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Posts Tagged ‘service’

. . . . the role of the fine arts in a divine civilization must be of a higher order than the mere giving of pleasure, for if such were their ultimate aim, how could they ‘result in advantage to man, . . . ensure his progress and elevate his rank.’

(Ludwig Tulman – Mirror of the Divine – pages 29-30)

A Test

As I explained earlier in this sequence, I’m not contending that mapping consciousness is the sole criterion for judging a work of art but it is a key one for my purposes as a student of consciousness, as the mind map above illustrates. I’ll unpack what the mind map is about later.

My ability to apply to ongoing experience what I have learned in theory was about to be tested. How clearly could I catch hold of and write down an experience under pressure?

The day I sat planning at some point to work on this post proved interesting. Two letters plopped through our letterbox. They looked like the ones I had been expecting, telling me when my next hospital appointments were.

I didn’t pick them up straightaway as I was keeping an eye on the pressure cooker as it built up a head of steam, ready to turn it down when the whistle hissed. No, I don’t mean my brain as it coped with all my deadlines. We were beginning to get the food ready for the celebration of the Bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh in two days time. The lentils apparently needed cooking well ahead of time.

Once pressure cooker duty was over, I dashed upstairs to tweak the slide presentation for the following day. I’d been enlisted to do the presentation at a friend’s celebration event. While the slide show notes were printing, I thought I’d better check the hospital letters out, not my favourite activity. The first one I opened was as I expected, an appointment for the ophthalmology department. I moved on to the second one. When I opened it I saw it was identical, same date, same time.

‘They’ve messed up,’ I groaned inwardly. ‘I was supposed to go for an MRI scan as well. I’d better give them a ring.’

I stapled the slide show notes together, picked up my iPhone and rang the number they had given me on the letter. A robot answered.

‘Thank you for calling the orthoptic department. We are currently dealing with a new electronic patient record system [I didn’t relish being seen as an electronic patient] and may be delayed in returning your call, [change of voice undermining the impression of caring that was to follow] but your call is important to us. Please leave your hospital number, the name of the patient, and a brief message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Thank you.’

I responded after the beep, fortunately also remembering to give them my number as I wasn’t convinced they’d pick that up automatically. Most robots check whether they have absorbed your number correctly.

Rather than waste time waiting, I got my laptop and brought it downstairs to rehearse my presentation. I set up AppleTV and was just about to set my timer and start, when my phone rang.

‘Orthoptic Department. How can I help?’ She sounded pleasant and surprisingly unstressed.

‘The new system must be taking some of the pressure off,’ I thought.

I explained that not only had I got double vision but I was also now getting my letters twice as well. Well, no not really. I told her I’d got two identical letters when I’d expected one to be for an MRI scan.

She checked out what I meant and then explained that the letter I’d got was for my routine appointment. The other was an error on their part. I should also be getting a letter for the MRI scan, I clarifed, but they did not know anything about that. I added that after that I should get an appointment from a consultant about the scan. She couldn’t help with that either, even though he was in her department.

She agreed to put me through to discuss the MRI.

‘Radiology here. How can I help?’

‘Is that where you do MRI scans?’ I asked, not being sure whether they counted as radiology or something else.

‘Yes, it is.’

I began my explanation.

‘I’m sorry. I need your name and date of birth.’

‘Will my hospital number do?’

‘Yes. That’s fine.’

Once she knew who I was, I told her my problem and asked when I could expect my scan to be as were we hoping to be away some time in December.

‘It’ll take 6-8 weeks from the time they sent the request.’

‘So when might that be?’

‘It’ll probably be the week beginning 27 November.’

‘And when will the consultant see me to discuss it after that.’

‘I can’t say because he wouldn’t send out appointments normally until he receives the scan.’

‘So how long is the gap likely to be then?’

‘We don’t deal with that. You’d have to speak to his secretary.’

She couldn’t put me through so I rang Ophthalmology again and got the robot. I hung up and rang the hospital switchboard and they put me through straightaway. Must remember that next time.

I spoke to the same person as before. She explained that she didn’t really know. She was just the receptionist. His secretary was off till next week. She’d leave a note for her and if I could ring back then she might help.

I hung up and made a note in my diary to ring next week.

Before this all happened, I’d jotted down in the notebook I always carry: ‘It doesn’t matter whether I’m enjoying myself or not, as long as I’m squeezing every drop of meaning out of the lemon of the present moment.’ The phone calls to the hospital where a particularly sour experience, so my note was intriguingly prophetic. I had managed to stay calm, and even found the whole experience slightly amusing with its many examples of ‘I don’t know. That’s not my department. You need to talk to…’

At last I was able to settle down and rehearse the presentation before finally returning to my plan to draft this post.

