POST 163 Erratic Movements Towards an age of Peace

There is seldom just one cause of international disputes. However, many scientists anticipate that as the world's population increases and our basic resources become scarce, wars are more likely to be over material essentials, such as water and food.

My grandparents lived through that conflict that would come to be known as the first “World War”. Today, greater knowledge makes us feel appalled by its horrific severity, its unprecedented scale and ferocity. Yet despite this horror it gave birth to new possibilities for stability—notably at the Paris Peace Conference, which opened exactly one century ago, in this very year.

Reassuringly, Shoghi Effendi described these tumultuous events as fitful forces "working in harmony with the spirit of the age”, moving humanity towards an age of peace—a peace not merely a condition without armed conflict, but "a collective state of being", manifesting unity.

Over the last century, three historical moments seemed to foretell real, lasting peace. First was the establishment of the League of Nations, picturing for the first time in history, that system of collective security first enjoined upon the world’s rulers by Bahá’u’lláh.

Yet these premature hopes led only to a second World War, judged by historians as the deadliest conflict in human history.

However out of the ashes of the League a second hope emerged, as a system of international economic institutions came into being, forming a United Nations Organization. From here historic advances would be made in human rights and international law.

But as these encouraging plans for regional cooperation developed, so too did distrust between the world’s two major power blocs, producing the Cold War and bringing the use of nuclear weapons ever closer.

The close of the twentieth century--within our lifetime--produced explicit calls for the establishment of a new global order, creating a third moment when universal peace seemed to be within grasp.

Consequently a series of world conferences on humanity’s future was convened by the United Nations. Titled 'The Millennium Forum', it was a meeting of representatives of over a thousand civil society organizations, from more than a hundred countries, and was followed by the 'Millennium Summit', an unparalleled gathering of world leaders which led to agreement on a set of objectives representing a shared ambition of humanity.

These 'Millennium Development Goals' signalled a widespread, gradual but unstoppable rise in global consciousness on the part of the earth’s peoples and expressed our attraction to universal justice, to solidarity, collaboration, compassion, and to equality. But times change quickly.

Today, many of the dominant currents in society are pushing people apart, not drawing them together.

Cliques with grossly exorbitant wealth continue to grow. Rising religious fundamentalism has warped communities, and even whole nations. The failings of so many organizations and institutions within society have led to a decline in public trust.

That earlier promise of shared ethical principles is eroding, and the will to engage in international collective action is sapped through a revival of racism, nationalism, and factionalism.

The Universal House of Justice warned in its latest message to the world that the course humanity takes to achieve its future destiny may very well be tortuous.

The tumult raised by the contending peoples of the earth threatens to drown out the voices of those noble-minded souls in every society who call for an end to conflict and struggle. As long as that call goes unheeded, there is no reason to doubt that the world’s current state of disorder and confusion will worsen—possibly with catastrophic consequences—until a chastened humanity sees fit to take another significant step, perhaps this time decisive, towards enduring peace. ---The Universal House of Justice 18 January 2019 To the Bahá’ís of the World

We can't predict the future solely by the present. Yet despite the direness of the time, we take comfort in this assurance of Abdu'l-Baha;

Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain! Nothing is impossible to the Divine Benevolence of God. If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men. Do not despair! Work steadily. Sincerity and love will conquer hate.---Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, – 6 – The Pitiful Causes of War, and the Duty of Everyone to Strive for Peace October 21st

The Oneness of the Entire Human Race.


Who are we, and where did we come from?

Usually we will know our ancestral family names and birthplaces, but what of our nationality? And is our nationality the same thing as our race?

Until recently the answers seemed fairly simple and well known. People didn't move around much. However, as processes of migration occurred with more frequency over greater areas, information on our origins became more clouded.

Today we know that we come from 'all over'. Today we can prove that all modern humans have a common ancestry. The truth is clear that together we possess a bit of everything; we are all one single human species.

According to a study published in the journal 'Science', all humans are 99.9 per cent identical with only a tiny 0.1 per cent difference.

