Loneliness in Social Action—Let’s Welcome Them, Let’s Bring Chocolate
Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind 2017
Faculty: Arthur Lyon Dahl, Christine Muller, and Peter Adriance
Sustaining 11 Billion People: Challenges for an Ever-Advancing Civilization 2017
Faculty: Paul Hanley, Gary Reusche, Halel Samimi, Neil Whatley
One of the goals of the courses in the Wilmette Institute’s online Learning Center is creating a community of learners with similar (and sometimes dissimilar) interests. In individual courses, faculty have seen communities coalesce on a small scale. Two faculty who have now taught a number of courses over several years met in off-line correspondence in a course they happened to be taking together. One marriage resulted after online communications in another course. But in the recent 2017 courses on Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind and Sustaining 11 Billion People: Challenges for an Ever-Advancing Civilization, the need for and importance of having like-minded colleagues arose in a number of posts. A faculty member reports that the isolation of seeming to be working alone on issues of social relevance is frequently reported.
Yuetmee Ho, from Malaysia, in Sustainable Development, had this to say: “It has been a long, lonely advocacy journey for some of us in the Bahá’í community in Malaysia. Many fellow believers do not see sustainability as something fundamentally interlinked with our beliefs and, in fact, often counter it as either a passing fad or an inconvenience or distraction to the important work of the Faith. Hence I am so glad for the direct and profound message of The Universal House of Justice dated March 1, 2017, regarding economic life, as well as for the Wilmette Institute for continuing to build awareness in the area through courses such as this one.”
Christine Muller, from Rhode Island, USA, faculty in Sustainable Development, responded to Yuetmee’s post this way: “I can deeply relate to your feeling of loneliness in raising awareness about sustainability in the Bahá’í community. About fifteen years ago, I decided to study climate change and sustainability issues more intensely because I thought that Bahá’ís needed to take action in that area and that knowledge is a prerequisite. I didn’t mind doing this by myself, but I was worried about what my feeble efforts alone could accomplish. Then, in 2006, I read Arthur Lyon Dahl’s essay “Climate Change and Its Ethical Challenges” published in The Bahá’í World: 2005–2006—An International Record 157–72 [you can also find the article at http://iefworld.org/ddahl07a.htm]. I could literally feel a weight lifted off my shoulders. There was someone who cared as much as I did, who interpreted and applied the Bahá’í teachings the same way, and even knew more about climate change than I did! Several friends in past climate-change courses reported similar experiences. Welcome to the club. Now, there are many more Bahá’ís on board, and the U.S. National Spiritual Assembly has been very supportive of our efforts. One important purpose of the Wilmette Institute’s Sustainability and Climate Change Discussion Center is for the friends to find a community where they can talk about these issues and find support.”
Margaret Tash, from Rochester, New York, USA, another learner in Sustainable Development, added this in her Personal Learning Assessment at the end of the course: “I am just beginning to study and to learn how to apply the concepts of sustainability. Even though the course has ended, it will remain an important part of what I do in the future. I feel an even deeper commitment to understand and share what I learned with Bahá’ís and friends in a way that welcomes everyone as a contributor. Knowing there are Bahá’ís with experience with whom I can consult is reassuring as I investigate what possibilities exist. . . . There is a lot of the science that I don’t fully understand, so having materials available for another year is a great asset.”
Marilyn Goebel, from Wallowa County, Oregon, USA, a learner in Sustaining 11 Billion People, wrote from the perspective of the community she felt in the course, which included learners from a number of countries and from rural and city environments:
I have been really interested in the Sustaining 11 Billion People course. It is fascinating to read about Bahá’ís living in different places, and what are their challenges, and how they are able to teach the Faith, and how they are involved in the Institute process. For instance, there is Carol, who is living on an island that will probably be under water in a few decades, and Ingrid, who lives just south of the border, and may have to look at that wall, if it is ever built. There is also Robert, who is planning to build eco-friendly housing, and Randy, who lived for a few years in Norway and Iceland, but now lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he volunteers at a community center in a nearby subsidized-housing area. There is Oliver, who lives in Germany and supports the Bahá`í-community there and enjoys teaching children’s classes and animates a junior youth group. There is Charlotte, who lives in northern British Columbia, which is probably more similar to Wallowa County than where anyone else on this forum lives. There is also Gary, who lives in Ukraine, and is very knowledgeable about agriculture, as are Paul, who lives in Saskatchewan, and Neil, who lives in Alberta.
There are also people who live in cities, like Candace, who lives in the Chicago area; Kimberly, who lives in San Francisco; and Khela, who lives in Silicon Valley; and the Bahá’ís living in Flower Mound, Texas—with their perspectives.
The Bahá’í writings and the writings of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice are replete with statements about the importance of working with organizations and individuals for the betterment of humankind. For example, Bahá’u’lláh tells us “That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh 250). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in The Promulgation of Universal Peace 338, explains that “The stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all the planes of human activity.”
Indeed, social and economic development became part of the Bahá’í lexicon at Ridván 1983, when the Universal House of Justice noted that “a wider horizon is opening before us, illumined by a growing and universal manifestation of the inherent potentialities of the Cause for ordering human affairs.” In October 1983, in a letter to the Bahá’ís of the world, the Universal House of Justice called for Bahá’ís “greater involvement in the development of the social and economic life of peoples.” Here are some recent passages from letters from the Universal House of Justice to remind all of us how important such work is:
[The principle of the oneness of humankind] calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relations that sustain society. The deepening environmental crisis driven by a system that condones the pillage of natural resources to satisfy an insatiable thirst for more, suggests how entirely inadequate is the present conception of humanity’s relationship with nature; . . .—The Universal House of Justice, letter to the Bahá’ís of Iran, March 2, 2013, p. 2.
It is with such thoughts in mind that Bahá’ís enter into collaboration, as their resources permit, with an increasing number of movements, organizations, groups and individuals, establishing partnerships that strive to transform society and further the cause of unity, promote human welfare, and contribute to world solidarity. Indeed, the standard set by passages such as the above inspires the Bahá’í community to become actively engaged in as many aspects of contemporary life as feasible.—The Universal House of Justice, letter to the Bahá’ís of Iran, March 2, 2013, p. 6.
The principles of non-involvement in politics and obedience to government, far from being obstacles to social change, are aspect of an approach set forth in the Bahá’í writing to implement effective remedies for and address the root causes of the ills afflicting society. This approach includes active involvement in the life of society as well as the possibility of influencing and contributing to the social policies of government by all lawful means.—The Universal House of Justice, letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, April 27, 2017, p. 2.
Let’s change disciplines, or categories. for a moment—to look at the loneliness of artists. Roger White, a Bahá’í poet, wrote in his poem called “Advice from a Poet—‘Bring Chocolate’”:
In the Bahá´í Order the artists will find their home at the center of their community, free to interact constructively with the people who are served by their art; free to give and to receive strength and inspiration. It is my hope that you will be in the vanguard of this reconciliation between artists and their world. As Bahá’u’lláh foretells, the artists are coming home to claim their place. I urge you: Be there! Welcome them! Bring chocolate!
For those working in climate change and sustainable development: Let’s all be there to encourage them, to listen to them, and to learn from them as they work to advance knowledge about, promote action in, and engage in public discourse about climate change and sustainable development—the Arthurs, the Christines, the Yuetees, the Margarets, the Marilyns, and to the-too-many-more-to-name as they labor in the field to lay bricks in an important aspect of Bahá’ulláh’s World Order.
Let’s be there for them. Let’s welcome them. Let’s bring them chocolate.