- Empowerment - Governance - Oppression Discourse Human Nature Oneness Power

Framework that Shapes the Baha’i Approach to Political Involvement

For decades, the Universal House of Justice has been nurturing the development of the Baha’i community in Iran, guiding them through their persecution and assisting them to recognize the significance of their sacrifice and their opportunities to serve.  A few days ago, they sent a letter to the Baha’i of Iran.  Below are a few notes, paragraph by paragraph.


1. The message starts by acknowledging that wave after wave of persecution to this sorely tried community has only served to strengthen it. The larger Iranian community, itself oppressed, sees this injustice as destructive, while witnessing the Bahá’í community as a force of construction and calling for its full participation in the life of society.

2. From a political standpoint, the Bahá’í community has historically been cast as either rebels and foreign spies against the current regime or apathetic and withdrawn from social life. The House is providing comments on the Bahá’í attitude and approach towards politics to assist in the understanding of Iranian citizens regarding this subject.

3. Perspective on politics is tied to conception of history; humanity is approaching its threshold of maturity – the unification of the entire human race – and is currently in a period of unprecedented transition characteristic of the struggle to come of age. Latent powers and capacities are coming to light, and accepted conventions and cherished attitudes are being rendered obsolete by evolutionary imperatives.

4. These changes are the result of two interacting processes – one destructive, sweeping away barriers that block progress; one integrative, drawing diverse groups together for opportunities to cooperate. Bahá’ís strive to align themselves with the integrative forces.

5. This view of history underlies every endeavor.

6. The organizing principle of the imminent mature society is the oneness of humanity, though widely accepted today, is still in the early stages of reconceptualizing societal structural relationships – current ill-conceived notions of which are entirely inadequate and dangerous.

7. All peoples and nations will contribute to the transformation envisioned, and as unity will be progressively achieved in different social realms, structures reflecting political unity in diversity will take shape.

8. How can Bahá’ís best contribute to the civilization-building process?

9. Regarding its own growth and development, Bahá’ís are dedicated to a long-term process of learning to establish patterns of activity and structures that embody convictions based on the principle of the oneness of humanity, in which all are invited to participate. Those listed help form the conceptual framework in which Bahá’ís operate.

10. Because this process of learning must address numerous questions that arise (with many examples noted), a mode of operation characterized by action, reflection, consultation, and study of the Writings of the Faith and of patterns unfolding using scientific analysis has been adopted by Bahá’ís.

11. The direction of this process of learning is guided by Plans of the Universal House of Justice, broadly aimed at building capacity in protagonists to strengthen spiritual community life, address social and economic needs, and contribute to discourse, all with coherence.

12. The nature of the relationships of these protagonists – individuals, communities, and institutions — which lies at the heart of this process of learning, is cooperation rather than competition, is universal participation rather than spectators and powerful elite, is collective prosperity rather than irresponsible liberty.

13. The operation of power is involved in the relationships between these protagonists; yet the concept of power as domination and contest is antiquated. Rather, the human race contains a limitless capacity to transform through powers of the human spirit, such as love, unity, humility, purity, that can be released and channeled.

14. The Bahá’í community is not perfect, is not the embodiment of these ideals; it is gaining insights into them. It is not uninterested in social affairs nor unpatriotic, but its endeavor – which can be labeled as “idealistic” by some – is obviously deeply concerned for the good of humanity, hardly an objectionable effort by a group of people.

15. Involvement in society is another dimension to contributing to the advancement of civilization, which naturally must not contradict the first, in terms of principle or practice, in assumptions or action. Bahá’ís endeavor to associate with all people with joy, to promote unity, to serve humanity.

16. With these thoughts, Bahá’ís collaborate with others to promote human welfare, choosing means worthy of noble ends. They don’t impose religious convictions, yet do share lessons learned from their experience.

17. The convictions, beliefs, assumptions, and commitments detailed in the paragraphs above constitute the essential elements of the framework that shapes the Bahá’í approach to politics.

18. Bahá’ís don’t seek political power, won’t affiliate themselves with political parties or divisive agendas, and won’t accept political posts except those purely administrative in nature. However, humanity organizes itself through politics, and thus Bahá’ís vote, observe the laws of the land, and endeavor to uphold the standard of justice through lawful and non-violent means.

19. This approach enables the community to maintain cohesion and integrity and build its capacity to contribute to processes that promote peace and unity.