The whole episode highlighted for me the need not only to slow down and keep calm, but also to sharpen my focus. Not that I will ever be able to write as well as Virginia Woolf, but without that combination of skills I doubt that anyone would ever be able to capture consciousness in words on paper, or even in speech.

A Valid Criterion?

So now we come back to the critical question. Is its skill in conveying consciousness a valid criterion by which to judge a work of art? As I indicated earlier, I’m not arguing it is the only one, nor even necessarily the best. What I have come to realise is that it is a key one for me.

I also need to clarify that capturing consciousness is not the same as conveying a world view or meaning system. So, you might argue that when Alice Neel is painting people that the art world usually ignores, just as I gather Cézanne also did, while the act of painting itself is sending a clear ideological message that these people matter, unless the portrait is more than a realistic rendering of the subject’s appearance we have not been capturing the artist’s consciousness. If any distortions of sensory experience merely serve to strengthen the message, these would be more like propaganda than maps of consciousness. Also the culture in which we are immersed, as well as our upbringing and individual life experiences, influence the meaning systems we adopt, or perhaps more accurately are induced into evolving.

Capturing consciousness is also a tad more demanding than simply conveying a state of mind or feeling, whether that be the artist’s own or their subject’s, something which music can also do perfectly well. That is something I value very much, but it’s not my focus right now.

Taking that into account, what am I expecting?

Woolf gives us a clue in her diaries ((page 259):

I see there are four? dimensions: all to be produced, in human life: and that leads to a far richer grouping and proportion. I mean: I; and the not I; and the outer and the inner – … (18.11.35):

I have quoted this already in an earlier post of this sequence. I also added the date on which she wrote it to emphasise that it was after the completion of both To the Lighthouse and The Waves, as if she sensed that her approach up to that point had been too inward looking. Her question mark after ‘four’ suggests she was entertaining the possibility of more dimensions.

The diagram maps what Woolf said very crudely. Most of To the Lighthouse and The Waves takes place in the top right hand quadrant. They are brave experiments. In places they work beautifully but are uneven and at times disappointing. She sensed that I suspect.

However, other novels she wrote take more account of the other quadrants except possibly the one on the bottom right, although there are places where she seems almost to be attempting to tune into the inscape of natural objects.

Clearly then it might be appropriate to judge a novel by how well it balances the three main quadrants, ie excepting the bottom right.

There is a catch here though. It all depends upon on what the prevailing culture defines as ‘outer.’ Is this to be confined only to the material realm? Mysticism is present in all cultures to some degree, though its legitimacy has been downgraded in the West. The critically endorsed novel has, with some rare exceptions such as John Cowper Powys and perhaps what is termed ‘magical realism,’ been seen as needing to focus on the world of the senses, the stream of consciousness and social interaction.

Is that enough?

Woolf expresses this whole dilemma with wry humour in To the Lighthouse (page 152):

The mystic, the visionary, walking the beach on a fine night, stirring a puddle, looking at a stone, asking themselves “What am I,” “What is this?” had suddenly an answer vouchsafed them: (they could not say what it was) so that they were warm in the frost and had comfort in the desert. But Mrs McNab continued to drink and gossip as before.

Should a work of art, could a work of art, express some kind of world consciousness, for example? Should mysticism be normalised and not be either excluded or presented as eccentric?

Given that I think expanding our consciousness is the key to enabling us to mend our world I am sceptical of any school of thought that would devalue and marginalise novels that attempt to treat outlying ways of thought and experience as of equal interest and legitimacy. It has already been demonstrated that the novel, in its present form, enhances empathy. It helps connect us in a more understanding way with the experiences of others very different from ourselves. Art in general is one of the most powerful means we have for lifting or debasing consciousness. It reaches more people in the West probably than religion does, especially if we include television, cinema, computer games etc.

I must add a word of warning here. Consciousness can be seen as expanding in all sorts of different ways.

Sometimes, though, I feel that just by pandering to our desire for exciting new experiences we might not be expanding our consciousness at all, but narrowing it rather.

