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The loss of certainty that there will be a future is, I believe, the pivotal psychological reality of our time. – Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self
Does humanity have a future? Many pessimistic voices think not.
Baha’is, on the other hand, believe that humanity’s long-term future looks bright, even though the immediate one may not seem that way:
The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. I beseech God, exalted be His glory, that He may graciously awaken the peoples of the earth, may grant that the end of their conduct may be profitable unto them, and aid them to accomplish that which beseemeth their station. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 171-172.
This conundrum—the lack of faith in the future because things look so dire now—affects all of us. Our world’s severe environmental issues, on top of war and hunger and endemic poverty and a host of other significant global problems, have caused lots of intelligent people to conclude that we have a bleak future, or none at all. This kind of outlook produces enormous cynicism, extinguishing hope and creating a sense of dark despair. Some observers even call it “the Great Grief.”
The reality of climate change and other serious global issues doesn’t have to make us feel helpless, though. In fact, psychologists and sociologists tell us, the most effective antidote to that feeling of helpless despair about the future involves taking steps to actively do something. One of the best ways of acting to combat cynicism and climate anxiety comes from building a sense of community.
When we have a safety net—a loving, supportive and unified group of people working toward a common goal—we don’t feel so alienated and alone. A community willing to help in a crisis effectively reduces our inner pain and contributes to a feeling of resilience and positive progress. Also, community action can exponentially increase the effectiveness of individual action, with a “multiplier effect” that brings about social change.
In her courses on this subject, which she calls “The Great Turning,” the psychologist and Buddhist climate activist Joanna Macy recommends three concrete and very Baha’i-like steps toward building community and overcoming our fears of the future:
1. Actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings. These kinds of actions include all of the environmental advocacy and activism people undertake to change the current Industrial Growth Society. This kind of action might be, Macy says, the most visible, common dimension of environmentalism, “but it is insufficient to bring that [future] society about.”
2. Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives. Macy writes: “To free ourselves and our planet from the damage being inflicted by the Industrial Growth Society, we must understand its dynamics. What are the tacit agreements that create obscene wealth for a few, while progressively impoverishing the rest of humanity? What interlocking causes indenture us to an insatiable economy that uses our Earth as supply house and sewer? It is not a pretty picture, and it takes courage and confidence in our own common sense to look at it with realism; but we are demystifying the workings of the global economy.”
Creating structural alternatives means growing new, unifying social and economic arrangements. Those constructive, positive alternatives to the old way of doing things include reduction of reliance on fossil and nuclear fuels and conversion to renewable energy sources; collaborative living arrangements such as co-housing and eco-villages; community gardens, consumer cooperatives, community-supported agriculture, watershed restoration, etc., etc.
3. Bringing about a shift in human consciousness. This new way of relating to each other and to the Earth requires deeply ingrained spiritual values, and a profound shift in our perception of reality—both as a cognitive revolution and a spiritual awakening. This—the Great Turning, as Macy calls it—is already happening.
Baha’is believe that the spiritual insights necessary for this shift in human consciousness were initially released into the world by the Baha’i revelation. The influence of that revelation, however, isn’t limited to the Baha’is or the Baha’i community, but embraces and encompasses all of humanity.
With those insights, our collective human awareness of our vital connection to the Earth steadily increases. We can grow beyond the old dominion-over-nature paradigm to a much more ecologically sustainable vision of the planet and our place on it. We can replace the hollow materialism of our cultures with a more living, loving spiritual model. We can open our hearts and move beyond the separate and alienated self toward building community and oneness:
Among the principles guiding the Baha’i approach to conservation and sustainable development, the following are of particular importance
- nature reflects the qualities and attributes of God and should, therefore, be greatly respected and cherished;
- all things are interconnected and flourish according to the law of reciprocity; and
- the oneness of humanity is the fundamental spiritual and social truth shaping our age. – Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Baha’i Faith, The Baha’i International Community, 1995.
With these profound realizations translated into collective action, we can find real and authentic ways to believe in the future once again.