“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.
Click Here to download a word document of the Houston Neighborhood Reflection Gathering Agenda.
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.
“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
In the Junior Youth Workbooks the protagonists of the story provide an archetypal character to which every junior youth participant who studies the story can relate–they see themselves occupying a similar physical stage of development and social status, enjoying the same recreational and educational activities, and expressing the same life-goals and aspirations. They see inner tendencies of their own mind articulated openly for the first time and explored. It teaches them implicitly to care for and value the environment in which they live by extolling the natural beauty and divine handiwork manifest in the landscape and environs surrounding them. It paints an archetypal picture of partisanship or special interests that corresponds to the various oppressions people experience around world in their own society–whether it be through political corruption, social and economic injustice, racial prejudice (institutional or personal), or tribal war. It teaches them about economic patterns that may characterize certain types of jobs being filled by members of a single racial group–that find parallels in the migrant worker population in the US. The text teaches them, nevertheless, to see the nobility in all people, and to recognize the simple, profound, and beautiful dignity inherent in acts of hospitality, and a culture that has resisted urban decay in the modern era. In this, it teaches junior youth to look beyond the employment and economic status of an individual or community to find its worth or identity. The workbooks also draw attention to injustice of a systemic nature, that oppresses the people. It focuses attention on the elitism of privilege and the inequalities of opportunity and access to resources that are written into law and institutional policy. It then brings this description down to a personal level by focusing the junior youth’s attention on the familial and psychological consequences on the home-life and cultural integrity of a community.
The questions after the story highlight the pattern of similar interests, dreams, partisan conflict, passive involvement in its consequences, and the first-hand effects at home–that characterize the experience of junior youth living around the world.
The prayer that follows draws upon this description of the reality of junior youth and introduces the concept of supplication before God for protection–protection from those forces and injustices that so vividly plagued the world of Kibomi, and find parallel in our own lives, in all our countries. In conjunction with protection from external forces of evil, we must also be aware and protect against the evil that comes from within. In a literal sense–the germs and bacteria that invade the body and can cause disease as well as in a spiritual sense–the ethical decisions our soul and heart make on a daily basis to ingest or avoid alcoholic beverages or fill our brains with knowledge instead of ignorance and prejudice. In response to each topic the question can be asked, did Dr. Joseph Lister’s discovery of germ theory save us all from a fate of chronic infection by advising us to wash our hands before eating? And does the presence of an exploitative fast food restaurant on every street corner imply that we cannot plant local farms or pursue healthier alternatives for our nourishment? Do emotional sentiments such as rage or intense jealously, so common in popular media, have a biological consequence on our organ function and health? Is a scientific approach to understanding the causes of public health diseases conducive to a cure?
With regard to the ease and prevalence of alcoholic drinking culture , the Junior Youth should be encouraged to think critically. Is abstinence from both experimenting with alcohol and from places and people who are drinking a reliable method of protection? Is knowledge and continual remembrance of the pathologies, both biological and social, directly linked to alcohol consumption an effective internal instrument for our own motivation–pathologies such as liver failure and encephalopathy, malnutrition and poor dentition, drunkenness and violence, adultery and rape, and DUI and vehicular manslaughter? Is understanding the exploitative financial incentives of brewing companies and entertainment marketers behind the misrepresentations of commercial advertisements a source of empowerment?
With regard to the esotericization of knowledge behind university walls and credentials of false-merit–a control over a narrow form of knowledge that allows elites to justify pacification and neglect of the masses–the junior youth are encouraged to question and not blindly follow custom. Does an inquisitive mind that pursues the reasons for things open new possibilities for achievement that could not have been known otherwise? Does a humble posture of learning or an egocentric habit of assertion conduce more to prosperity? Does education, especially in these primary years, serve a fundamental purpose of which the Junior Youth should be active and appreciative protagonists? Is a competitive culture that shames a student who asks questions conducive to learning, or a collaborative spirit in which inquiry is the method of mutual discovery?
Multiplying Core Activities
After our teaching team formed a group for the moral and intellectual empowerment of junior youth we realized that too many children were distracting the endeavors of the Animators and Junior Youth. The spectacle of the Junior Youth having fun was attracting their younger siblings to the site of the activities. This obstacle was transformed into a stepping stone. The children were separated into another group and formed a children’s class not far from where the Junior Youth were working. We understood that the Junior Youth group could serve as a stimulus to growth of a larger movement, however, what happened followed no predetermined course. One core activity was given precedence, multiplying at a rate faster than the others, and naturally attracted children from the community into another core activity. In this way, the multiplication of core activities was achieved, organically.
Visiting teams are being called upon to teach the children’s classes on the basis of the Ruhi Book 3 Curriculum, and add impetus to the fledgling set of activities emerging in the neighborhood. Irrespective of the specifics, the outcome will be the same. Within this neighborhood plans are being made to invite participants to study circles and devotionals from amongst the youth and adults. Ultimately, the level of cohesion achieved among the core activities must be such that in their totality, a nascent program for the sustained expansion and consolidation of the Faith is perceived. Envisioning the First Milestone: accompanying Indigenous inhabitants of the neighborhood through the sequence of institute courses and into the field of service as animators, children’s class teachers, and hosts of devotional gatherings–committed to the vision of individual and collective transformation they foster.
Junior Youth Group: Anthony Volunteers to Answer the Question, “What problems does Alcohol bring?”