Alex Danchev, in his biography of Cézanne, quotes an intriguing passage from Hyppolyte Taine (page 104):

In open country I would rather meet a sheep than a lion; behind the bars of a cage I would rather see a lion than a sheep. Art is exactly that sort of cage: by removing the terror, it preserves the interest. Hence, safely and painlessly, we may contemplate the glorious passions, the heartbreaks, the titanic struggles, all the sound and fury of human nature elevated by remorseless battles and unrestrained desires. . . . It takes us out of ourselves; we leave the commonplace in which we are mired by the weakness of our faculties and the timidity of their instincts.

I draw back instinctively from the elevation of the titanic, the fury, the remorseless and the unrestrained in human life. Exploring those aspects of our nature unbalanced by other more compassionate and humane considerations is potentially dangerous for reasons I have explored elsewhere. To express it as briefly as I can, it’s probably enough to say that I can’t shake off the influence of my formative years under the ominous shadow of the Second World War. I’m left with a powerful and indelible aversion to any warlike and violent kind of idealism, and any idolising of the heroic can seem far too close to that for comfort to me. Suzy Klein’s recent brilliant BBC series on Tunes for Tyrants: Music and Power explores what can happen when the arts are harnessed to violent ends in the name of some dictator’s idea of progress.

And where does this leave me?

I am at a point where I have decided that I need to explore consciousness more consistently, perhaps more consistently than I have ever explored anything else in my life. It blends psychology, literature, faith as well as personal experience, and therefore makes use of most of my lifetime interests. This object of interest would give them a coherence they have so far lacked. Instead of flitting between them as though they had little real or deep connection, I could use them all as lenses of different kinds to focus on the one thing that fascinates me most.

I have ended up with the completely revised diagram of my priorities at the head of this post, repeated just to the left above in smaller size. The blurring at the edges represents its unfinished nature. It seems to express an interesting challenge. It shows that I am on a quest, still, to understand consciousness. Does the diagram suggest the idea that consciousness is both the driving force and destination of this quest? It looks as though consciousness is seeking to understand itself, in my case at least: that makes it both the archer and the target. Mmmmm! Not sure where that leads!

What is clear is that my mnemonic of the 3Rs needs expanding. It has to include a fourth R: relating. In the diagram I have spelt out what the key components are of each important R.

Relating

This involves consultation (something I have dwelt on at length elsewhere). It also entails opening up to a sense of the real interconnectedness of all forms of life, not just humanity as a whole. It has to entail some form of action as well, which I have labelled service, by which I mean seeking to take care of others.

Reflecting

How well a group can consult, as I have explained elsewhere, depends upon how well the individuals within it can reflect. My recent delving into Goleman and Davidson’s excellent book The Science of Meditation suggests that there is more than one form of meditation that would help me develop my reflective processes more efficiently (page 264): mindfulness I have tried to practice (see links for some examples), focusing I do everyday, using Alláh-u-Abhá as my mantra, and loving kindness or compassionate meditation is something I need to tackle, as it relates very much to becoming more motivated to act. I have baulked at it so far because it relies, as far as I can tell, upon being able to visualise, something I am not good at.

They also describe another pattern, which I’ve not been aware of before (ibid.): ‘Deconstructive. As with insight practice, these methods use self-observation to pierce the nature of experience. They include “non-dual” approaches that shift into a mode where ordinary cognition no longer dominates.’

Reading & Writing

Readers of this blog, or even just this sequence of posts, will be aware of how I use writing and reading in my quest for understanding so I don’t think I need to bang on about that here.

The Science of Meditation deals with the idea that long-term meditation turns transient states of mind into more permanent traits of character. I have placed altruism in the central space as for me, having read Matthieu Ricard’s book on the subject, altruism is compassion turned to trait: it is a disposition not a passing feeling. I am hopeful that insight may similarly turn to wisdom, but as I am not sure of that as yet, I just called it insight.

I am already aware that the diagram inadequately accounts for such things as the exact relationship between the 4Rs, understanding and effective and useful action. It does not emphasise enough that my desire to understand consciousness better is not purely academic. It is also fuelled by a strong desire to put what I have come to understand to good use.

I am also aware that I failed to register in my discussion as a whole that there are distinctions to be made between capturing consciousness in art and other closely related scenarios, such as describing experience in terms of its remembered emotional impact (conveying a state of mind) or giving an account of what happened through the lens of one’s meaning system (evaluating an event). It is perhaps also possible to attempt to convey only the basic details of what happened with all subjective elements removed (a ‘factual’ account).

I can’t take this exploration any further than this right now but hope to come back to the topic again soon. I also said in an earlier post that I might delve more deeply into the soul, mind, imagination issue. However, this post has gone on long enough, I think, so that will have to wait for another time.

