Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An environment conducive to mutual support

The structure of the present day society is lamentably defective. Nearly all of our institutions and social structures are designed to operate in a culture of contest. Many teach their children from an early age to compete with others in order to get ahead. Even if many people in their early life as young children may be inclined to play together in a cooperative way, the adults often teach them the opposite. At school this sense of competition is further strengthened. Cooperative games give way to competitive sports. Economic life further reinforces this mindset of scarcity. The legal system is firmly entrenched in contest among opposing set of lawyers. In extremes even when everyone - including the judge - knows that someone is guilty, it is still considered irrelevant. It is about winning and losing in a zero-sum game. Education, economic activity, political discourse, and even the arts and justice all become victims of a culture that promotes success of one person at the expense of others. In such an environment it is impossible to serve the cause of community building, since the notion of community itself is marginalized.

It is easy to believe in and to pay lip service to cooperation and collaboration. But even the most well meaning individuals often tend to say one thing and then act a different way. The real reason maybe that we do not have good models of a society in which the requisite characteristics exist. How can we practically construct a community in which progress is made but the dominant mode of activity is cooperation, collaboration and mutual support? 

The unerring pen of the Universal House of Justice, in its letter of 28 December 2010, paragraph 8 describes this as an  "environment conducive at once to universal participation and to mutual support and assistance." It describes the "nature of relationships among individuals in this environment, all of whom consider themselves as treading a common path of service." It speaks of "a humble attitude of learning" that should characterize the posture of those intent on service. It asks that  they "should come to view every task, every interaction, as an occasion to join hands in the pursuit of progress and to accompany one another in their efforts to serve the Cause." 

If institutions and their members view themselves as somehow higher than those operating in the field, this may lead them to provide instruction, to explain things, to write manuals, and to provide formula and to-do lists, reducing a highly organic process of learning to a lifeless mechanical procedure. The Baha'i community is currently learning how to avoid this tendency and to create this environment of mutual support and accompaniment in every neighborhood and cluster. This effort will provide an invaluable model for all people, Baha'i or not, who want to build healthy communities.

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

1.     What are some of the “requisite characteristics” of the “administrative structures being forged in the cluster”? 

2.     Who is responsible to ensure that the Area Teaching Committee and the institute coordinators have the “requisite characteristics”? 

3.     What is conducive to “universal participation and to mutual support and assistance” among the friends working in a cluster?

4.     What is the proper “nature of relationships among individuals” in a cluster?
5.     What are the implications of “a humble attitude of learning”? 

6.     Comment on the “impulse to over instruct”. Why a “manual” for instruction of the members of core teams may not be appropriate?
7.     Describe the environment that leads “to a healthy pattern of growth”.

On the subject of humility and service to the world of humanity Abdu'l-Baha said: "O God! Make this assemblage radiant. Make the hearts merciful. Confer the bounties of the Holy Spirit. Endow them with a power from heaven. Bless them with heavenly minds. Increase their sincerity, so that with all humility and contrition they may turn to Thy kingdom and be occupied with service to the world of humanity. May each one become a radiant candle. May each one become a brilliant star. May each one become beautiful in color and redolent of fragrance in the kingdom of God."

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