humanity as these authors can (page 318): ‘New technologies may give us solutions to many global problems, if they are brought to life in settings with cooperative, constructive values.’ Our vision is often summarised in the words ‘The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.’ Ray and Anderson appear to resonate to that as well (page 302): ‘The sense of “one planet, our home” is inescapable.’ Their conclusion is (page 314): ‘It’s a matter of moral imagination, a wisdom of the heart.’ (For more on ‘moral imagination’ see an earlier post.)

And the core of that vision, that wisdom, is captured towards the end of their book (ibid):

[Cultural Creatives] say that each of us is a living system within a greater living system, connected to each other in more ways than we can fathom. If we focus on that wholeness, we can begin to imagine a culture that can heal the fragmentation and destructiveness of our time.

I feel that there is the possibility of huge reciprocal benefits here.

In our Writings Bahá’ís are described as ‘catalysts.’

What is called for is a spiritual revival, as a prerequisite to the  successful application of political, economic and technological  instruments. But there is a need for a catalyst. Be assured that,  in  spite  of  your  small  numbers,  you  are  the  channels  through which such a catalyst can be provided.

(Universal House of JusticeTurning Point – page 124)

(For more on what being a catalyst means for us see both links.) I think we could learn much from the Cultural Creatives about how to play that part more effectively. Bahá’ís on the other hand have a model of how a world wide network, possessing a clear vision of the oneness of humanity, can strengthen its influence and consolidate its learning with the help of an appropriate organisational structure. There is therefore something significant that Cultural Creatives can learn from us.

An urge towards unity, like a spiritual springtime, struggles to express itself through countless international congresses that bring together people from a vast array of disciplines. It motivates appeals for international projects involving children and youth. Indeed, it is the real source of the remarkable movement towards ecumenism by which members of historically antagonistic religions and sects seem irresistibly drawn towards one another. Together with the opposing tendency to warfare and self-aggrandize-ment against which it ceaselessly struggles, the drive towards world unity is one of the dominant, pervasive features of life on the planet during the closing years of the twentieth century.

The experience of the Bahá’í community may be seen as an example of this enlarging unity. It is a community . . . drawn from many nations, cultures, classes and creeds, engaged in a wide range of activities serving the spiritual, social and economic needs of the peoples of many lands. It is a single social organism, representative of the diversity of the human family, conducting its affairs through a system of commonly accepted consultative principles, and cherishing equally all the great outpourings of divine guidance in human history. Its existence is yet another convincing proof of the practicality of its Founder’s vision of a united world, another evidence that humanity can live as one global society, equal to whatever challenges its coming of age may entail. If the Bahá’í experience can contribute in whatever measure to reinforcing hope in the unity of the human race, we are happy to offer it as a model for study.

(Universal House of Justice: The Promise of World Peace – 1985)

Just as I have drawn immense encouragement and inspiration from reading this account of the Cultural Creatives, which I wholeheartedly recommend, hopefully increasing numbers of people will draw similar inspiration from the Bahá’í community to which I belong. We have a model which contains a crucial missing dimension in the work of many Cultural Creatives – and I don’t mean a belief in God. Many Cultural Creatives share that perspective in their diverse ways. I mean an institutional framework, centred around a vision of unity in diversity, through which to disseminate and consolidate the gains that have been achieved through effortful experience in different places and at different times.

So, definitely read the book but don’t just stop at that. Come and have a look at what we are doing too. There are, almost certainly, Bahá’ís near where you live. We’ll all be immensely more effective working in synchrony.

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How Models get Muddled according to Transactional Analysis

‘A worldview is to humans as water is to fish.’

(Cultural Creatives by Ray & Anderson: page 93)

Human beings are not passive observers of reality and our personal reality, our thought, is not simply imposed upon us. In a very specific way we may consider ourselves – collectively – as co-creators of reality, for through the power of the human mind and our interactions, the world undergoes continued transformation.

(Paul Lample: Revelation and Social Reality – page 6)

I realise that my current sequences of posts are very much focused on the individual life and its traumas, only incidentally bringing in the context of our lives as a consideration. To redress that imbalance I am republishing a sequence on The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson.

The end of the previous post discussed the need for a new world view. More or less the same points are captured on page 341:

If a culture lacks a positive vision of the future, [Fred] Polak showed, its creative power begins to wither and the culture itself stagnates and eventually dies out. Negative images are even more destructive, leading to hopelessness, helpessness, . . . . [and] “endgame” behaviours, with people snatching and grabbing to secure something for themselves before everything falls apart. This behaviour brings about the very collapse they fear. . . . . . . [Cultural Creatives] say that each of us is a living system within a greater living system, connected to each other in more ways than we can fathom. If we focus on that wholeness, we can begin to imagine a culture that can heal the fragmentation and destructiveness of our time.

The book examines the context in which Cultural Creatives emerged and exactly what they represent in detail.

The Moderns, contrary to how it often seems, constitute the largest of three main groupings at 48% of the U.S. population (page 25) and dominate the media. They have great faith in the ‘technological economy’ (ibid.) and ‘accept the commercialised urban-industrialised world as the obvious right way to live’ (page 27).

On the other hand, Traditionals, who according to the authors can be found almost everywhere and have invented Fundamentalism (page 84), constitute a measly 24.5% of the U.S. population. They can persuade themselves often, and the rest of us sometimes, that they are really the top dogs as a result of their noisy and vociferous responses to all they regard as the moral shortcomings of current society.

Alongside, or rather hidden somewhere behind the spotlights wielded by members of those two highly visible groups, stand the Cultural Creatives at 28% of the U.S. population – something like 50 million people in all. Quite a crowd to be so invisible. There’s about the same number in Europe apparently.

