by Dave Wellman
“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” –Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings (p 213)
Here’s an exercise in “What if…”
What if the cities and villages of Earth were populated by inventive and industrious people? What if these people were upbeat, even buoyant, in attitude? What if they applied their inventiveness, industry, and positive energy to the solution of the problems confronting them and their troubled kind? What if they worked hard toward that end, excited by the possibilities of making the world a better place, of increasing the justice in society, of advancing the state of human civilization? What if, coming from many backgrounds and cultures, they nevertheless found it easy, even natural, to assist each other in their efforts and to encourage others to join in? What if they found themselves to be more than allies, more than friends—in fact united, cemented by a common vision of human nobility and the conviction that we can all flourish together on our home planet?
If this were so, if the people of Earth were like this, couldn’t we solve the problems that now threaten us and our world with destruction? Couldn’t we find ways of producing food, building shelter, transporting ourselves, providing education and health care, and meeting all the needs of a robust society, without killing off other inhabitants of Earth or maiming the natural systems that sustain us?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then it follows that the problems of the world are, at their root, spiritual in nature. If specific problems have specific solutions, then the real threat is the inability of humanity to implement the solutions. We are not threatened so much by the pollution, the weaponry, the collapse of biological and meteorological systems, as we are by the greed, divisiveness, dishonesty, and apathy that allow those troubles to persist and to worsen. These conditions are internal, having to do with human motivations, with human conceptions of self and of purpose, and with prejudicial attachments to culture. Here is the domain of the spirit, and the rescue of the human endeavor must involve these intangibles as well as the more easily seen and identified menaces that spring from their dysfunction.
Recently, I attended a conference in Orlando, Florida, focused on social and economic development projects. These are projects, carried out by individuals or small groups, whose purpose is to improve the lives of others or to in some way ameliorate the conditions of the world. The conference theme was a call to such action: “Deeds, Not Words: Uniting the Spiritual and the Practical.” Inspiration came largely from the Ridvan 2010 message to the Bahá’ís of the world from the Universal House of Justice.
At this conference, the intangibles were falling into place, and the solutions could be seen to flow. Those intangibles represent a state of spiritual well-being—a gift, if you will, from the Creator to those who choose to accept—the vision of human nobility, the understanding that the purpose of life is service and that meaningful fulfillment is to be found on that path, and most of all the sense of unity that makes our collective life both livable and workable.
The conference sessions were populated with hundreds of good hearts and eager minds, some looking for the next step in their own lives, others sharing experiences or inviting participation in on-going projects. For the most part, these were not arm-chair enthusiasts, but willing and tested participants in the continuing struggle to salvage, restore, and refurbish the human house.
The conference addressed both the spiritual and the practical, the nuts-and-bolts backed by the conviction that, despite the sad state of current affairs, a vision of planetary wholesomeness is the horizon toward which humanity is stumbling. Plenary address topics illustrate this mix: “Building a Secure World — A Call to Action,” “Deeds, Not Words: Uniting the Spiritual and the Practical” (the overall theme of the conference itself), “Food, Poverty and Civilization: Reflections on Applying Spiritual Principles to Agricultural Development,” and “Faithful Environmental Stewardship: The Essential Contribution of Religion in Addressing the Environmental Crisis.” Breakout sessions explored a wide variety of concerns, for example: teaching human oneness in public schools, humanitarian work in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, responding effectively to natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Haiti. Musicians enlivened the proceedings with evening concerts that drew out the spirit and buffed it up.
It was encouraging and uplifting (two inadequate words) to be in the midst of so many real people tackling real problems with the spiritual and practical tools needed to succeed in the real world. The power of the Words of Bahá’u’lláh to unite and focus the human psyche and soul was on demonstration throughout the conference. It was this spiritual sparkle that was most provocative, because it is the necessary component to human success that in other forums is missing.
From the experience of this conference, it becomes easier to picture a healing Earth, a planet on the upswing which, mirroring the human civilization that adorns it, has yet to reach its full bloom of vigor and vitality.
So let’s, for a moment, revisit the “What if” exercise. It turns out, one might argue, that the world is, in fact, already populated with such people, not yet themselves aware.