“In clusters at an early stage of development, it is possible to work with a core group of believers—say five to ten—and by giving them a vision of the framework, assisting them to make plans, and accompanying them in teaching and other acts of service, set in motion a process that will lead to sustained growth. One should never underestimate what a handful of capable tutors can do and how effectively they can respond to growth and raise up new human resources. The vital component of such an incipient growth program is an emphasis on teaching, which needs to be present from the start. Again, this is a key element of learning from clusters with intensive programs of growth. Those that have attained a healthy, sustainable growth pattern are characterized by a focus on teaching, in particular direct teaching, and not just on extending invitations to core activities. Where intensive programs of growth have stalled at a plateau of low numbers of enrollments, the dimension missing from the framework for action is direct, collective teaching.”
“Yet, although many admire your dynamism and ideals, the true significance of these endeavours is less apparent to the world at large. You, however, are aware of your part in a mighty, transforming process that will yield, in time, a global civilization reflecting the oneness of humankind. You know well that the habits of mind and spirit that you are nurturing in yourselves and others will endure, influencing decisions of consequence that relate to marriage, family, study, work, even where to live. Consciousness of this broad context helps to shatter the distorting looking glass in which everyday tests, difficulties, setbacks, and misunderstandings can seem insurmountable. And in the struggles that are common to each individual’s spiritual growth, the will required to make progress is more easily summoned when one’s energies are being channelled towards a higher goal—the more so when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal.”
“It is important to note that, as a programme of growth is being brought into existence, an emergent community spirit begins to exert its influence on the course of events. Whether activities are scattered across the cluster or concentrated in one village or neighbourhood, a sense of common purpose characterizes the endeavours of the friends. Whatever level of organization served to channel the early manifestations of this spirit, the systematic, coordinated multiplication of core activities necessitates that higher levels soon be attained. Through various measures, greater structure is lent to activity, and initiative, shaped largely by individual volition before, is now given collective expression. A complement of coordinators appointed by the institute moves into place—those for study circles, for junior youth groups, and for children’s classes. Any order of appointment is potentially valid. Nothing less than an acute awareness of circumstances on the ground should make this determination, for what is at stake is not compliance with a set of procedures but the unfoldment of an educational process that has begun to show its potential to bring about the spiritual empowerment of large numbers.”
A recent study by Oxfam provided some striking data regarding growing disparities of wealth and poverty within and between countries around the globe:
50% of the world’s wealth is now owned by 1% of the population.
This richest 1% has 65 times as much combined wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.
The world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the population.
10% of the population controls 86% of all the assets in the world, while the poorest 70% control only 3% of assets.
The amount of wealth hidden in secret tax shelters is estimated to be $18.5 trillion, which exceeds the entire GDP of the richest country on earth (US GDP = $15.8 trillion).
In the US, the richest 1% of the population captured 95% of new wealth generated after the 2007 financial crisis, while the bottom 90% became poorer.
The combined wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people exceeds the total cost of stimulus measures implemented across the EU between 2008 and 2010.
The report goes on to show that these growing income disparities are being seen in most democratic countries today and it attributes this trend to “political capture” – or the control of political institutions by the wealthiest segments of society, who are re-writing national and international laws and policies in ways that serve only their narrow self-interests.
Which raises an important question: what can be done to reverse these trends?
The Oxfam report suggest that “popular politics” – or the political mobilization or poor and working classes in support of progressive taxation as well as investments in education, health, and other public services – will be needed to reverse such trends.
I fully agree that progressive taxation as well as investments in education, health, and other public services are essential. But achieving and sustaining these kinds of advances will require much more than “popular politics.” This is because the underlying problem is, in part, structural.
Western liberal democracies are structured according to the logic of interest-group competition. When governance is organized in this way – as a contest for power – it will always be divisive and dysfunctional at best, oppressive at worst.
For reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere, electoral contests invariably invite the corrupting influence of money; they diminish the inclusion and participation of historically marginalized individuals or groups; they reduce complex issues down to manipulative slogans; and they ignore the well-being of the masses of humanity.
Stated another way, when governance is organized as a contest for power, it will inevitably result in political capture.
Popular political mobilization will, in exceptional historical circumstances, result in temporary advances for the cause of social justice and economic equity. But the long-term trends will continue to be characterized by the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people – as the history of the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries abundantly demonstrates.
These trends cannot be reversed merely through popular mobilization within current political structures. They will only be truly reversed when the organizing logic of interest-group competition is replaced with a new structural logic, derived from consciousness of the oneness of humanity — or recognition of the organic unity and interdependence of the entire social body.
It is, therefore, toward the cultivation of this consciousness, and the construction of new models of governance that are coherent with it, that we need to bend our energies in the long-term, if we hope to truly reverse the deeply troubling trends identified in the Oxfam report.
Compiled by youth serving in three focus neighborhoods around Harris cluster, the agenda represents the questions that arise from experience by those laboring shoulder to shoulder, not in the abstract, with animators and junior youth in the field of service. Please reflect on these agenda items as a teaching team, prepare responses on the basis of your shared experience since the last reflection gathering, and divvy up the topics amongst your team members to encourage universal participation. Thoughtful reflections, stumbling blocks and how they became stepping stones, beautiful pictures and audiovisual presentations are all welcome! Looking forward to seeing you!
Harris County Cluster
Neighborhood Reflection Gathering
18:00, 8 Sultan 170 B.E.
Attendees: ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________ __________ __________
(Agenda derived from consultation with indigenous and visiting youth who are serving at the grassroots in focus neighborhoods)
Each team please present an update on your experience and learnings since the last reflection gathering. Please share your team’s prepared responses to the questions below, having divided the questions up amongst the group members.
- Frequency and regularity of meetings: How can we extend our grassroots neighborhood mode of learning to other spheres of operation, like our reflection meetings? Discuss the frequency and regularity of the teaching team’s meetings and how its focus on the messages of the Universal House of Justice in weekly cycles of action, reflection and consultation has led to increased intensity.
- Focus and Act on the Messages of the Universal House of Justice: Has our understanding of the implications of Revelation increased manifold by joining study and service? In the field of service, what knowledge has been put to test? What knowledge has been generated out of practice? How can we make our gatherings such as the one we will have an instrument to diffuse that knowledge more effectively?
- Three Challenges and Three Overcomings: Have we seen how progress is achieved through the dialectic of crisis and victory? Describe three challenges or crises your group has faced and three ways you overcome those challenges and it led to victory?
- Application of 3 month cycles: How the groups are using the three month cycles to expand and then consolidate? Describe the cycles of activity to which we are all aspiring, and what we have done to emulate it.
- Discussion/stories of:
- Books: How have the animators inculcated a meaningful discussion of the lessons with the JY? What are some of the adversities faced? How has the group overcome them?
- How to create and maintain focus and participation in the JY group
- Tactics for increasing participation
- Healthy incentives and rewards
- How to create and maintain focus and participation in the JY group
- Maintain discipline
- Dealing with youth who distract or disrupt others
- Enforcing rules – going over them periodically (Book 5, section 3)
- Form strong bonds of friendship to eliminate the need for discipline
- Parents: How has the group articulated the purpose of the JYSEP to parents in the community? What are some challenges encountered? How has the group overcome them?
- Discussion in different languages? Overcoming language barriers.
- What concepts are most key to eliciting parental support?
- Methods of expanding JY membership and number of groups
- Conversations that were formative for relationships with Junior Youth
- Overcoming prejudices of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status within the neighborhood
- Usage of the arts
- Incorporate singing – powerful in assisting memorization
- Drawing, Drama, Painting, Composing Music/Rap,
- Service Projects: what projects have been attempted and how did it go?