The quickest way to get a handle on what Cultural Creatives stand for is to look at the questionnaire on the Cultural Creatives website. It’s not so much a questionnaire as a list of things that distinguish Cultural Creatives from the other two groups.

The authors’ analysis of the various sub-groups their surveys detected within the Moderns as a cultural group is intriguing as is there account of the Traditionals. However, it would expand this post into an even longer series of posts if I were to attempt to do justice to their explanation. I’m afraid I shall just be focusing for now at least on the Cultural Creatives.

The questionnaire on the authors’ website will cover the basic description of their characteristics. As a Bahá’í I can sign up to all of them, I think. They map onto our social teachings almost down to the last coordinate. The key differences are in what they leave out, but more of that later.

Cultural CreativesWhat I found most interesting about the Cultural Creatives, after I had got over the shock of how closely what they stand for mirrors my own position, is the authors’ account how they came from apparently nowhere to become such an invisible but influential force in American society. While opinions about them amongst both Moderns and Traditionals are dismissive – for example, they’re put down as ‘New Age’ by Moderns and as ‘political activists’ by the Traditionals – this misses the point. The authors quote Sarah van Gelder (page 93):

‘The New Age sterotype is that it’s all about changing ourselves internally and the world will take care of itself. The political activists’ stereotype is that we ignore our inner selves to save the world. Neither works! . . . The Cultural Creatives are about leaving that dichotomy behind and integrating the evolution of the self and the work on the whole.’

Perhaps I find all this so compelling because I lived through the same splits myself on my particular fairly undramatic variation of the road to Damascus. After I left the religion of my childhood I drifted until I became, for a time, what the international socialists I mixed with called a ‘fellow traveller.’ I explained some of this in a previous post so I won’t rehearse it all again here but disillusion set in fairly quickly because of the violence and lies that seemed an unavoidable ‘side effect’ of the socialist/communist rhetoric in practice.

Then I launched into self-exploration with gusto, dynamiting myself out of the prison of an habitual emotional deep-freeze by means of an encounter weekend followed by several months living in a commune that practised Reichian Therapy after the school of David Boadella. This was not as barmy as it might sound as we didn’t use an orgone box, though someone I knew had made one that I sat in for a whole afternoon with no discernible effects.

We just did the breathing exercises. Two factors caused me to move on.

One was that, although I had blown out the door of my dissociating cell, I had also blasted a hole right through the floor of my psyche and kept falling into the lake of tears that lay underneath without ever finding, in the commune’s approach, a psycho-Babel fish capable of translating the experience into intelligible terms. I was never helped to reach an understanding of why the lake was there or how I could have related to it differently. I just got drenched from time to time, climbed back out dripping and carried on.

The other reason was that I could see that we were so far beyond the pale of mainstream society that I would never be able to have an impact on all the things in our culture and practice that I still wanted to change. In short, there were no ways to heal my mind or my milieu from where I was standing at the time.

Dream GameI came back into the mainstream, joined a Transactional Analysis/Gestalt Therapy group, studied psychology, practised Buddhist meditation, and threw myself into Dreamwork Ann Faraday style, until, just after I’d qualified as a Clinical Psychologist, the Bahá’í Faith offered me a way of effectively integrating personal growth, social action and spiritual understanding into a sustainable way of life that offered my best hope of systematically influencing our society to heal itself.

The book Cultural Creatives teems with examples of similar trajectories to an amazing diversity of different targets that somehow in the end come to seem members of the same family.

The authors are well aware that the consciousness movement had more than a touch of self-indulgence. May be it still has.

Eat Pray Love, the book and the film, are linked to consciousness raising and have come in for their share of criticism on this basis. A Sunday Times review (there’s no point in giving a link as they charge for the privilege of reading their material on the web nowadays) of Eat Pray Love states:

Liz is the Carrie Bradshaw of spiritual enlightenment – a selfish new-age narcissist who can think only of her own needs and desires. The film is full of gross national caricatures and trite self-helpy wisdom.

An interview with Margarette Driscoll in the same newspaper (19.09.10) shows a different possibility:

The key to it all lay in connecting with something spiritual inside herself, something we seem to have lost in our secular, materialist age. ‘We feel the lack of the spirit but there’s the idea that if you have faith it’s a little foolish, that you must have shut your brain off at some point; but there must be room in our lives for a brain and a soul,’ she says . . . .

We have to decide for ourselves whether the contempt of the reviewer is all part of modernism’s automatic sneer in the face of what it regards as flaky way-out alternatives or whether it’s a well founded reaction to a genuine element of self-indulgence in the film at least.

Ray and Anderson are well aware that not every cultural creative got to where (s)he is by some kind of religious experience. They write (page 103):

Practically everyone we interviewed for this book told us that they had been involved in the new social movements and the consciousness movements that began in the 1960s and continue today.

They are not unsympathetic to the consciousness movement (page 173):

The premise of the consciousness movements was that the achievements attributed uniquely to saints, poets, and great thinkers are in fact our common inheritance.

But are aware (page 174) that the spiritual quest can be hijacked by the ego:

In the long view, the first generation of the consciousness movement was focused on what might be called personal waking up. Its questions were individual. Often painfully honest and intimate, they appeared from the outside to be astoundingly egocentric.

They quote Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (page 189):

‘[S]piritual materialism’ . . .  means . . ‘deceiving ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.’

They realise this was out of step with the true purpose of such disciplines as meditation (page 175):

The purpose of inner work, in the East, had never been only for the benefit of the individual. All that effort could not be just for yourself.  [It was] for all beings.

On balance though they feel that the consciousness movement played an honourable part in the combination of social forces that has led us to this point, where 50 million people are working quietly for radical cultural change of an essential and benign form.