We are 'walking history books' who carry the traces of all our ancestors in our cells. The advent of cheap genetic sequencing enables the history of modern-day humans to be clearly revealed for the first time, confirming the theory of one single, common origin for everyone.

Recent DNA evidence confirms the “Out Of Africa” hypothesis that all modern humans stem from a single group of Homo sapiens who emigrated from Africa 2,000 generations ago and spread throughout Eurasia over thousands of years. These settlers replaced, rather than interbred with, other early humans (such as Neanderthals).

Until now, one of the main reasons for doubting this “Out Of Africa” theory for the recent African origin of modern humans - a doubt of special relevance to my own Pacific corner of the world - was due to inconsistent evidence from Australia. Skeletal and tool remains found there are strikingly different from those elsewhere on the “coastal expressway” – the route through South Asia taken by the earliest settlers.

However, a genetic survey, produced by a collaborative team led by scholars at Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin Universities, shows that Australia's aboriginal population did in fact spring from the same tiny group of colonists as their New Guinean neighbours. This showed that both Aborigines and Melanesians share genetic features linked to the exodus of modern humans from Africa 50,000 years ago.

Just how far back can we trace our DNA? The answer is; about 700 years. The Mitochondrial DNA Full Genomic Sequence test shows that you and I have a 50% chance of sharing a common maternal ancestor within the last 5 generations (about 125 years). So you and I are just distant cousins!

Today as we roam with increasing ease across the entire planet, we recognise the absolute validity of the words of Bahá’u’lláh spoken nearly 2 centuries ago: "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”“It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.” And again, “That one indeed is a man who today dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race.”“Through the power released by these exalted words,” He explains, “He hath lent a fresh impulse, and set a new direction, to the birds of men’s hearts, and hath obliterated every trace of restriction and limitation from God’s Holy Book.” --The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, A World Religion 15.

The core focus of the Baha'i Faith is the establishment of precise principles and laws that will prove capable of addressing the needs of a timeless, ever-growing global community.



POST 161  UN Report; Really A Spiritual and Moral Crisis

"About 70,000 years ago Homo Sapiens was still an insignificant animal who made his own business in a corner of Africa ... Today he is on the verge of becoming a god, ready to acquire not only eternal youth, but also the divine abilities to create and to destroy ... Can there be something more dangerous than a mass of dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who do not even know what they want?" ---Yuval Noah Harari, "From Animals into Gods - A brief History of Humankind"

The dubious advice -"If it feels good, do it" - recently inspired a therapist writing for 'Psychology Today' to comment; "Maybe, like me, you're just barely old enough to remember this expression. To my father, a minister, this dictum summed up everything that was wrong with the emerging values of the 1960s and 1970s. Can you imagine? If everyone just did what felt good? Anarchy! Ribaldry!"

Fortunately we've matured a bit since then. But collectively we are still being guided by such self-focussed factors as the search for pleasure, fame, wealth and eternal youth. Unlike many other cultures, maturity of years in the western world is considered a social negative. Without any collective charter of spiritual or moral limits, we are continuing to produce that "mass of dissatisfied and irresponsible gods..."

The closest thing we have to any collective social responsibility can be found in standards set by United Nations agencies.

Lacking universally ethical and enforcable standards of behaviour, we have used scientific capacity to create without limit, to consume without restraint and to vastly increase our ability to destroy.

A recent report notes a mass exodus out of organized religion in the United States, stating that the number of Americans with "No Religion" has soared 266% over the last 3 decades.

The most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken was leaked this week.

This global assessment report, compiled over three years by the UN’s leading research body on nature, warns that the planet’s life-support systems are approaching a danger zone. All future generations and wildlife are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate.

The present 'immoral, overconsumption, extinction crisis' is an aggregate of ignorance, greed, inequity and other self-serving 'if it feels good' values-deficiencies. As such, it is essentially a Spiritual crisis.

It happened despite the passage of centuries since Homo Sapiens first set about 'his own business in Africa', during which humanity continued to be guided by a series of Divine Messengers addressing the specific needs of their places and times.

The values of those past civilisations may still be found today in such sources as the four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the Jewish Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule of Jesus and The Five Pillars of Islam.