20. Participating further in the life of society is not without challenges, and the House of Justice prays for assistance from God in conversations regarding the framework articulated in this message, in collaborating with others, and in working towards betterment without compromising identity.


- Governance Knowledge

A Learning “State”

Continuing the discussion on governance and some principles that it is informed by, the last post on consultation leads to a key attribute that should characterize effective governance.  We know that human society is diverse, that its dynamics are becoming increasingly complex and interdependent, and therefore, that structures and organizational models must evolve in order to serve the needs of humanity.  It is crucial, then, that governance be approached in a mode of learning.

Previous posts have already discussed a culture of learning, and it is extremely important in the context of government.  Collective decisions made by institutions are always limited by the best insights available at the moment and by the individuals involved.  The limited factors seem to be 1) number of individuals, and 2) insights of individuals.  In order to make better and better decisions, all the plans and policies need to be tested against reality, within a social context or the community.  This will involve a large portion of people and generate immense insights.  Over time, decisions are refined as knowledge is advanced.  It is helpful to, again, use the analogy of a path of learning – and to view decisions as points of this path.  Institutions, just like individuals, can periodically reflect on decisions in light of experience, consult on them, adjust, create new policies, and test them.  Without adopting a humble posture of learning, any structure of governance will become obsolete and useless as quickly as social change.  And how fast is society changing?

Relevant to a learning mode within the context of governance is the idea that unity facilitates learning.  Current structural models of opposition and protest sabotage learning efforts.  If interest groups or factions are constantly competing and fighting against each other’s decisions and policies, then any attempt to learn from action is undermined.  (Not to mention all the energy dissipated in power struggles that could be used towards learning from action).  To properly implement policy within a mode of learning – action, reflection, consultation, and revision – requires a degree of unity to then scientifically and reasonably analyze the results of any plan without being biased by efforts to undermine it.  Otherwise, nothing looks like it works – and no strength can be built upon.

How do we foster a spirit of unity to enable social structures to operate in a learning mode?  

What are other characteristics required for governance to adopt a culture of learning?  

Do you see examples of organizations which learn?


- Governance Power

Alternative Elections

The idea of humanity as one, interconnected, interdependent, social body implies that each person is born into this world as a trust of the whole.  The role of governance, then, comes as an exercise of the power of collective trusteeship.  This idea of governance is irreconcilable with its current characteristics of competitive groups struggling for power to advance their own interests.  As our world has become highly socially, ecologically, and economically interdependent, the well-being of each part is dependent on the well-being of the whole.  The conception of government that is modeled after a contest for power – susceptible to economic corruption, diminishing the voice of the marginalized, and disregarding the interest of non-constituents including those unborn – has ceased to promote prosperity, has failed to address the needs of an evolving humanity, has served to oppress and divide.  Why continue?  Why cling?  Why allow humankind to suffer to keep an obsolescent system built on an anachronistic assumption?

One example of an alternate system is presented here, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that systems of governance don’t have to be contests of power.  The Baha’i community is developing a system that has proven effective in every culture, geographic location, and level of government.  It has an electoral process that is purely democratic yet free of competition – every adult is responsible to vote, is eligible for election, and has the duty to serve if elected.  There are no nominations, no campaigns, no parties; no manipulation, no slander, no economic influence.  Voters have the complete freedom to choose those who they think will serve the role the best – and these names are cast with secret ballot.  Those who are named most frequently on the ballot are then elected to serve on consultative institutions – and it is in these bodies where decision-making authority resides, and not with any individual elected member.  Of course, this system is evolving within a learning mode, and only works when certain conditions are met – for instance, that it is adopted in a voluntary manner and that certain values and commitments are cultivated in those participating (such as truthfulness, detachment, selflessness, and support of majority vote in decisions, just to name a few).

Where have you seen alternative models of governance that employ mature conceptions of power?  

What are ideas of how governance can be unifying?  How is power exercised in unifying and cooperative systems?