- Books: How have the animators inculcated a meaningful discussion of the lessons with the JY? What are some of the adversities faced? How has the group overcome them?
- Long-term goals
- Home-front pioneering: How we are investing long-term in transformation and investigating realities conducive to home-front pioneer, in which youth commit a year or two to live in the communities where the grassroots movements are occurring?
- Empowerment of indigenous youth: How are we empowering local youth, those who are indigenous to neighborhoods, to take full ownership of the JY program, as well as empowering them in the consultation, action, and reflection cycle?
“O people of Justice! Be as brilliant as the light, and as splendid as the fire that blazed in the Burning Bush. The brightness of the fire of your love will no doubt fuse and unify the contending peoples and kindreds of the earth…”
Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. In this way evil galvanizes the forces of good that lead to its own destruction. Historically speaking, human experience creates the separation of good from evil, which in the fullness of time are one. For those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, see the end in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.
Favelas of Brazil: Adjacent Extremes of Wealth and Poverty
90 days after the completion of the Houston leg of the Historic 95 + 19 youth conferences around the world, a reflection gathering for youth was held in Houston (Harris County) cluster to reflect on experience gained through action based on plans drawn at the conference. One member of our teaching team shared the following powerpoint presentation summarizing features of the process, our experience, and some salient insights. Click on the presentation below, entitled “The Process of Growth” to follow along in your own cluster with what was done in Harris County to start a neighborhood movement with no prior indigenous contacts and no prior experience.
Hopefully some approaches, methods, and instruments employed will be helpful to others striving to implement the provisions of the Five Year plan in localities around the world. Amongst such helpful topics may have been: a systematic survey of residential areas near members of the teaching team’s homes or workplaces, the use of online resources such as google maps and city-data.org for surveying large expanses of population demographics quickly from behind a computer desk, tenacity in trying numerous neighborhoods before committing to one long term for junior youth program development, structured cycles of weekly action-reflection-consultation/study-planning is highly conducive to increasing teaching team intensity.
We also found it helpful to meditate on such phrases as this,
“Invariably, opportunities afforded by the personal circumstances of the believers initially involved—or perhaps a single homefront pioneer—to enter into meaningful and distinctive conversation with local residents dictate how the process of growth begins in a cluster.” ~Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010
“To follow a path of service, whatever form one’s activity assumes, requires faith and tenacity. In this connection, the benefit of walking that path in the company of others is immense. Loving fellowship, mutual encouragement, and willingness to learn together are natural properties of any group of youth sincerely striving for the same ends…” ~Universal House of Justice, 1 July 2013
Reflection on Junior Youth Group and Children’s Class 11/9/2013
After our expansion phase, which consisted of scouting 6 different neighborhoods in the Houston medical center area, and gauging the receptivity of indigenous populations to participating in the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, our teaching efforts advanced more rapidly in one neighborhood that exemplified certain characteristics we have come to associate with receptivity. Our neighborhood accurately represents the reality of a large majority of the world’s population. It is a humble place. The inhabitants are predominantly Spanish-speaking, 1st generation immigrant families, that have resisted urban decay and cultural disintegration in a modernizing world. It consists mainly of apartment complexes that are higher in density than a suburb. It is near downtown and the medical center where a number of young professionals are employed and can commute or home-front pioneer conveniently. The socioeconomic status is best described as working-class. Online census data helped in assessing transiency rates and, importantly, the density per capita of eleven-to-fifteen year olds.
We have established a Junior Youth group and Children’s Class in our neighborhood with a measure of consistency. Mindful that being systematic and process-oriented conduces to community building, our teaching team prefers humble efforts that are undertaken frequently, multiple times per week. Our process consists of weekly cycles of study, planning, action, and reflection. We have studied Messages from the Universal House of Justice, December 28 and Ridvan 2010. Since the burst of expansion, which strained every nerve and tested the resolve of our team, we have become more comfortable with a heightened level of intensity.