Rita and Hubert 1954 (scanned from Alice Neel: painter of modern life edited by Jeremy Lewison)

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Shahnaz Memorial

While we were in India, at the end of January we attended a Memorial Meeting for a lifelong devoted follower of our faith. The meeting, at the Bahá’í centre in Mumbai, consisted of prayers, readings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, and stories of how Shahnaz Furudi’s life had touched the hearts of those whose paths crossed with hers. At the request of the family the following address was also given. It seems worth sharing it on this blog to give some sense of the vision that inspired her life.  

This is a time of sorrow for all who love Shahnaz and our hearts go out to her family. At the same time it is important to remember and celebrate her life. To help us do this, it seems only right that I try to explain the vision that inspired her life.

As you all know, Shahnaz was a Bahá’í, a follower of Bahá’u’lláh.

What might that have meant to her?

The light that shone on the path she trod to guide her steps showed her that there is only one God, no matter how many names we use. The same Great Being has inspired all the great religions of the world.

We do not seem to understand this easily. It’s as if, when the sun rises in autumn, because it rose in a different place in spring, I say it cannot be the same sun. But it is the same sun, and when at different times and in different places God has sent His Messenger amongst us it is the same God who speaks to us through them.

Why then do the messages we hear seem so different? This is partly because different times need different social rules. But even more importantly, at different times and in different cultures we understand reality in different ways and in different words.

Messengers of God, wherever They may live, are like a one-eyed person in a country of the blind.

Let’s suppose They are trying to explain the colour red.

In the land of where people enjoy their food and cooking is important, They say red is like chilli. In the land of gardens filled with lovely flowers They say it’s like the perfume of the rose. And if They were in a frozen land of icy wastes where fires burn the whole year round They would say red is like fire.

It is the best They can do because someone blind from birth will never really know what colour is.

If this were so what purpose would be served if the cooks fought with the icelanders and the gardeners fought with the cooks because each was convinced the other was wrong, when in reality they are all talking about the same thing but do not realise it?

Red, like all colour, to those blind from birth is as hidden from them as spiritual reality is from us. We can only understand it indirectly. The words each religion uses to describe the spiritual realm may differ, because they have to match the understanding of that place and time, but what they are seeking to describe is the same spiritual reality.

It follows then that this guiding light also revealed to dear Shahnaz that all the great religions of the world have at their heart the same spiritual truths. They all tell us in one way or another that this material world is not all there is. It is not even the most important aspect of reality, in spite of all its vivid but deceptive richness. The realm of the spirit is the deepest reality and the greatest truth. We are fatally mistaken if we believe otherwise. We will be sleep walking. We will be in a dream.

Bahá’u’lláh writes: ‘If ye be seekers after this life and its vanities you should have sought them while you were still enclosed in your mother’s womb for at that time ye were continually approaching them, could ye but perceive it. You have, on the other hand, ever since you were born and attained maturity, been all the while receding from the world and drawing closer to dust. Why then exhibit such greed for amassing the treasures of the earth when your days are numbered and your chance is well-nigh lost? Will ye not then, O heedless ones, shake off your slumber?’

And her guiding light also showed her that, just as there only one God and the core of all the great religions is the same, humanity is also one. We are all brothers and sisters of the same divine parent, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden.

As Bahá’u’lláh explains: ‘Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.’ We are all linked together spiritually so that this world, this whole planet, is in reality one country. This means that we are all required to take responsibility for the welfare of all humanity.

It follows then, as Bahá’u’lláh instructs us, that we must not lay ‘on any soul a load that [we] would not lay on [ourselves]’ and we must not desire for anyone the things that we would not desire for ourselves.

Even more than all this, Shahnaz’s steps were guided by the understanding that we cannot solve any of the problems the world is facing now if we do not deeply understand our spiritual connection with every other soul on earth, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality.

To express this understanding in action requires more than being kind to our neighbours or performing individual acts of charity, important as these are. We also need the coordinated action of large numbers of people across the world from every different background.

We can only rise to the challenges now confronting us worldwide by working together, and this requires us to find a way of remembering at all times everywhere that we are one, and of remembering always wherever we are that we must be united in our efforts, regardless of our apparent differences, all of us joining hands in our service to all humanity. We will never create peace and prosperity without this kind of unity in diversity that transcends all differences and makes collective action possible across the whole world. The Bahá’í World Centre spelt it out in 2001 in no uncertain terms:

Humanity’s crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age. It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family. Commitment to this revolutionizing principle will increasingly empower individual believers and  . . . . institutions alike in awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

Only in that way, everyone joining hands together across all cultures, can we build a better world and create a secure future for our children even though this will be the work of centuries. I believe that this is what Shahnaz’s life can show us. This is what her life can inspire us to keep on working to achieve even if it takes us many generations.