Children’s Class: Memorizing “O God, guide me, protect me,…”
Empowerment of Girls: Areseli and Liesha explain why knowledge and education protect us from ignorance.
Collective Gathering: After playing Dodgeball the group gathers to divide into Junior Youth Group and Children’s Class
Reflection: In a humble attitude of learning, confident in the unfailing grace of the Almighty, joining hands to accompany each another in service to His Cause.
In the 1 July 2013 Message of the Universal House of Justice, that beloved Body draws a connection between an individual’s engagement in the process of civilization-building and that individuals own personal development. The Letter states,
“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.”
The connection between devoting your efforts to community-building efforts at the grass roots and developing success in personal affairs, the House of Justice explains, lies in the qualities of mind and spirit that are developed in community work that are beneficial to personal affairs, and vice versa.
What qualities of mind and spirit do we think are beneficial to a fulfilling marriage? Patience, tact, wisdom, love. To happy family? Selflessness, integrity, faithfulness, devotion. To effective study? Discipline, consistency, humility, reverence. To fruitful work? Obedience, loyalty, honesty, dedication, innovation. To strategic choice of living location? Consciousness of the provisions of the plan, awareness of the exigencies of population demographics, perception of receptivity, and freedom from prejudice.
How does one develop patience, tact, wisdom, love? How does one develop selflessness, integrity, faithfulness, devotion? How does one develop discipline, consistency, humility, reverence? How does one develop obedience, loyalty, honesty, dedication, innovation? How does one develop consciousness of the provisions of the plan, awareness of the exigencies of population demographics, perception of receptivity, and freedom from prejudice? Can these be developed in a vacuum, by simply willing it to be so? Virtues, must be developed by habituation, by practice — virtue requires application.
From where can the will and opportunity to develop all these virtues be mustered? It does not seem possible that for the sake of things in themselves (marriage, family, study, work, home) that this will is effectively summoned. To wit, we submit the testimony of the unnumbered millions with failed marriages, families, academics, careers, and homes. Where can the will and training arena to develop all the qualities needed to succeed in personal milestones be found? The Universal House of Justice is proposing: in selfless service to the provisions of the 5 year plan the youthful individual positions him or herself success in all these things. The 1 July Letter states,
“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.”
Serving a higher goal, the creation of a New World Order, allows one to summon the will necessary to develop virtues. In practicing consultation one develops patience. In composing e-mails one develops tact. In navigating delicate situations one develops wisdom. In sacrificing for others one develops love and selflessness. In upholding others trust one develops integrity. In making good on one’s commitments one develops faithfulness. In prayer toward the common good one develops devotion. In punctuality one develops discipline. In tenaciously pursuing goals one develops consistency. In maintaining loving relationships one learns humility. In learning one acquires reverence. In instant, unquestioning servitude to the institutions one develops obedience. In defending the Covenant and protecting others from those who would harm it one develops loyalty. In communicating efficiently one avoid lies and becomes honest. In enduring service one become dedicated. In problem solving one becomes innovative. In studying the guidance one learns the provisions of the plan. In scouting focus neighborhoods one learns population demographics. In teaching the Cause one develops perception of receptivity. In living with diverse cultures and socio-economic statuses one develops freedom from prejudice. Serving alongside comrades, sharing in their sorrows and delights, supporting them in their struggles and victories, further reinforces the will. The qualities of mind and spirit needed for success in personal affairs are all developed in wholehearted service to the community that is laboring for social transformation and the erection of a divine civilization.
Coherence is the state of being in which multiple separate things are nevertheless linked through the products of their processes that are not only beneficial for the success of others, but necessary for it. The byproduct of community building is the necessary nourishment of personal success. As such, though they are separate things, they are one, as an ecosystem has parts, and yet is still one. Though animals and plants are distinct kingdoms, yet animals depend upon vegetation for their nourishment, and trees in turn rely upon pollination and dispersal by animal carriers to continue their life cycle. As such, the coherence that characterizes the balance of an ecosystem, is not unlike the coherence that characterizes the relationship between an individual’s personal affairs and his or her dedication to social welfare and public advancement.
Clearly then, the cycle would not be complete if civilization-building alone contributed to personal development and did not receive from it anything beneficial. Success in personal development contributes invaluably to the process of community building. Community building could not be carried in the absence of personal successes of individuals. It would be to allege that the work of advancing civilization could be carried out by disembodied souls. Human society advances as the result of human beings.
What qualities does a fulfilling marriage, a happy family, a prosperous occupation, and a strategic home-front pioneering position lend to the process of civilization building? A fulfilling marriage unleashes the powers of mind and speech upon which so many relationships that inspire organized community efforts depends. A happy family can anchor an entire community by providing moral leadership, organizing influence, for various age groups of activities for others to join, and a gathering center for other families. A prosperous occupation serves the community, inspires respect, conduces to dignity, and draws one into the economic and political context of the society one serves. A well selected home front pioneering position, allows one to serve the best interests of receptive populations and establish pockets of social action.
Personal developmental achievements are dedicated to the operation of collective advancement, and striving for social change generates the qualities of mind and spirit that conduce to prosperity in individual affairs. Society cannot advance without individuals who are knowledgeable and capable of serving its needs, and wholesome family units with careers and social influence cannot be raised without engagement with society. Neither branch of coherence is acceptable without the other, for neither can subsist in the absence of the other.
Collapsing the dichotomy of the two-fold moral purpose is the secret to achieving coherence. This is the reality of coherence.