 

They look at the other dimensions to this process, including the movements for peace, for women, for freedom and for the well being of the planet, and examine in depth how they have developed and converged over time mainly since the 60s. All I can do here is give some brief extracts to convey the flavour. They describe (page 210):

.  . . a growing worldwide political convergence: . . . the cultural arms of these movements have been growing more similar for a good twenty years. It’s the political convergence that is the latecomer. . .

Part of this is facilitated by a shift from a negative approach to a more positive one (ibid.):

The old political movement pattern that was evident in the 1960s was built around opposition and conflict, Some observers still talk about protest movements as if what defines a movement is what it’s against. . . . . Gradually, the basis of collective identity has shifted from protest to a positive agenda and a vision of the future. It took a decade or two for the antiwar movement to redefine itself as a peace movement, and for the women’s movement to outgrow blaming, even hating, men and decide what it was for. One of the pivotal influences in this change was the consciousness movements. Spirituality and psychology brought in new ways of thinking . .

This indicates the constructive role of consciousness movements in spite of the reservations about their possible self-centredness.

There are also social structures in the mainstream that are contributing, such as NGOs (page 214):

. . . each group is learning to work with others and to leverage their efforts. This makes NGOs very successful in getting public attention when there’s an outrage. At long last, the moral conscience of the world is slowly being awakened for people who are not one’s own tribe or nation.

Slowly becoming apparent is a core of common value and purpose within all these diverse trends (page 216):

The evidence of convergence is almost everywhere. . . . .[Ralph H.]Turner believes that the conviction underlying all the new movements is that “a sense of worth, of meaning in life, is a fundamental human right that must be protected by our social institutions.”

What is even more fascinating, if that is possible, is the way that these movements interconnect and overlap and the role that Cultural Creatives have in that (page 218):

Each of the five movements we examined shares from 40-80% of its support (both sympathisers and activists) in common with the others. Wherever the movements share a common population, that population contains proportionately far more Cultural Creatives than you’d expect. Cultural Creatives stand at the intersection of these movements. In effect, they provide the cultural glue that hold the movements together. . . . . .What does all this mean? Are the Cultural Creatives shaping the movements, or are the movements shaping the Cultural Creatives? It’s both.

And there is probably a shared realisation that, for each of them, (page 221):

. . . . the interconnecting concerns shaping [a] movement reach even wider, revealing once again that the problems are simply too massive for any narrow solutions to work.

This has brought us to the point at which we can attempt to look at where all this leaves us now. But that must wait for another post.

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Metamorphosis

[We are also facing] a breathtakingly dangerous tipping point for our civilisation and our planet. Our need to discover a way through is the most urgent, most central question of our time.

(Cultural Creatives: Page 236)

In the consciousness movement, the people who can persevere for ten, twenty, and thirty years are the ones who can have a dramatic impact on the culture – because that is the true time horizon of effective action.

(Op. cit.: page 203)

I realise that my current sequences of posts are very much focused on the individual life and its traumas, only incidentally bringing in the context of our lives as a consideration. To redress that imbalance I am republishing a sequence on The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson.

Recently I reviewed a book I hadn’t even been looking for before I bought it. It was Where on Earth is Heaven? Towards the end Stedall mentions a couple of books that ignited my interest. The first of these I’ve now finished reading: The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson. I did a post in November as a taster, promising to follow it up if the book as a whole proved as good as its beginning. It did and here’s the follow up.

It’s a fascinating analysis, based on detailed surveys, of how the balance of American culture, and by implication Europe’s as well probably, has shifted since the 60s. There will be much to say about that later.

When I decided to do a full review of the book I thought I’d do just one post and that would be enough. The more I thought about it, the more impossible that seemed. I felt that its compelling fascination would be conveyed better if I took my time. Of course, that could well be the wrong decision and terminal boredom could have set in for everyone else long before I get to the last post on the subject. It’ll be more of a last post in a different sense in that case.

To convey why the book resonated so much with me it made sense to start, not at the beginning of the book, but nearer to the end. It’s towards the end that the authors convey a sense of the exact nature of the cultural change we are all experiencing but from the point of view of the Cultural Creatives.

A Tipping Point

This group, who constitute 25% of the population of America (i.e. about 50 million people), feel we are in a period of transition. The authors call it the Between.

The Between is the time between worldviews, values and ways of life; a time between stories. The transition period, [John] Naisbitt concluded, “is a great and yeasty time, filled with opportunity.” But it is so, he added, only on two critical conditions: if we can “make uncertainty our friend,” and “if we can only get a clear sense, a clear conception, a clear vision of the road ahead.”

(Page 235)

Ray and Anderson (page 236) are cautious and see this period as a ‘dangerous tipping point.’ They describe the position of Cultural Creatives (page 40) as seeing ‘an antique system that is noisily, chaotically shaking itself to pieces.’

This is not all negative (page 33):

. . . this era is at least as much about cultural innovation as it is about decline and decay of established forms.

This, for Bahá’ís, has echoes of what our Teachings repeatedly emphasise. For example:

“Soon,” Bahá’u’lláh Himself has prophesied, “will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” And again: “By Myself! The day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead.”

(Shoghi Effendi: The Promised Day Is Come – page 17)

And the similarities don’t end there. They contend (page 244):

The creative response to today’s Between is going to be one that bridges differences. . . . . .

 

Cultural CreativesBuilding Bridges

They draw support from William Ury’s Getting to Peace, which describes pre-agricultural societies as having worked hard at preventing and resolving conflict.

He feels that in our increasingly interdependent world, we have “the most promising opportunity in 10,000 years to create a co-culture of co-existence, cooperation, and constructive conflict.”