And we should not think that she has done all that she can to help us. Bahá’u’lláh writes: ‘When it leaveth the body, however, [the soul] will evince such ascendancy, and reveal such influence as no force on earth can equal. Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness.’ Bahá’ís believe that those who have passed on are still standing by to assist us. In that sense dear Shahnaz is at our side empowering us to follow in that same path of service which distinguished her in life.

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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. This post was first published in 2009. 

Excessive Individualism

The Children’s Society‘s recent report has once again highlighted the issue of whether our society is damaging children: this time the focus is on the self-centred individualism of too many of its adults.

BBC News Online, on Monday 2 February reported on this in these words:

According to the panel, “excessive individualism” is to blame for many of the problems children face and needs to be replaced by a value system where people seek satisfaction more from helping others rather than pursuing private advantage.

Layard and Dunn, in an article in the  Sunday Times on 1st February unpack aspects of what this means. They describe four styles of parenting and point out what they feel is the optimal:

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.

They also refer to other things such as mutual respect, commitment and education in parenting.

Soul-Stirring Message

Working with Children

Working with Children

In April 2000 a message of great passion and power emanated from the Universal House of Justice. It included these words about children:

Our children . . . .  should not be left to drift in a world so laden with moral dangers. In the current state of society, children face a cruel fate. Millions and millions in country after country are dislocated socially. Children find themselves alienated by parents and other adults whether they live in conditions of wealth or poverty. This alienation has its roots in a selfishness that is born of materialism that is at the core of the godlessness seizing the hearts of people everywhere. The social dislocation of children is in our time a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition – it cuts across them all. It grieves our hearts to realise that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as labourers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimisation too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation. 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.

Since then the world-wide Bahá’í community has been striving to mobilise itself more effectively. We are seeking to create an increased capacity, both within the ranks of the Faith’s adherents and within the throngs of people who also feel passionately about the future of our children and young people, so that we can throw our weight behind this absolutely critical work of nurturing our children and protecting them from the worst consequences of our mistakes, work which is so close to the hearts of so many of the world’s billions.

The message of April 2000 went on to say:

The necessity exists, too, for individuals and . . .  institutions at all levels, which is to say the community as a whole, to show a proper attitude towards children and to take a general interest in their welfare.

What is true for us is, of course, true for everyone.

What Can We Do?

Is there more that we can do than is already being suggested?

Clearly there is. Many communities, organisations and religious groups have asked themselves this same question and are moving heaven and earth to address this critical issue. The Bahá’í Community has done the same. The whole community is supporting an educational programme for the education of children and youth (there are two posts being republished on this topic soon). There are other initiatives that have been taken as well. A good example in the UK is the Swindon Youth Empowerment Project.

The Project offers experiences designed to enable young people to came into contact with themselves as spiritual beings, as ‘… a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.’ The overall aim of the project is to develop a “Healthy Human Spirit” and it is inspired by the principles of the Bahá’í Faith as a service to the community. It sees  every child as ‘potentially the light of the world.’ However because a child is also potentially ‘its darkness’

the question of education [should] be accounted as of primary importance. From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God’s love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host.

(Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Section 103)

The project draws on the words of the 2004 OFSTED Report to define its purpose as:

… the training of good human beings, purposeful and wise, themselves with a vision of what it is to be human and the kind of society that makes that possible.

A recent book by Viv Bartlett – Nurturing a Healthy Human Spirit in the Young gives an excellent account of the youth empowerment process. In his introduction he explains the overall purpose (page xx):

The main aim of this book, then, is to focus on the human spirit in the young. It argues that this spirit needs ‘light’ to function properly and that it is entirely incapable of releasing its inestimable potential without it. It is a book about ‘turning this light on,’ in terms of those insights, understandings and relationships that every young person craves, whether disaffected, troubled or not, even though they may not be aware of what it is that keeps them ‘in the dark.’

Unremitting Effort

cc-2

Tending the Needs of Children

Wherever we are able to throw our weight behind this wheel, we have to be aware that it is not the work of a day, a month, a year or even a decade. This work will take a generation and beyond to accomplish. It will not be achieved by governments, though they can help it along. It will not be achieved by schools and colleges alone, though they need to be in there working at it, as some of them do. It is not just for youth leaders and charities though their efforts are essential and highly praiseworthy. Even parents are not the only ones upon whom this responsibility weighs.