Every culture had mutually agreed charters of collective social and spiritual responsibility. Today, many of those  who still adhere to religion are either in conflict or diminishing in influence.

From a Bahai perspective these charters of collective social and spiritual responsiblity were not merely the result of random development, but a divinely inspired cycle reflecting humanity's growing material and spiritual capacity, emanating from a progressive revelation of divine principles.

This is why the Bahai message is uniquely relevant to the needs of our time.

Our increasingly global and interconnected world demands collective values and principles that support and sustain the harmonious development of one unified world.

Belief in the essential oneness of science, religion and the essential oneness of God is the central focus of the religion for our time; the Bahai Faith.

Exert yourselves with heart and soul so that, perchance, through your efforts the light of universal peace may shine and this darkness of estrangement and enmity may be dispelled from amongst men, that all men may become as one family and consort together in love and kindness, that the East may assist the West and the West give help to the East, for all are the inhabitants of one planet, the people of one original native land and the flocks of one Shepherd.       --Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 469.

POST 160 Criticism; What Makes it Hurtful or Helpful?

Studies show the early childhood years are the most crucial in our lives.

A focus on limitations at that time reinforces a child's feelings of inadequacy, stunting the confidence that is so necessary for their future growth. Wise parents and teachers need to identify shortcomings, but only in order to highlight areas in need of future development, for which they can plan accordingly.

Often children need their behaviour to be corrected. But more than anything, they need patience, understanding and gentle loving encouragement. The same applies to adults.

Abdul-Baha enjoins us to 'exercise mildness and forbearance and calm, to be sincere, amenable, clement and compassionate'.

It takes a very wise and constructive parent, teacher or instructor to get the timing and balance of correction just right. Otherwise, there are very few occasions when any criticism of others is warranted. No matter how well meaning, it is likely to offend.

The Bahai Writings make little reference to criticism, strongly emphasising the need for forgiveness and overlooking of faults.

The negative effects of criticism are many, yet they seldom receive due recognition.

Whether in an occupational or personal situation, studies show that it decreases enjoyment and confidence levels,  affecting the development of a person's self-concept. In an educational situation, criticism has broad consequences. People find it more difficult to communicate with an instructor following criticism, thus reducing motivation and affecting performance. On a personal level, people report feeling that they improve less in response to criticism.

The receipt of negative verbal feedback corresponds with adverse behavioral, mental health and emotional consequences. These negative effects, especially among youth, need wider recognition.

Popular social media even encourages such behaviour, feeding a desire for attention through the expression of opinions on everything; the more negative the opinion, the more attention is received.

Some people seek to elevate themselves by 'downing' others. We are developing a very negatively based culture where criticism often receives huge unmoderated attention. It has been expressed as the "I know but you know not" posture.

Well deserved praise is important. My own rule of thumb as a parent and educator is that to whatever extent correction is needed, I look for 9 times more reasons to praise. As the old saying goes; You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

The Universal House of Justice discourages criticism, describing its negative effects in religion and politics thus; "...criticism is a two-edged sword: it is all too often the harbinger of conflict and contention." Instead, we are enjoined to "...refrain from such a pattern of criticism, which stunts the growth and development of the community." --UHJ9 December 1988, To the Followers of Bahá’u’lláh in the United States of America.

Shoghi Effendi encouraged us to recall Abdu’l-Bahá's words and to "...remember His contempt for and impatience of criticism."-- Advent of Divine Justice, To the beloved of God and the handmaids of the Merciful throughout the United States and Canada. "He feels that you should do your utmost to call the attention of the friends to these large things and real triumphs, and away from their personal differences and petty pre-occupations. Now is certainly not the time for any man to think of himself, or busy himself with the weaknesses of his brother; but, rather ...concentrate in the tasks ahead and be reborn in the service of Bahá’u’lláh." ---Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92

Sadly, criticism often achieves a result directly opposite to what was intended, when it is motivated by a deep love for the individual, friend or family, and a desire to see them free of any flaw. Human beings are not perfect. Others must be helped through our example and loving encouragement to refrain from that criticism which actually stunts further growth and development.