This issue of interdependence is key for Bahá’ís as well:

“The well-being of mankind,” [Bahá’u’lláh] declares, “its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

(Shoghi Effendi: The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh – page 203)

Ray and Anderson, thinking along the same lines and quoting Mary Ford, write (page 21) :

You have to have a definition of self that’s bigger than [society’s] definitions, that’s grounded in how connected we all are to each other.

The how of course is easier said than done, and we’ll be looking at that in more detail later. They describe at least one of the obstacles very clearly (page 222):

Moderns and Traditionals don’t see themselves as members of an interconnected planetary community, and don’t see their problems as interconnected either.

(We’ll be coming back to Traditionals in the next post.) Whereas Cultural Creatives, and Bahá’ís of course as well, do see themselves very much this way, Cultural Creatives (page 94)

. . .  want to see the big, inclusive picture, and they want to work with the whole system, with all the players. They regard themselves as synthesisers and healers, not just on the personal level but on the planetary level too.

The authors spell out what they feel the fragmentation of the dominant worldview of Modernism means for us all (pages 226-227):

As individuals, we know that we are part of a living system and that what we do to part of that system affects all of us sooner or later. But as a society we don’t know this.

I’m not sure how true the first part is for all individuals but it’s certainly true that our society as a whole has not grasped this holistic view yet. They place much of the blame for this on the fragmented perspective of modernism (page 92), which they see as the dominant worldview in the States, both in terms of the percentage of the population who strongly subscribe to it (48%) and in terms of control of the media:

Cultural Creatives are sick of the fragmentation of Modernism.

Even more damningly they write (page 294):

Modernism lives with a hole where wisdom ought to be.

Cultural Creatives strive for a more integrated perspective.  They think of themselves ‘as an interwoven piece of nature’ (page 9). In ways reminiscent of  Iain McGilchrist’s descriptions (see review on this blog), they have a right-brain feel about them (page 11):

. . . . they want the big picture, and they are powerfully attuned to the importance of whole systems. They are good at synthesing from very disparate, fragmented pieces of information.

The writers quote Parker Palmer approvingly (page 20) when he states:

. . . . that movements begin when people refuse to live divided lives.

But they acknowledge it is hard to see how this can be applied to building a new society (page 64):

. . . we are in the midst of a transition. Mapmakers must be content with seeing the new territory from afar – which means their map will have serious limits.

But we cannot simply leave it there (page 234):

. . . because all of us now are ‘people of the parenthesis,’ as Jean Houston calls us, we must break free of our restricted worldview and make our way into new territory.

And those are the ideas that are developed throughout the book as a whole. Consideration of them must wait till next time.

Bahá’ís share this perspective and these aspirations while recognising that Bahá’ís alone can never bring about such changes:

To say that the process of building a new civilisation is a conscious one does not imply that the outcome depends exclusively on the believers’ initiatives. . . . emphasis on the contributions Bahá’ís are to make to the civilisation-building process is not intended to diminish the significance of efforts being exerted by others.

(Paul Lample: Revelation & Social Reality – page 109: see review)

It is hugely encouraging to feel that there are up to 50 million people in America alone working towards broadly the same ends, manifesting the spirit of the age

working through mankind as a whole, tearing down barriers to world unity and forging humankind into a unified body in the fires of suffering and experience.

(Universal House of Justice Messages : 1963-1986, page 126)

Even at this stage then it should be clear why I was excited to find this book. Whether I have made it as exciting for you as yet remains to be seen.

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Abdulbaha Using the familiar metaphor of “candles”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to Mrs. Whyte:

“O honoured lady!… Behold how its [unity’s] light is now dawning upon the world’s darkened horizon. The first candle is unity in the political realm, the early glimmerings of which can now be discerned. The second candle is unity of thought in world undertakings, the consummation of which will erelong be witnessed. The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass. The fourth candle is unity in religion which is the corner- stone of the foundation itself, and which, by the power of God, will be revealed in all its splendour. The fifth candle is the unity of nations – a unity which in this century will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland. The sixth candle is unity of races, making of all that dwell on earth peoples and kindreds of one race. The seventh candle is unity of language, i.e., the choice of a universal tongue in which all peoples will be instructed and converse. Each and every one of these will inevitably come to pass, inasmuch as the power of the Kingdom of God will aid and assist in their realisation.”

While it will be decades – or perhaps a great deal longer – before the vision contained in this remarkable document is fully realised, the essential features of what it promised are now established facts throughout the world.

(Century of Light – pages 127-28)

The reason I gave recently for my being triggered to step back somewhat from blogging was the increased demand on my time. This was mostly from a particular project – the preparation of a series of eight workshops for a Bahá’í summer school. I thought it might be worth posting the material on this blog to see if it proves useful to others. Here is the fourth post of eight. I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays over four weeks. Century of Light is a key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (4 Impact of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Unity the Core). I find I have learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days.

The Impact & Legacy of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Creative Pause

As we have agreed that memorising is a valuable way to internalise important quotations and can help us in moments of quiet reflection, can we take a few moments now to begin to memorise either this quotation or another from the first session.

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

Basic Background

In addition to Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, there are two other key individuals and one key institution whose roles are of central importance to the unfolding story we are following right now.

The first is the son of Bahá’u’lláh, Whom His father designated as the Centre of His Covenant, the Mystery of God and the Perfect Exemplar. Some of the meaning of these terms will become clearer to those not familiar with them as the remainder of this sequence of workshops progresses. For now I will simply say that Bahá’ís believe God has made a Covenant with both His Followers and with humanity as a whole. The former is known as the Lesser Covenant, the latter as the Greater Covenant[1]. We will be coming back to an examination what those terms mean in more depth, but basically the role of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as Centre of the Covenant refers to how all Bahá’ís in His lifetime and beyond should see Him as the One to Whom His Father entrusted the protection of the unity of the Faith. We will be looking closely at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s role and its impact in the next two workshops.