Our plans are to fortify the increase in ranks which we experienced as a result of the expansion phase. From the perspective of the educational process, this will entail the completion of our study of the workbook ‘Glimmerings of Hope’ with our Junior Youth group and the Lessons of Ruhi Book 3 for Grade 1 with our Children’s Class. Beyond curricula, insightful service opportunities are hoped to draw us further into the life of our neighborhood. Reading our reality, the identification of suitable venues for home-front pioneers to relocate and the recruitment of full-time youth year-of-service volunteers remains a significant landmark on our horizon. Multiplying the number of Junior Youth groups and core activities to include study circles and devotional gatherings from among parents and older siblings will raise indigenous human resources that can ensure the sustainability of the system. Empowering the masses to take ownership of their own material and spiritual destiny is the result of grass-roots capacity-building nurtured by a rhythm of community life proportional to an expanding nucleus of individuals committed to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a new World Order.
11/9/2013 – Gathering Our Community
11/9/2013 – Junior Youth Group: ‘Glimmerings of Hope’ Lesson Two: Ethnic Cleansing in Kibomi’s Village
11/9/2013 – Junior Youth Group: Consultation: Ground Rules
11/9/2013 – Ground Rules Contract with Signatures
11/9/2013 – Children’s Class: Coloring
11/9/2013 – Children’s Class: Story
11/9/2013 – Coloring and Prayer
11/9/2013 – Team Huddle
11/9/2013 – Sports: Boys Playing Football
11/9/2013 – Parents Supporting on the Sidelines
11/9/2013 – Sports: Dodge ball
11/9/2013 – Walking to Class – David, Anahi, Leisha
11/9/2013 – Nicholas
11/9/2013 – Beto & Anthony
Some facts are based on principle, others follow from empirical evidence. The economic and social order of the industrial world no longer considers universal welfare the object of its deliberations and actions. This has been, in part, the result of a self-centered design by the elite few whose underhanded influence upon government has seen a cancerous variant of capitalism eat into the vitals of democratic representation. However, this is also because a general unity of values, discourse, and global consensus on the part of the masses of people was lacking. Blame should be carefully laid where it can be demonstrated, to avoid exaggerating the culpability of those who exploited a situation that lacked unity of vision. Particularistic forces operated in a way that profited themselves according to an institutionalized design. The measure of their selfishness may neither have exceeded nor been exceeded by the selfishness of the masses. Outcome inequalities in access and opportunity may have resulted from a difference in power which enables them to acquire the structural changes anyone would seek in accordance with a morality of chaos that is fragmented into isolated individuals, in which each individual pursues their own personal benefit. This was and continues to be the dominant moral order. A differential of moral culpability may not have existed; only a power differential, between the soon-to-be elite, and the masses. But all animals exist in a state of power struggle with others. What worm declines to struggle against the crushing weight of a lion’s paw on his hunting sprint? If all people were universally selfish in the years leading up to the current accumulation of financial and social capital in the hands of a minuscule minority, then the current outcry should not be identified with the voice of justice, but is better anthropomorphised as the objection of losers. Culpability cannot be placed at the feet of the victors, soley due to their disproportionate privilege. Culpability must be placed equally at the feet of all who engaged in a jungle-style war of the fittest evolutionary specimen in the selfish and competitive world of social Darwinism. Anyone who competed in the game of selfishness contributed to the downfall of our moral order, and its institutionalization of unequal access and opportunity. If all humans were equally guilty in the years leading up to the injustice of our world order, then all can be declared equally innocent in this day, when all humankind is awakening to the reality of what our selfish ways have wrought. Humankind is now waking up from its great folly and opening its eyes to the beneficence of a new value system. The value systems of the future are based upon the acute awareness of the spiritual reality of humankind and therefore our essential oneness. The realization of the many inadequacies of the individualistic, competitive, materialistic paradigm is tearing away the veils from our eyes. In temporary moments of adjustment to blinding sunlight most social theorists are stunned, awed, and bewildered. There is need for a time of self-examination after our confidence in our identity has been shaken. The social theory that we touted for over half a century with such apparent promise, and in which we invested so much of our hopes and faith, now sags under mounting evidence that it is the source of a world-wide atrocity against all humankind, and the perpetrator of an ever-expanding abyss that divides a quickly shrinking wealthy elite from the masses of impoverished people mired in hopeless want. Bewilderment, gives way to search, and search to love of a philosophy of universal brotherhood and institutionalized philanthropy, based on the concepts of a spiritual human identity, global unity, justice for all, and insightful theories as opposed to economics as the central feature of social existence. These concepts enable a renewed commitment on the part of people, institutions, and communities to the common well-being of humankind.