When conflict is mismanaged, it can cause great and ongoing harm to a relationship. When handled in a respectful, positive way, it provides an opportunity to strengthen the bond between people. It is better to strive and thereby make mistakes to learn from, than not to try at all.

Some degree of conflict is an integral part of any healthy relationship. After all, two people can’t be expected to agree on everything, all of the time. The key is not to avoid conflict but to learn how to resolve it in a healthy way.

This is why Bahá’u’lláh has established consultation as one of the fundamental principles of His Faith, exhorting us to “take counsel together in all matters.”, describing it as “the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way” and “the bestower of understanding.” ---Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas 52.

Whenever we as parent, teacher or friend, experience a situation in which we feel critical of another, the response should always be to prayerfully call ourselves to account, to review our own behaviour and if still necessary, to seek an opportunity for loving consultation.


POST 159. YOU are an Idea Whose Time has Come

This world is a school room. It is exists solely for our personal training.

O SON OF BOUNTY! Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. --Baha'u'llah, Hidden Words 29

What a remarkable statement. Imagine; every single atom has been created for our training! Every thing you can see, or hear or smell or touch. Both the known and even the unknown. Even all that is out there in space...

There is no randomness.

Everyone here has been created for a purpose and is a participant in the very purpose of all existence. And that means YOU.

You have been created for a purpose. You are a participant in the very purpose of all existence.

Clearly we could all have been programmed in advance with all knowledge of all things. Then, like clones, we would all know the same things without the least effort. And there would be no losers... But there would also be no winners, no diversity in our expression of that knowledge, no pleasure in our accomplishment, no need for effort.

Earthly existence provides all the tools required for our learning. However, what we do about these tools is the result of our individual choice - our personal actions; the outcome is ours to decide.

It requires acquiring knowledge, displaying volition, and then acting upon those;

The attainment of any object is conditioned upon knowledge, volition and action. Unless these three conditions are forthcoming, there is no execution or accomplishment. In the erection of a house it is first necessary to know the ground, and design the house suitable for it; second, to obtain the means or funds necessary for the construction; third, actually to build it. Therefore, a power is needed to carry out and execute what is known and admitted to be the remedy for human conditions—namely, the unification of mankind. --Abdu'l-Baha. The Promulgation of Universal Peace 58

The growth and progress of all humanity is derived from the education and teachings of the holy teachings. We are here for a reason. We must not only derive our personal growth from the Teachings, but to be most effective we must share them with others. In the process of sharing our understanding, it becomes reinforced and strengthened in ourselves.The teacher learns 9 times as much as the student.

In 'Paris Talks' Abdu'l-Baha explains that, unlike plant and animals who develop though various phases - inevitably ending in death and a return to the mineral form - the potential of our human growth is unlimited:

All creation, whether of the mineral, vegetable or animal kingdom, is compelled to obey the law of motion; it must either ascend or descend. But with the human soul, there is no decline. Its only movement is towards perfection; growth and progress alone constitute the motion of the soul. Divine perfection is infinite, therefore the progress of the soul is also infinite. From the very birth of a human being the soul progresses, the intellect grows and knowledge increases. Bahá’u’lláh has announced that the foundation of all the religions of God is one, that oneness is truth and truth is oneness which does not admit of plurality. --Abdu'l-Baha Promulgation of Universal Peace, 110 –8 October 1912 Talk at Leland Stanford Junior University, Palo Alto, California

Once the physical development is completed our continuance is as a spiritual being.

And that point of physical completion takes place at the moment of death. Whatever we have learned of this physical world ends, and our spiritual development continues. We take with us whatever we have acquired of our spiritual being. --Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks.

The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High.---Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984), Sec.81, pp.156-7

Victor Hugo, French poet, novelist, and dramatist, observed; "Armies cannot stop an idea whose time has come. No army can stop an idea whose time has come. Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come".

The one thing that is stronger than all the armies in the world and is capable of transforming human existence, is the power of unity; a principle and idea whose time has now come.         ---more on this topic to follow.