Shoghi EffendiLater we will focus on Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá who was designated the Guardian of the Cause of God on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing. He was also authorised to be the translator and interpreter of the Writings.

Finally we will come to the Universal House of Justice. Elected in 1963 the House is the elected international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith. More on that later.

There are other writers who can shed some further light on this before we plunge into the details.

We are clearly living through a critical period. Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson write in Cultural Creatives (page 236): ‘[We are also facing] a breathtakingly dangerous tipping point for our civilisation and our planet. Our need to discover a way through is the most urgent, most central question of our time.’ They add (page 203) ‘In the consciousness movement, the people who can persevere for ten, twenty, and thirty years are the ones who can have a dramatic impact on the culture – because that is the true time horizon of effective action.’ The Universal House of Justice feels this will be the work of centuries (from a letter to Bahá’ís of Iran – 2 March 2013):

The rejection of deeply ingrained prejudices and a growing sense of world citizenship are among the signs of this heightened awareness. Yet, however promising the rise in collective consciousness may be, it should be seen as only the first step of a process that will take decades—nay, centuries—to unfold. For the principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations. It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society.

As Paul Lample explains in Revelation & Social Reality (page 109), Bahá’ís share this perspective and recognise that Bahá’ís alone can never bring about such changes. To say that the process of building a new civilisation is a conscious one does not imply that the outcome depends exclusively on the believers’ initiatives. . . . emphasis on the contributions Bahá’ís are to make to the civilisation-building process is not intended to diminish the significance of efforts being exerted by others. He also states (page 6): ‘Human beings are not passive observers of reality and our personal reality, our thought, is not simply imposed upon us. In a very specific way we may consider ourselves – collectively – as co-creators of reality, for through the power of the human mind and our interactions, the world undergoes continued transformation.’

And the time scale, as well as the engagement of all humanity, is very clear (page 48): ‘Generation after generation of believers will strive to translate the teachings into a new social reality. . . . . . . . [I]t is not a project in which Bahá’ís engage apart from the rest of humanity.’

Ray and Anderson make a key point (page 246): ‘Cultural Creatives may be leading the way with responses directed towards healing and integration rather than battle. For these responses to contribute to the creation of a new culture, grassroots activism and social movements will have to evolve into new institutions. . . . [W]hile new social movements are transitory, institutions can turn the energies of these movements into everyday action.’

(End of Presentation: any questions?)

For now we return to the role of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and begin with the core concept of unity or oneness.

Group Work

For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

The group also needs to agree who will keep a record of the main points for reporting back to everyone at the end of the group consultation. The aim should be to make the report back no longer than five minutes.

Unity

Group One Task

Unity

Page 7: [‘Abdu’l-Bahá] came to [this moment in history] resolved to proclaim to responsive and heedless alike the establishment on earth of that promised reign of universal peace and justice that had sustained human hope throughout the centuries. Its foundation, He declared, would be the unification, in this “century of light”, of the world’s people:

. . . . . Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century.

Page 9: My meaning is that the beloved of the Lord must regard every ill-wisher as a well-wisher.… That is, they must associate with a foe as befitteth a friend, and deal with an oppressor as beseemeth a kind companion. They should not gaze upon the faults and transgressions of their foes, nor pay heed to their enmity, inequity or oppression.

. . . . . He hath brought the whole creation under the purview of His gracious utterance, and hath enjoined upon us to show forth love and affection, wisdom and compassion, faithfulness and unity towards all, without any discrimination.

Page 18: [Of those who responded to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s call] Their response arose from a level of consciousness that recognized, even if sometimes only dimly, the desperate need of the human race for spiritual enlightenment. To remain steadfast in their commitment to this insight required of these early believers on whose sacrifice of self much of the foundation of the present-day Bahá’í communities both in the West and many other lands were laid – that they resist not only family and social pressures, but also the easy rationalisations of the world-view in which they had been raised and to which everything around them insistently exposed them.

  1. Bahá’ís have been dismissed as hopelessly Utopian. Part of the reason for this lies in the perception that the ideals of, on the one hand, learning to evince the degree of love ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes, and, on the other, of establishing universal peace and justice, are permanently beyond humanity’s reach. What do we feel about that?
  2. What can we learn from the experiences of the early believers that might give us some hope, especially as the Universal House of Justice describes this as the work of centuries?

Page 20: The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers.

To fully understand the relationship between man’s progress towards peace and the role of the Bahá’ís compared to the role of all humanity, it will help to provide some background. In the compilation on Peace (pages 38-39) we read in the words of the Universal House of Justice:

As to the Lesser Peace, Shoghi Effendi has explained that this will initially be a political unity arrived at by decision of the governments of various nations; it will not be established by direct action of the Bahá’í community. This does not mean, however, that the Bahá’ís are standing aside and waiting for the Lesser Peace to come before they do something about the peace of mankind. Indeed, by promoting the principles of the Faith, which are indispensable to the maintenance of peace, and by fashioning the instruments of the Bahá’í Administrative Order, which we are told by the beloved Guardian is the pattern for future society, the Bahá’ís are constantly engaged in laying the groundwork for a permanent peace, the Most Great Peace being their ultimate goal.

  1. How would a wider acceptance of the concept of the oneness of humanity be conducive to peace?
  2. In the light of this, what are Bahá’ís meant to be doing and why?
  3. What might people in the wider world be working at and why?

