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Do you worry about what the future holds for humanity? Or where we’re headed? Or who leads us?
According to the polls, most of us are somewhat or very concerned about the state of our world today, whether because of our political leaders, the economy, the environment, immigration, refugees, homeless people, jobs, education, childcare… the list goes on and on.
So what is most important to you?
We have seen crises in so many countries recently: Afghanistan, Iraq, Crimea, Greece, Syria, Turkey, France, etc. The Secession of Scotland and the Brexit elections in Great Britain caused huge concern, dividing families and communities and increasing anxiety throughout that nation.
Similarly, great anxiety has risen among people in areas affected by the refugee crisis. All across Europe, in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, Norway, and many others along the refugee routes, people feel overwhelmed.
Xenophobia—the fear of foreigners—pits nations and races against each other. The suffering of fleeing refugees continues unabated, with many thousands dying in their attempts to escape from war and poverty.
In the United States, divisions exist throughout the population. Racism is wildly and insidiously rampant, along with a huge disparity in wealth, which also drives these divisions. The average person and the poor feel they have no voice, and are fed up with the lack of opportunities to improve their standard of living, while the rich continue to reap huge profits.
Our political leadership is in disarray, with whole groups refusing to work together on solutions and stunningly disavowing the historically valid tool of compromise. The acrimony and outright hatred between groups has, so far, fallen just short of violent action. Ironically, these groups do have a kind of unity, although few would acknowledge it—they are united in their universal desire for change!
The vast majority of people are dissatisfied with governance and politics today and seek new leaders to bring about sweeping changes. Many aren’t sure what they might get, but have a striking willingness to gamble that any sweeping change is better than continuing the status quo. Risky? You bet! But even normally conservative people are willing to take that gamble out of an overabundance of concern for the future.
So what is the solution? What qualities must leaders have to guide our society? How should we evaluate who should lead us?
Here we can find clear guidance from the Baha’i teachings:
That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250.
Baha’u’llah seems to be saying that “we,” not just our leaders, but all people, must be concerned with service to the entire human race in “the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth.”
This takes direct aim at our existing political structures, moving in the opposite direction of “special interests” which may be the single most disunifying element in our societies today. Special interests are the opposite of the needs of all, because they focus on one group or segment exclusively at the expense of or in opposition to others.
Our complex world no longer allows us to propose solutions without seriously considering the impact the proposed changes will have on the entire system. We know, in the natural environment, that a small change can appear to solve a given problem in one area, when in fact it creates many new, possibly greater problems in the larger ecosystem. In the same way, our world requires careful, considered study to avoid creating new problems by considering only one interest. We need leaders with the courage to choose the solutions which serve the “best interests of the peoples.”
Our current governmental systems do not support strong leaders who speak candidly and take strong positions against powerful special interest groups. Do we really desire strong leadership? It will only come at the expense of special interests, maybe yours, maybe mine, probably all of ours.
Here Baha’u’llah describes how our own conceit can mislead us:
We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions. We see it languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned. They that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician. Witness how they have entangled all men, themselves included, in the mesh of their devices. They can neither discover the cause of the disease, nor have they any knowledge of the remedy. They have conceived the straight to be crooked, and have imagined their friend an enemy. – Ibid., p. 213.
Of course the principle of unity, the most fundamental teaching of Baha’u’llah, calls on us to find ways to compromise. We use this tool constantly in our lives with our families, children, spouses, friends; in business and in the community at large. Yet leaders today, stunningly, refuse to use this most basic tool because of their hatred of perceived opponents.
The Baha’i teachings say that the solution involves respecting diverse opinions, returning to the spirit of true religion, and creatively striving for peaceful solutions that serve the interests of the majority of people:
It is certain that the greatest of instrumentalities for achieving the advancement and the glory of man, the supreme agency for the enlightenment and the redemption of the world, is love and fellowship and unity among all the members of the human race. Nothing can be effected in the world, not even conceivably, without unity and agreement, and the perfect means for engendering fellowship and union is true religion. – Abdu’l‑Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 73.