Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Midnight Sighing

"Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues." (Baha'u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

The Center for American Progress has some must read information about the current budget debate. It includes a draw-dropping "infographic" comparing the cost of 10 safety net programs anticipating steep cuts and the cost of a variety of tax cuts that benefit corporations and the wealthy.

As a social worker, I witness daily the human cost of cuts like these. I'd like to invite those contemplating making such cuts to spend some time with these people, look them in the eye and tell them they are not worth the money. I'd like them to tell these folks that and then explain why those who have the least are paying for tax breaks for those who need them the least. I hear politicians telling us that "we're broke" and so have to "make sacrifices". As Michael Moore recently pointed out, that is a highly debatable assertion. Even if that were accurate, we need to have an honest debate about how we got broke. Is it really because we are spending too much money on low-income housing or early childhood programs?

I keep wondering lately when Americans will have their Tahrir Square moment regarding the extremes of wealth and poverty in this country. When will we say enough is enough? When will we say loudly and without equivocation that we will not allow budgets to be balanced on the backs of the poor in the richest nation on the planet. We must do better. 'Abdu'l-Baha put it this way:

"A financier with colossal wealth should not exist whilst near him is a poor man in dire necessity...Men must bestir themselves in this matter, and no longer delay in altering conditions which bring the misery of grinding poverty to a very large number of the people. The rich must give of their abundance, they must soften their hearts and cultivate a compassionate intelligence, taking thought for those sad ones who are suffering from lack of the very necessities of life." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 153)

My point is not to engage in vilification of the wealthy, which is counterproductive and, I believe, counter to Baha'i teaching. It is not the possession of wealth, but policies and practices that concentrate it in the hands of the few at the expense of the many that is problematic both socially and spiritually:

"It should not be imagined that the writer's earlier remarks constitute a denunciation of wealth or a commendation of poverty. Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual's own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes. Above all, if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this, and it would rank in the sight of God as the supreme achievement, for such a benefactor would supply the needs and insure the comfort and well-being of a great multitude. Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy. If, however, a few have inordinate riches while the rest are impoverished, and no fruit or benefit accrues from that wealth, then it is only a liability to its possessor." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 24)


  1. Sheila12:19 AM

    God Bless You, Phillipe Copeland! (And I know She is!)

  2. Sheila12:20 AM


    "I keep wondering lately when Americans will have their Tahrir Square moment regarding the extremes of wealth and poverty in this country."

    It's coming!

  3. Sheila, thanks. I hope you are right.

  4. Anonymous7:43 AM

    I think it is not only America that this is applicable to. Finnancial cuts seem to hit those at the bottom first in many countries worldwide.

  5. Excellent blog post for pulling it all together, Phillipe. It's so frustrating, over-all, that there is no real consultation taking place on these points. Jeffrey Canada (Harlem education project) was on the news this week talking about cuts to education - essentially the terrible absurdity of expecting kids already in difficult circumstances to do more with less. All of this pushes really hot buttons for me. Thanks for bringing attention to the topic and the resources. You always give good food for thought.

  6. Anonymous11:51 AM

    As a retired social worker, I'm deepened sadden by the underlying attitudes of those who are advocating and pushing through the cuts to the poor, women health care, education and diplomacy. Over the last thirty years, there has been a attitude of the 'I' over the 'We which has fostered a deep sense of entitlement and self-centeredness. There has been a worship of making money and the acquistion of material pursuits. If I want it even at the expense of another, I should get it. There is a belief that jobs that deal with the acquistion of wealth are more important then the ones that deal with the basic needs of humanity. We would rather see a person without medical care then even discuss whether or no our health care system is working for all. It should give us pause that the German and Swiss people and their countries leadership created major changes to their health insurance and health care systems to make them accessible to all. Of course, the Germans and Swiss aren't spending more on their military budget then any other country in the world. Our values are distorted.

  7. Thanks for this. I too have been in the field with people who are addicts, in poverty, homeless, etc. and I want to say there is a big growing swell of people being dumped by many 'systems' (health care, economic, educational, justice, etc. etc.). Hey when we can bail banks out and ignore homeless, drunks, children, men and women with 'tragic expression of unmet needs'? (NVC) I'd say we are facing a major crisis (that is already showing up on the streets) and that we are all going to suffer from so we had best do what we can to change this sad state of injustice. We are overdue for some sanity.

  8. Reminds me of this quote from the Universal House of Justice:
    "On the one hand, the region can justly boast brilliant achievements in the intellectual, technological and economic spheres. On the other, it has failed to reduce widespread poverty or to avoid a rising sea of violence that threatens to submerge its peoples. Why – and the question needs to be asked plainly – has this society been impotent, despite its great wealth, to remove the injustices that are tearing its fiber apart?
    The answer to this question, as amply evidenced by decades of contentious history, cannot be found in political passion, conflicting expressions of class interest, or technical recipes. What is called for is a spiritual revival, as a prerequisite to the successful application of political, economic and technological instruments. But there is a need of a catalyst. Be assured that in spite of your small numbers, you are the channels through which such a catalyst can be provided."