 

Group Two Task

The Full Implications of Unity

Page 21: {Shoghi Effendi unpacks these as follows – my bullet points:]

  • The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition;
  • the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith;
  • the basic unity of all religions;
  • the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national;
  • the harmony which must exist between religion and science;
  • the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar;
  • the introduction of compulsory education;
  • the adoption of a universal auxiliary language;
  • the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty;
  • the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations;
  • the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship;
  • the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and
  • the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind

these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys.

The Guardian (page 50), addressing the friends in the West in 1931, ‘opened for them a brilliant vista’:

The principle of the Oneness of Mankind – the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve – is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family…. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not experienced…. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarisation of the whole civilised world – a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units.

. . . . using as illustration the same ‘organic metaphor in which Bahá’u’lláh, and subsequently ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, had captured the millennia-long process’ that has brought us to this point (ibid):

The long ages of infancy and childhood, through which the human race had to pass, have receded into the background. Humanity is now experiencing the commotions invariably associated with the most turbulent stage of its evolution, the stage of adolescence, when the impetuosity of youth and its vehemence reach their climax, and must gradually be superseded by the calmness, the wisdom, and the maturity that characterize the stage of manhood.

  1. There is a huge amount of detail here. Basically though, in what ways do the above passages help us understand what the Bahá’í Faith means when it uses the word ‘unity’ or speaks of ‘oneness.’
  2. How would the ‘political machinery’ and ‘trade and finance’ be changed do we think?
  3. What might it feel like to live in a world reconstituted in this way?

Report Back: One member of each group explains their conclusions and what they have learnt. Their group members can join in to field whatever questions and comments come their way.

Footnote:

[1] This terminology dates from the time of the Báb as Shoghi Effendi makes clear in God Passes By (page 27): ‘The Greater Covenant into which, as affirmed in His writings, God had, from time immemorial, entered, through the Prophets of all ages, with the whole of mankind, regarding the newborn Revelation, had already been fulfilled. It had now to be supplemented by a Lesser Covenant which He [ie the Báb] felt bound to make with the entire body of His followers concerning the One [ie Bahá’u’lláh] Whose advent He characterized as the fruit and ultimate purpose of His Dispensation. Such a Covenant had invariably been the feature of every previous religion.’

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COL SED 1

© Bahá’í World Centre

THE BAHÁ’ÍS MUST WORK WITH HEART AND SOUL TO BRING ABOUT A BETTER CONDITION IN THE WORLD

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Paris Talks, page 99)

I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. The post below dates from 2009: I have updated it in places with new information. 

What do we do?

We have looked at the plight of children. We must face the truth. We are all responsible and we all need to respond to the challenge: we must all do everything in our power to change this situation for the better. The same message already quoted from our world centre states:

Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realisation should spur us all to urgent and sustained action in the interests of children and the future.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

Obviously the whole problem cannot be fixed overnight but we have to start somewhere. This need to do what we can sustain over a long period, however small a step that may seem, has led to a concerted attempt to provide classes for children in as many localities as we can using all the resources currently at our disposal, though these are as yet inadequate to the task that faces us:

Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, they extend their efforts widely to involve ever-growing contingents of participants in classes that become centres of attraction for the young and strengthen the roots of the Faith in society.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2008)

Young people, on the threshold of independence, have comparable needs which we are seeking to learn how to meet:

[We] assist junior youth to navigate through a crucial stage of their lives and to become empowered to direct their energies toward the advancement of civilization.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2008)

JY KIR_0863

How should we treat them?

We must appreciate fully and whole-heartedly

. . . the imperative to tend to the needs of the children of the world and offer them lessons that develop their spiritual faculties and lay the foundations of a noble and upright character. . . [and] the full significance of [our] efforts to help young people form a strong moral identity in their early adolescent years and empower them to contribute to the well-being of their communities.

(Universal House of Justice: 20 October 2008

Character building and society building are inextricably linked. The positive results of doing it properly are beyond dispute.

But how do we do it?

The House of Justice seek to define the qualities a community should possess:

An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them, the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behaviour toward them – these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline,  the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

It is perhaps worth dwelling a little on what they might mean by discipline and hardship, not positive ideas in many people’s thinking today.

Layard and Dunn, in an article in the  Sunday Times on 1st February describe four styles of parenting and point out what they feel is the optimal. These are: disciplined, authoritative, neglectful and permissive.

Researchers have studied the effects of each upon the way in which children develop. They agree that the style that is loving and yet firm – now known in the jargon as authoritative – is the most effective. In this approach boundaries are explained, in the context of a warm, loving relationship. Without boundaries and the management of frustration that these require children to learn, it is hard for them to develop the kind of impulse control that the work on emotional intelligence suggests underpins a successful life in society. All too often childhoods are  seriously warped by indulgent neglect, though it is the cruelty of an abusive background that more often hits the headlines.

More recent work highlights the way our schools are increasingly focused on preparing our children for the competitive employment market place, and neglecting other important elements of character-building. Speaking of the American system, John Fitzgerald Medina, in his thought-provoking book Faith, Physics & Psychology writes (page 319):

Within the mainstream educational system, students spend endless hours in academic tasks almost to the exclusion of all other forms of social, emotional, moral, artistic, physical, and spiritual learning goals. This type of education leaves students bereft of any overarching sense of why they are learning things, other than perhaps to obtain some lucrative job in the distant future.

He is not the only one to have concerns about the direction the American education system has been heading. An example of the current state of play in the States comes in a blog post on the NY Times site from a philosopher father after encountering issues with his son’s education. He summarises what he has learnt:

In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.

He spells out the implications of this rampant moral relativism:

. . . . in the world beyond grade school, where adults must exercise their moral knowledge and reasoning to conduct themselves in the society, the stakes are greater. There, consistency demands that we acknowledge the existence of moral facts. If it’s not true that it’s wrong to murder a cartoonist with whom one disagrees, then how can we be outraged? If there are no truths about what is good or valuable or right, how can we prosecute people for crimes against humanity? If it’s not true that all humans are created equal, then why vote for any political system that doesn’t benefit you over others?

My strong impression is that the UK system, under the influence of Michael Gove and his successors, has moved a long way in this dehumanising direction also. There is ample evidence to justify this view. Confirmation that Medina’s bleak picture applies at least to some extent within the UK can be found, for example, in an article in the Guardian of February this year which quotes recent research:

The survey of 10,000 pupils aged 14 and 15 in secondary schools across the UK found that more than half failed to identify what researchers described as good judgments when responding to a series of moral dilemmas, leading researchers to call for schools to have a more active role in teaching character and morality.

“A good grasp of moral virtues, such as kindness, honesty and courage can help children to flourish as human beings, and can also lead to improvements in the classroom. And that level of understanding doesn’t just happen – it needs to be nurtured and encouraged,” said Prof James Arthur, director of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, which conducted the research.

There was also a piece by Layard on the LSE website in January this year:

In a path-breaking analysis using the British Cohort Study, we found some astonishing results. The strongest predictor of a satisfying adult life was the child’s emotional health. Next came social behaviour, and least important was academic achievement. This is exactly the opposite sequence to the priorities of most (but not all) educators and politicians. Indeed the last Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, deliberately reduced towards zero the importance which Ofsted should give to the emotional wellbeing of students.

A recent article on the Greater Good website emphasises how important it is to include a moral component in the curriculum and shows that there is widespread concern about this issue:

Many schools are hopping on the bandwagon to teach “performance character”—qualities such as perseverance, optimism, and creativity— because it has been shown to lead to greater academic success. Fewer, though, are also teaching moral character, which focuses on qualities that enhance ethical behavior, including empathy, social responsibility, and integrity.

The challenge is that performance character by itself is not necessarily good or bad. A person can exhibit great perseverance and creativity, but use it towards bad means—take your pick of corporate scandals to see this in action. To blunt ends-justify-means thinking, schools need to balance achievement-oriented performance character with the ethical orientation of moral character, while also teaching emotional skills.

Case in point: A recent study found that students at a middle school that emphasized moral character demonstrated higher rates of academic integrity than students at two middle schools that taught only performance character. In other words, the students who cultivated their moral backbone were less likely to cheat than the students who developed perseverance.

Researchers also refer to other things such as mutual respect, commitment and education in parenting. The Bahá’í view goes further even than this:

An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel they belong to the community and share in its purpose. They must lovingly but insistently be guided to live up to Bahá’í standards, to study and teach the Cause in ways that are suited to their circumstances.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

The current state of play within our schools suggests that Bahá’ís and others have a crucial role to play in supplementing the deficiencies that are crippling our educational system.

The Needs of Young People

They describe the special needs of a sub-group of young people:

[Those between the ages of, say, 12 to 15] represent a special group with special needs as they are somewhat in between childhood and youth when many changes are occurring within them. Creative attention must be devoted to involving them in programmes of activity that will engage their interests, mould their capacities for teaching and service, and involve them in social interaction with older youth.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

Paul Lample explains that this has led to

[a]n effort to endow youth with the capacity to conquer the word and unravel its meaning both for their own spiritual upliftment, and as a basis for social action. The work with Junior Youth broadened beyond efforts for SED to become a fourth core activity.

(Paul Lample: Revelation & Social Reality page 135)

JY BRA_4762Parents

The role of parents is clearly critical:

. . . parents . . . bear the prime responsibility for the upbringing of their children. We appeal to them to give constant attention to the spiritual education of their children. Some parents appear to think that this is the exclusive responsibility of the community; others believe that in order to preserve the independence of children to investigate truth, the Faith should not be taught to them. Still others feel inadequate to take on such a task. None of this is correct . . . . ..

Independent of the level of their education, parents are in a critical position to shape the spiritual development of their children. They should not ever underestimate their capacity to mould their children’s moral character. Of course, in addition to the efforts made at home, the parents should support children’s classes provided by the community.

(Universal House of Justice: April 2000)

In the end where does all this leave us?

For Bahá’ís the message is clear. In capital letters on page 99 of Paris Talks we find the quotation at the head of this post:

THE BAHÁ’ÍS MUST WORK WITH HEART AND SOUL TO BRING ABOUT A BETTER CONDITION IN THE WORLD

The words immediately above that are:

Let your ambition be the achievement on earth of a Heavenly civilization! I ask for you the supreme blessing, that you may be so filled with the vitality of the Heavenly Spirit that you may be the cause of life to the world.

There’s really nothing else that anyone can add after that and it seems to me that it applies to everyone, Baha’i and non-Baha’i alike, each in his or her own way inspired by the purpose of God in this age which is to make us all act upon the realisation that we are one family — the human family.

The whole of humanity is indeed our business.

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I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. The post below comes from 2011 and relates both to the sequence recently republished on cultural creatives and to the general issue of civilisation building. 

Among the issues raised in the series of posts on the Cultural Creatives, an important one concerns how to sustain motivation for action over very long periods of time – something absolutely essential if we are to engage in the civilisation building processes under discussion there.

Previously I tackled the challenges of overcoming inertia. One of the issues there, that is also relevant here, was becoming able to see that what you could do would lead to what you wanted if you kept at it, in spite of how incredible that might seem. But, to be honest, the problems of getting started pale into virtual insignificance when compared with those connected with persisting in the implementation of a plan over decades or even generations.

