Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Readiness to Forget the Past


"Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds. Let the Negroes (note: this was written in the 1930's when "Negro" was the common term for black Americans), through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds."
(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40)

A friend of mine April Yvonne Garrett, who if you don't know you definitely want to, sent me the text of a thought provoking piece in The American Scholar entitled "The End of the Black American Narrative". I highly recommend that you read the entire piece if you have the time. I particulary found the final paragraph worth meditating on:

"But if the old black American narrative has outlived its usefulness as a tool of interpretation, then what should we do? The answer, I think, is obvious. In the 21st century, we need new and better stories, new concepts, and new vocabularies and grammar based not on the past but on the dangerous, exciting, and unexplored present (emphasis, mine), with the understanding that each is, at best, a provisional reading of reality, a single phenomenological profile that one day is likely to be revised, if not completely overturned. These will be narratives that do not claim to be absolute truth, but instead more humbly present themselves as a very tentative thesis that must be tested every day in the depths of our own experience and by all the reliable evidence we have available, as limited as that might be. For as Bertrand Russell told us, what we know is always “vanishingly small.” These will be narratives of individuals, not groups. And is this not exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of when he hoped a day would come when men and women were judged not by the color of their skin, but instead by their individual deeds and actions, and the content of their character?

I believe this was what King dreamed and, whether we like it or not, that moment is now."

There are a couple of thoughts that I have about what the author of this essay is saying. The first has to do with creating "better stories, new concepts, and new vocabularies and grammar based not on the past but on the dangerous, exciting and unexplored present". It makes me think that one way of understanding Shoghi Effendi's concept in the Advent of Divine Justice of "readiness to forget the past" is a readiness to adapt our attitudes and behaviors based upon changing conditions, changes anticipated in the Baha'i Faith due to the nature of the time in which we are living. This readiness is an ongoing process in the lives of individuals and black Americans as a whole. Without such readiness I will not appreciate the needs of the time and how I can best serve those needs. As Baha'u'llah has said, "Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements."

My other thought is that as exciting and our present may be, as Baha'i it nowhere near as exciting as the future of humanity, a global civilization founded on spiritual principles that those living today can scarcely imagine. It is the vision of a better day that I think empowers the kind of readiness that Shoghi Effendi is encouraging black Americans to strive for. As magnificent as this American moment may appear, especially in light of where we were only a generation ago, we will have to demonstrate a readiness to forget this "past" as well, continuing to march on toward world unity, the ultimate challenge facing a human race approaching spiritual maturity:

"Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life."
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 202)