Thursday, March 31, 2011

Advancing the frontiers of learning

We have a conceptual framework within which we act. This framework helps us focus our efforts, and it also provides us with a language with which to express our thoughts and actions. This same framework helps us think of the instruments that we deploy, of methods that we use, and to see progress in our work. We can describe our work in terms of development, and devise measures to read our society and its needs. We can also analyze our conditions and the results of our actions so that we learn what might best advance the interest of our communities. We can speak about community building, and about service to all members of our community in each neighborhood.

Such a framework is neither a rigid solid nor a shapeless liquid. It is not solid because it has to adapt to local conditions. We would like it to have a structure, but this structure should not be so rigid that it can not respond to particular circumstances in each cluster. So flexibility is built into its structure from the outset. And it is not a liquid, because liquids have no shape of their own, they adopt entirely to the shape of whatever vessel they are poured into. Our framework should help us transform our thoughts and actions, so it should not be so shapeless as to take the shape of whatever we were doing before. We cannot carry on with the same set of activities and in the same mindset and merely change the labels of these activities and call them with new names that conform to the new language.

So now the question arises that if our framework is not rigid then how and under what influences should it change and adapt to particular conditions? The answer to this question will have to be that our framework is an organic one, and it can evolve in response to our continued learning.

During the time of the Bab the mode of operation had to do with a call for a New Day. thousands responded to such summons. And they boldly proclaimed the advent of a New Day. Heroism and sacrifice on a grand scale was called for as the new community was oppressed and suppressed only to re-emerge more triumphantly. It penetrated other countries and found new adherents during the ministry of Baha'u'llah. It reached the West and was no longer an Eastern Movement during the time of the Master. It spread to much of the world, found its early supporters from every tribe and every country, and became a World Religion during the time of Shoghi Effendi. At each stage a different approach was adopted as the community learned to respond to the opportunities for transformation.

In US for example the number of adherents went from some 17000 to about 70000 during a brief period of 5 years, from 1968 to 1972. People in every state and from every walk of life were looking for something new. It was a period of confusion about distant wars and their long summer of discontent. Surely the message of universal peace resonated with their hopes and aspirations. They were young and restless and everything was possible. Once again from 1988 to 1992 some one million people around the world embraced the message of a new day. Growth is never steady or linear.

The framework for action should be flexible enough to respond to these needs, and yet structured enough to make sure the transformation has long term positive effects for community building. What we learn in one time period informs how the framework will evolve in a subsequent period.

The Universal House of Justice in its letter of 28 December 2010 describes a dynamic pattern. It starts in paragraph 4 to describe a program of growth starting with the introduction of one single person in a virgin cluster. It then describes the intensification of this program and traces its organic development through two milestones. Of all the clusters in the world that are engaged in this process of community development some will be at the very frontier of learning. It is here then that we must learn to advance this frontier. This then brings us to paragraph 12, which describes the historical context and the necessity for further evolution of the framework. It writes: "That the current approach to growth, effective as it is, must evolve still further in complexity and sophistication once it has taken root in a cluster, demonstrating ever more notably the "society-building power" inherent in the Faith, few would fail to recognize.”

Study of this paragraph suggests the following two questions:

1.     Describe the organic process comprising a series of approaches for the growth of the Faith from the time of the Bab to the present day. 

2.     How might “the current approach to growth” “evolve still further”? 

Abdu'l-Baha, while speaking in Paris, said: "Some men and women glory in their exalted thoughts, but if these thoughts never reach the plane of action they remain useless: the power of thought is dependent on its manifestation in deeds." [Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, page 19]

1 comment:

  1. The process of growth and understanding growth is still at early stages in a lot of the clusters around the world. This is exciting because we all get to participate and learn a great deal in helping build a Divine civilization, however humble our small contribution. I was invited by a member of the Area Teaching Committee yesterday to conduct a few home visits in a very receptive neighborhood which is a large apartment complex. There are about 100 friends from Bhutan of which around 12 to 15 are Baha'is. A few have done Ruhi Books 1, 2, and 3. And one person has started children classes after finishing Book 3 as well as assisting with the teaching work. We have a wonderful tutor who is assisting with this process and effective at teaching the Faith. In this neighborhood, what is causing this vibrancy, is the institute which relies on the Word of God to connect all of us. In our home visits, we unite in prayers, and it is always joyous and uplifting. The residents of this neighborhood want to shed the lethargy and make their neighborhood a great place to live for all adults, youth, and children. In addition, a junior youth has also begun a couple months ago and a regular devotional is emerging. Memorization of the quotes are also shaping our thoughts. Despite work schedules and the challenges of life, this neighborhood is well on its way to learning about new frontiers of learning in the next 5 years. These friends are taking to heart the power of the institute to "scale the heights of service".