In the application of this new theory, we are not allowed to assign to the masses again a role of passive obedience to the will of an elite minority, this time a minority who understands the need for the common resources of earth (material and human) to be devoted to the universal well-being of all equally. This minority, no matter how well intentioned will prove to be no different from the minority that was responsible for the individualstic, competitive system of consumerism that produced so much senseless suffering and injustice in the world. No doubt they too had noble intentions with the start of their enterprise (Indeed their theory maintained that the greatest amount of total prosperity resulted from each person striving to achieve the most comfortable life for himself or herself). No, rather must the revolutionary theory of human unity, equality, and spirituality be implanted in the lives of all people through the patient but methodical action and reflection of all people collectively in their respective spheres of endeavor to the problems facing them in their social, economic, agricultural, health care, and educational lives. Only this way will the empowerment of a people become a wide-spread and global phenomenon, which alone can be responsible for elevating a civilization out from the mire in which a half-century of greed, domination, and war has imprisoned it. The masses will have a fundamental role in the transformation of our world forward.
New theories are important, but structures must be coherent with those theories if they are to have a positive effect. Love cannot be maintained by force. Peace cannot be achieved through war. Similarly, justice cannot be achieved through injustice. Through principle we always knew, and through experience we have come to learn, that means must always be expressed in a way that is morally consistent with our ends. Equality cannot be achieved by a few. For, those few in perceiving the endpoint of a just social order, and seeking to impose that endpoint on multitudes of other people, will thereby ironically become the unknowing perpetrators of a tyrannical world order. Foreknowledge of outcomes is not always necessary to be a good man, in many instances adherence to moral principles is sufficient. A revolution for the people must ultimately be conducted by the people. Where the people are activists only and not thinkers in the formulation of transformation, they continue to occupy the position of the manipulated and their leaders, though purportedly advocating a moral order free of manipulative dynamics, are in fact inwardly becoming the oppressor class of a new totalitarian regime.
What is the role of “leadership” then, in the path to a just social order? As opposed to giving society its structure and overall direction, the function of the new leadership is to convene those settings in which selfless consultation can take place, to coordinate the interface and representation of all human needs equally, and to safegard the process of democratic decision making. The new leadership is a shepherd, walking beside the flock, not a fox, herding them toward exploitation. Reflection and action are as intrinsic to the masses as success is to revolution–without it, tyranny supplants tyranny without any change in human fortunes. Ironically, the act of compelling the masses to serve a revolutionary goal, falsifies the goals of the transformation, and robs it of its intended nobility. The oppressed maintain their status as oppressed under a new master, and the elite are merely exchanged for a minority with another lingo, and another vocabulary for justifying their indulgence. The means must be coherent with the ends, to truly vindicate those ends in the long run. It is a strange law built into the fabric of the universe, that morality is not utilitarian, but always will be, deontological. No matter how good the justification for a crime may be, God has made up His mind, that unsound means shall never serve His holy Ends. If leadership is committed to the unity and equality of all humankind, it recognizes that its reflection and action must walk hand in hand with the reflection and action of the masses.