The current events taking place throughout the world — most prominently the social and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic; and the social unrest sparked from a deep sense of systemic racism, being expressed through mass protests and riots — brings to mind a perspective offered by taking the long view of humanity’s long and checkered history. Humankind has been slowly, and painfully, moving along a developmental process, from toddler-like tribes and bands, to childhood-like city-states and ancient kingdoms, to the now adolescent-like conception of identity as one’s nation or race. The next stage in this developmental struggle is the mature stage of the oneness of humankind.
The principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, however, is not “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.” In short, it “asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations. It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society.”
Below are but a few such relationships within society, and how adolescent they currently are.
“The deepening environmental crisis, driven by a system that condones the pillage of natural resources to satisfy an insatiable thirst for more, suggests how entirely inadequate is the present conception of humanity’s relationship with nature“
“The deterioration of the home environment, with the accompanying rise in the systematic exploitation of women and children worldwide, makes clear how pervasive are the misbegotten notions that define relations within the family unit“
“The persistence of despotism, on the one hand, and the increasing disregard for authority, on the other, reveal how unsatisfactory to a maturing humanity is the current relationship between the individual and the institutions of society“
“The concentration of material wealth in the hands of a minority of the world’s population gives an indication of how fundamentally ill-conceived are relationships among the many sectors of what is now an emerging global community.”
“The principle of the oneness of humankind implies, then, an organic change in the very structure of society” — “a change such as the world has not yet experienced.”
It requires a complete and whole transformation, both inward and outward, in both individual hearts and in collective culture — a transformation away from otherness and towards unity. All of human history has been characterized by “us” and “them”; any utility that that notion may have once had is ended. But, like all transformations, it takes time and is painful.
To try and understand an experience is not to dismiss it. The suffering, anger, frustration, pain, fear, emptiness, sadness, agony, that are all feeling is very real. But it is a real part of the painful process of the crumbling of a defective old world order and the birth of a new world order. For Bahá’ís, the writings say: “We must expect these things: It is becoming evident that the world is not yet through with its labor, the New Age not yet fully born, real Peace not yet right around the corner….All humanity is disturbed and suffering and confused; we cannot expect to not be disturbed and not to suffer–but we don’t have to be confused. On the contrary, confidence and assurance, hope and optimism are our prerogative. The successful carrying out of our various Plans is the greatest sign we can give of our faith and inner assurance, and the best way we can help our fellow-men out of their confusion and difficulties.”
What do we expect. The world is subject to the immutable law of change, from which nothing is exempt, not least social structures and practices. Barriers to progress will decay and erode under the persistent force of integration. All that we can do is to strive to lend our energies, our talents, our time, and our sincerity to the constructive processes of, brick by brick, building a new world civilization, animating by the principle of the oneness of humankind. As as the number of people sharing this commitment rise, slowly, but irresistibly, a new society will emerge. “Conscious of their high calling, confident in the society-building power which their Faith possesses, they press forward, undeterred and undismayed, in their efforts to fashion and perfect the necessary instruments wherein the embryonic World Order of Bahá’u’lláh can mature and develop. It is this building process, slow and unobtrusive, to which the life of the world-wide Bahá’í Community is wholly consecrated, that constitutes the one hope of a stricken society.”