- Religion - Science - Three Protagonists Knowledge

Walking a Path

That one who generates knowledge can be likened unto a scout evokes images of walking a path, which perhaps can be an analogy to the process of generating and applying knowledge.  Let us expand on this analogy.  Firstly, walking a path is a collective enterprise, not an isolated act; a path invites the participation of many and can be known by all.  A path has an end point and necessitates a structured, defined, and logical progression forward; but the actual course is not a straight line – thus, progress is mapped out, by multiple groups, through periodic reflection on current position and factors, at which point, the course and direction can be adjusted.  In this way, uncharted territory and related lines of exploration can be charted, and a fuller picture of the landscape can be obtained.  Walking a path implies constant movement and active effort, and yet the pace is not fixed; all strides are accommodated.  Those who walk this path require skills and abilities, qualities and attitudes, and it is through walking with others that these capacities are developed, not in isolation or off the path – there is no “practice” path; all actions are within a social context.  And of course, this path is not mapped out from the beginning; the horizon in the distance beckons those who walk and provides the general direction and goal, while the lamps that illumine their footsteps are the systems of knowledge and practice of science and religion.

One note about pace.  Although it is fostering a natural and unified process of forward movement with others that is important, and not reaching the end goal in a disunified manner, still there must be value placed on the speed of exploration.  The rate of progress of organic social processes can be increased, while still maintaining requisite characteristics of unity, justice, and humility.  The relationships between individuals, communities, and institutions, all walking this path, and their ability to engage in an ongoing learning process – defined as consultation, action, reflection on action, and study of science and religion – is what will determine the pace of progress.  In short, as has been a theme throughout, the advancement of civilization is propelled by the generation of knowledge within a learning mode and the development of proper relationships between its three protagonists.

- Consultation Knowledge

Consultation and Objectivism / Relativism

Previous posts’ discussion on the concept of consultation shed some initial light on transcending the false dichotomy between objectivisim and relativism. Some knowledge has a foundational basis, that has an existence beyond the human mind, and through consultation, we can become increasingly attuned with these truths. However, our understanding will always be relative and incomplete at any given time and with any given group. The object of human study – reality – is complex and multifaceted, and every individual has a limited comprehension and perspective. Thus, the validity of a truth-claim put forth by one group of individuals is relative to the diverse perspectives from which each views the same foundational truth – and with this understanding, one can claim that all truth-claims have equal validity, for they are all relative.

However, to transcend the dichotomy implies that we must become more and more attuned to the actual truth. This necessitates methods of investigating reality that distinguish more attuned truth-claims from mistaken ones; more holistic truth-claims from non-coherent ones; deeper truth-claims from superficial ones. The goal is the process of validating, deepening, and integrating understandings of our one, interconnected, reality.

One such method is consultation. And one significant prerequisite, already discussed in connection with creating a culture of learning, is a posture of humility.

What are your thoughts? With your friends and co-workers, what methods of knowledge-generation do you see that moves beyond objectivism and relativism?

Human Nature Knowledge

Information, Understanding, Wisdom

Knowledge is distinct from information.  Facts are the raw materials of knowledge – just as brick and wood do not, in themselves, constitute the building itself but are shaped into a structure, so is knowledge a structured system.  The system of knowledge includes facts and information, and also includes concepts, hierarchies, connections, patterns, and concepts.
Knowledge and understanding are also not the same, though this distinction is subtle.  Understanding is a latent spiritual capacity bestowed upon every human being, through which an individual can gain knowledge; knowledge is only meaningful if accompanied with understanding.  For instance, there are laws and an order to nature – say, the physical universe.  Nature, obviously, cannot know the meaning of these laws, and is not conscious of this order; it simply abides.  Humanity, on the other hand, not only can know the laws of physics, but understand the meaning underlying their existence.  To know them is not enough; to understand them is to penetrate to their meaning.  Because the reality of human nature is the soul, and because understanding is a quality and faculty of the soul, the search for knowledge is concerned both with sharpening the powers of the mind and the powers of the soul.  A learning mode implies and requires a constant endeavor to develop one’s spiritual qualities.
An awareness of the powers and capacities of the soul, and their role in both knowledge acquisition and understanding, helps prevent an individual from adopting dangerous habits of thought – one in particular being the false dichotomy between mind and heart.  Though designations are useful in language to aid in comprehension of complex concepts, such as will, understanding, and knowing, rigid categorization only serves to limit the development of human potentialities – the human being is one; its diverse abilities are all coherent.
Wisdom is the result of knowledge accompanied by understanding; it connects knowledge with action and enables one to apply knowledge in various ways to a range of situations.  Thus, striving for wisdom is striving to fulfill one’s two-fold purpose in life: to develop spiritual capacities and qualities in the context of contributing to society and serving humanity.
How do you see information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom interact in daily life?