Thursday, September 22, 2005

Consciousness, Character and Community

I was just reflecting on the power of unity and why Baha'u'llah describes it as a goal which "excelleth every other goal," an aspiration which is the "monarch of all aspirations." How does the power of unity, the power the Baha'i writings suggest produces enduring results in the world relate to contemporary challenges facing humanity? I see the power of unity (or disunity) operating in three areas of human experience: consciousness, character and community. On the level of consciousness we are told in Baha'i teaching that it is the consciousness of the oneness of humankind that is the necessary foundation on which world peace can be built. This fundamental change in consciousness involves every man, woman and child on the planet recognizing that they are responsible for the welfare of the entire human family, abandoning the mistaken belief that they are inherently superior to other human beings, and overcoming the impulse toward imposing their will on others. It is a integrative view of self and society. Though we see this new consciousness reflected in the thinking of increasing numbers of people today, it struggles against disintegrative views of self and society, in which we are at best members of different groups who are competing with each other for survival and are only united when it serves the interests of our group. At worst, we are simply individuals whose sole purpose in life is to get our needs met and relationships are just a means to that end. We even tend to view ourselves as fragmented into "identities" that are essential to who we are rather than as secondary aspects of our human experience whose purpose is to serve our spiritual development. On the level of character, an integrative approach involves progressively bringing our behavior into harmony with our spiritual and moral commitments. What we do becomes an expression of who we are rather than a reaction to whatever is happening in the moment. It's amazing how saying one thing and then doing the opposite is so common that many of us don't even see it as a problem. At the level of community, our consciousness and character are embodied in a social order, an order which in turn shapes the development of consciousness and character in a dynamic interaction which is the engine that drives the advancement or decline of civilization. At the level of community, disintegrative tendencies are being expressed in a social order which is in rapid decline, conflict and strife between peoples is escalating, economies are on the edge of collapse, terrorism is spreading, disease is rampant, virtually every institution is in a state of crisis and dysfunction. Everywhere you can see constructive efforts straining against the shackles of the old world order which the Baha'i Writings describe as "lamentably defective". It is the lack of unity at the levels of consciousness, character and community that I understand to be the root cause of all the problems we see at present in the world. Unity is the solution and is the purpose of the Baha'i Revelation. "O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth, set your faces toward powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth."