Sunday, February 13, 2011

An unfamiliar element in social organization

We are familiar with several forms of governance that have been devised and practiced by various societies. But there is at least one element in the way the Baha'i community organizes itself that sets it apart from all other systems, and that is the work of the institution of the Counsellors. In particular the Auxiliary Board members have a unique role to play in releasing the power resident in individuals to accomplish the necessary transformation in the life of the society in each neighborhood.

In the words of its Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, "The Bahá’í Commonwealth of the future, of which this vast Administrative Order is the sole framework, is, both in theory and practice, not only unique in the entire history of political institutions, but can find no parallel in the annals of any of the world’s recognized religious systems." [World Order of Baha'u'llah, page 152]

The Universal House of Justice has further explained that "The existence of the institution of the Hands of the Cause, and subsequently of the Counsellors, comprising individuals who play such a vital role in advancing the interests of the Faith, but who have no legislative, executive or judicial authority, and are entirely devoid of priestly functions or the right to make authoritative interpretations, is a feature of Bahá’í administration unparalleled in the religions of the past." [January 2001, Institution of the Counsellors, p. 3]

The Auxiliary Board members are members of a continental institution, but they work at the level of the individuals, communities and institutions in a cluster. Their task is to encourage disciplined action within the framework, and to empower - which is another word for releasing the inherent power of the individual. They also influence the thinking of individuals and institutions to help them discover the principles that lie at the foundation of the program for action.

The letter of 28 December 2010 from the Universal House of Justice in its 5th paragraph comments on the significant role played by the the Auxiliary Board members. It says that "To help the friends visualize this first important milestone, and the multiplicity of ways in which it can be reached, is central to the functioning of every Auxiliary Board member and an increasing number of his or her assistants."

In the work that is done by other organizations of civil society, by non-profits, or by governmental agencies, I can not point out to a similar feature. In fact those who are in authority, governmental institutions at any level, do not have a formal structure to provide dis-interested guidance and advice. There is of course plenty of people and organizations that seek to influence the thinking of a government. These often come in the form of lobbyists, and they represent not a dispassionate effort, but rather the promotion of the self interest of one group or another. To the extent that these groups can finance their efforts at lobbying the legislators or executors of policies, to that extent we see effective movement in the direction of their interests. In many societies this represents a corruption of the democratic process. Resources are then allocated to projects in proportion not of their priority for development, but of the extent of influence that could be exerted.

How vast is the difference between this and the scheme of consultative search for principles that is the foundation of the work of the institutions of the Baha'i Faith. 

The following 7 questions are suggested by the study of this paragraph.

1.     The Auxiliary Board members “are to elicit from the believers wholehearted participation in the Plan”. What other institutions are charged with this same task? 

2.     In many clusters “a dynamic process” is to be born. For this to happen the institutions should exercise what? How does this agility manifest itself? 

3.     What is the role of the assistants to the Auxiliary Board members?

4.     Can “this first important milestone” be reached in only one way? Enumerate a few ways to reach this milestone.

5.     Mention 4 qualities that are required of each Board member and his or her assistants?

6.     How is encouragement to be offered?

7.     What are the effects of “faith in the capacity”, “unqualified love”, “calm determination”, and “readiness to listen”?

Perhaps you can identify within your own cluster, or those that you may be familiar with, instances of hesitation where the friends would "step forward more tentatively" and you can trace the source of such hesitation and then see how each of the four methods that are mentioned in question 7 above can resolve the hesitation and lead to a more robust and enthusiastic service in the arena of action.

A study of the life of Baha'u'llah himself shows that He also used this very method, this tool for encouragement, upliftment and empowerment. He chose a few individuals, designated them as Hands of His Cause and sent them to work, along side a steady stream of visitors and teachers, to build a community that could progress in both material accomplishments and spiritual qualities.

Baha'u'llah wrote: "My object is none other than the betterment of the world and the tranquillity of its peoples. The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded" [Gleanings, page 287]

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