Concerning one movement examined in the book The Cultural Creatives the authors put this bluntly:

In the consciousness movement, the people who can persevere for ten, twenty, and thirty years are the ones who can have a dramatic impact on the culture – because that is the true time horizon of effective action.

(The Cultural Creatives: page 203)

Within the Bahá’í community the issue is the same. A currently serving member on the most senior institution of the Faith wrote recently:

Generation after generation of believers will strive to translate the teachings into a new social reality. . . . . . . .

(Paul LampleRevelation and Social Reality – page 48)

It therefore seemed worthwhile having a look from a psychological perspective at what that challenge might involve. It should complement the spiritual one. I am only just beginning the process of stretching my mind to encompass at least some of the implications of an important message from our sovereign body, the Universal House of Justice, whose rich, subtly textured and multi-layered analysis unfolds in detail what such complex work stretching over many decades demands of us. They have clearly taken into account the factors I am about to discuss and many more besides. I am not yet in a position where I can even hope to integrate the two kinds of discourse into a clear explanation. Some aspects of the psychological point of view will have to suffice for now, and maybe that is enough as it does help me (and hopefully others) get to better grips with at least some of what the world centre of our Faith is saying.

When I was working as a member of a rehabilitation team in a mental health context, I had reason to adapt into a simpler form Fishbein and Bandura’s ‘s model as a way of assisting people who were stuck in a kind of learned helplessness to free themselves from the unrelenting grip of that quicksand.

The first step was to help the trapped person define the ultimate destination (s)he wished to attain if at all possible. Once that had been defined, whether it was a return to work, completion of a college course, creating a pleasant place to live, finding friends, developing interests, preventing relapse or some combination of several of them, there was another question to be answered:  was the goal as defined highly enough valued to be intensely desired, particularly when ego boosting immediate rewards might be in short supply?

If the answer to that question was a resounding ‘yes’ we could move onto the next stage. If not, we had to work at making the vision clearer, more positive and more intensely desirable and, above all else, easier to hold on to. It is easy to see how this stage of the process can be applied to creating a motivating vision of civilisation building such as cultural creatives, Bahá’ís, and other people who care about the state of the world, need to develop. Because the next steps will take some explaining I won’t dwell on the obvious at this point.

 

© Bahá’í World Centre

© Bahá’í World Centre

The next few questions are of critical importance. Obviously, once the vision was clear and sufficiently compelling, we had to look at what steps needed to be taken to get from where the person was to where (s)he wanted to be.

This inevitably led fairly rapidly to considering  two other interconnected questions which had to be answered before these ideas consolidated into a plan: did the steps as defined relate convincingly to the achievement of this goal and did they seem within the person’s power to execute?

We need to look at those one at a time.

Sometimes people don’t make a forwards move because they feel external demands are requiring them to do something that they can’t see is relevant to what they really want to do or they don’t believe that the step they can make at this point really will lead to where they want to get to. Such doubts have to be dealt with sympathetically and not discounted out of hand. There is often more than a grain of truth in them, and even if they are largely irrational, it does no good simply to say with a wave of the hand, ‘It’ll work out, don’t you worry.’ Often, the act of surfacing them in a supportive and sympathetic conversation with someone else dispels their paralysing power. It can cut them down to size and allow the person to see for themselves how it all might work.

Sometimes people can see that the step would work, but don’t believe they can perform it. It feels beyond them. Either they lack the skill or the courage or both. There may be material or other objective obstacles such as lack of money that may have to be addressed, but in the absence of those, what has to be tackled is making action possible by reducing the size of the step, increasing the level of support, practising and acquiring the missing skill or possibly all three.

Accompaniment and encouragement play a huge part in helping us embark on challenging adventures of this kind, and this is well recognised within the Baha’i community as well as outside it. Without those two supports many of us might well never move an inch.

There are some useful thoughts from another tradition of psychology that also have a bearing here.

Our society sells a very disabling illusion: a good life is a life without pain and discomfort. Even though it is fairly easy to prick this bubble – you only have to look carefully at how much painful effort and determination generally has to go into even the most apparently straightforward achievements – the lie slides back into our minds and tells us we shouldn’t have to exert ourselves to make something of our lives. We deserve it just for being here. Buying the lie is completely paralysing.

This lie relates also to the fixed mindset that the book Bounce deals with so vividly, its author Syed drawing heavily on the work of Dweck and others:  ‘If I’m talented I should succeed without trying: if I have to try I’m not talented.’ There are countless other insidious variations.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) gives this kind of life lie short shrift from a slightly different angle than the one Dweck, Syed and others are speaking from. Discomfort, pain even, are inevitable concomitants of life, they argue. Building a life around their avoidance is deadly: it paves the way to addiction, escapism, exploitation of others, loss of meaning and ultimately a frozen state of spiritual suicide, a living death that may even lead to someone taking their own life. Pain and discomfort are not to be made excuses for doing nothing on the grounds that they make everything too difficult. You learn to enact your values regardless of the discomfort they bring. The rewards ultimately far outweigh the costs. That is the good life.

There are many other aspects to consider which enrich the picture and reflect the full complexity of life more effectively, but I feel I will be in a better position to look at those when I have moved forward a bit more in my own thinking and developed a deeper understanding of what the House of Justice has so recently explained. So, these will have to wait for another time.

For now it is probably enough for me to repeat that there is more to healing a wounded world than recognising the tasks and making a start. Keeping going is the difficult trick to master, and remembering, as dear friend of mine put it, “You can’t sprint a marathon.’ That’s how you get from something like the building site in the first photo to the glory of this one.Upper Terraces View

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