The Baha’i Faith asks every human being to develop a higher, more inclusive personal identity by becoming a citizen of the world, but what does that mean and how do we do it?
In Part 1 of this series, I addressed how fixation on one identity can cause division—and the importance of broadening our identities, especially beyond extreme nationalist frameworks.
Identifying as world citizens is, in fact, a central tenet of the Baha’i Faith and its writings offer a vision of the eventual “emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, [and] the founding of a world civilization and culture,” which would mark the “furthermost limits in the organization of human society.” Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 164.
At one level, one could claim that this concept was a bit foreign to the world of 19th Century Persia when the Baha’i Faith was founded. However, with a little digging, I learned that there were thought leaders in ancient times who promoted these principles.
The concept of concentric circles of identity may have originally come from a fellow named Hierocles, for example. He was a Stoic, the school of Hellenistic philosophy that flourished in the Roman and Greek worlds until the 3rd Century BC. Stoicism was largely a philosophy of personal ethics, but it also introduced a cosmopolitan ideal. Namely, it taught that each human being is a citizen of his family and local community, but also a citizen of his/her country, and a citizen of the world.
These ancient philosophers seemed far ahead of their time when they called for the brotherhood of humanity and the natural equality of all human beings. The same general theme, advocated by the Baha’i Faith, teaches that the highest level of moral thinking is a love, not just for one’s race or country, but for humanity as a whole:
By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138.
Being raised in a Baha’i family, I grew up with these concepts. But, I could own these principles, too, because I had the blessing of mixing, at a fairly young age, with people from all kinds of different backgrounds. I was born abroad and had traveled pretty extensively by the time I was in high school—to India, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Israel. As an adult, I also lived in England for several years and traveled throughout Europe.
The world became my oyster in many ways, and I am truly grateful to have seen so much of it. People like me have been called “global nomads.” As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, I believe there are more of us who are not defined strictly by national boundaries and, in fact are sometimes puzzled by these artificial barriers.
Conventional wisdom has posited that one can’t have an identity as a global citizen because there is no government entity to attach that citizenship to, but an increasing number of people now identify this way. Because of the many issues that cross borders, the technological revolution, the depth and breadth of global business, and the ways that individuals are connecting with each other all over the world, I know that many others share this broader worldview.
Do you think of yourself as a world citizen?
Today, these worldviews seem increasingly associated with being part of the elite, but I don’t think it has to be that way. We can understand this better if we separate out a global elite culture from globalization and globalization from global citizenship. The first, I would argue, reflects a widening gap between the rich and the poor which needs to be urgently addressed, and the second reflects important trends that are needed for the progress of civilization in a material sense—international trade for example. The third, however, reflects an important and necessary shift in moral thinking and, I would argue, spiritual evolution:
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. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 249.
It can be difficult for people to relate to these ideas when they may not have had the resources to travel beyond the communities they grew up in, or when they don’t have opportunities to interact with people from other races and cultures, or when they haven’t benefited from the economic advantages of globalization. But there are still ways to broaden our horizons in our own local communities. (See my post on 5 Ways to Make Friends from Different Cultures) Ideally, we can cultivate curiosity and build relationships by genuinely learning and caring about “foreigners” lives and hopes—not just to stamp them with a stereotype.
At a societal level, the Baha’i writings urge us to move to the next stage in humanity’s evolution – however difficult it may be to get there:
The world is, in truth, moving on towards its destiny. The interdependence of the peoples and nations of the earth, whatever the leaders of the divisive forces of the world may say or do, is already an accomplished fact. Its unity in the economic sphere is now understood and recognized. The welfare of the part means the welfare of the whole, and the distress of the part brings distress to the whole. … Adversity, prolonged, worldwide, afflictive, allied to chaos and universal destruction, must needs convulse the nations, stir the conscience of the world, disillusion the masses, precipitate a radical change in the very conception of society, and coalesce ultimately the disjointed, the bleeding limbs of mankind into one body, single, organically united, and indivisible. – Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 122.