This work is for all of us to contribute to in some way or other, if not by work then by money, support, encouragement or prayer –  or whatever else we can do, however little it may seem to be.

If we do not then how else can we as a society respond to

. . . . 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.

Or realise

. . . 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.

(From  a letter written by the Universal House of Justice: 20 October 2008)

We none of us can do this by ourselves. But just imagine what can be achieved if everyone in this country and throughout the world does just a little. Together we can build a future for our children. It is not yet too late. Is there any work more important than this?

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Excessive Individualism

The Children’s Society‘s recent report has once again highlighted the issue of whether our society is damaging children: this time the focus is on the self-centred individualism of too many of its adults.

BBC News Online, on Monday 2 February reported on this in these words:

According to the panel, “excessive individualism” is to blame for many of the problems children face and needs to be replaced by a value system where people seek satisfaction more from helping others rather than pursuing private advantage.

Layard and Dunn, in an article in the  Sunday Times on 1st February unpack aspects of what this means. They describe four styles of parenting and point out what they feel is the optimal:

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.

They also refer to other things such as mutual respect, commitment and education in parenting.

Soul-Stirring Message

Working with Children

Working with Children

In April 2000 a message of great passion and power emanated from the Bahá’í World Centre. It included these words about children:

Our children . . . .  should not be left to drift in a world so laden with moral dangers. In the current state of society, children face a cruel fate. Millions and millions in country after country are dislocated socially. Children find themselves alienated by parents and other adults whether they live in conditions of wealth or poverty. This alienation has its roots in a selfishness that is born of materialism that is at the core of the godlessness seizing the hearts of people everywhere. The social dislocation of children is in our time a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition – it cuts across them all. It grieves our hearts to realise that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as labourers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimisation too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation. 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.

Since then the world-wide Bahá’í community has been striving to mobilise itself more effectively. We are seeking to create an increased capacity, both within the ranks of the Faith’s adherents and within the throngs of people who also feel passionately about the future of our children and young people, so that we can throw our weight behind this absolutely critical work of nurturing our children and protecting them from the worst consequences of our mistakes, work which is so close to the hearts of so many of the world’s billions.

The message of April 2000 went on to say:

The necessity exists, too, for individuals and . . .  institutions at all levels, which is to say the community as a whole, to show a proper attitude towards children and to take a general interest in their welfare.

What is true for us is, of course, true for everyone.

What Can We Do?

Is there more that we can do than is already being suggested?

Clearly there is. Many communities, organisations and religious groups have asked themselves this same question and are moving heaven and earth to address this critical issue. The Bahá’í Community has done the same.

A good example in the UK is the Swindon Youth Empowerment Project.

The Project offers experiences designed to enable young people to came into contact with themselves as spiritual beings, as ‘… a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.’ The overall aim of the project is to develop a “Healthy Human Spirit” and it is inspired by the principles of the Bahá’í Faith as a service to the community. It sees  every child as ‘potentially the light of the world.’ However because a child is also potentially ‘its darkness’

the question of education [should] be accounted as of primary importance. From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God’s love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host.

(Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Section 103)

The project draws on the words of the 2004 OFSTED Report to define its purpose as:

… the training of good human beings, purposeful and wise, themselves with a vision of what it is to be human and the kind of society that makes that possible.

Unremitting Effort

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Tending the Needs of Children

Wherever we are able to throw our weight behind this wheel, we have to be aware that it is not the work of a day, a month, a year or even a decade. This work will take a generation and beyond to accomplish. It will not be achieved by governments, though they can help it along. It will not be achieved by schools and colleges alone, though they need to be in there working at it, as some of them do. It is not just for youth leaders and charities though their efforts are essential and highly praiseworthy. Even parents are not the only ones upon whom this responsibility weighs.

This work is for all of us to contribute to in some way or other, if not by work then by money, support, encouragement or prayer –  or whatever else we can do, however little it may seem to be.

If we do not then how else can we as a society respond to

. . . . 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.

Or realise

. . . 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.

(From  a letter written by the international council of the Bahá’ís: 20 October 2008)

We none of us can do this by ourselves. But just imagine what can be achieved if everyone in this country and throughout the world does just a little. Together we can build a future for our children. It is not yet too late. Is there any work more important than this?

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