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The aphorism “think globally, act locally” rings true today more than ever – but how can one individual contribute? Sure, we all want a peaceful, unified, sustainable planet – but how can we build it?
Media and technology have gradually increased our awareness of global disasters, poverty, conflict and environmental crises, leading ultimately to a growing conscious of the oneness of humanity. Still, though, the problems “at home” are all too obvious, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown.
In their Global Trends 2040 report, the U.S. National Intelligence Council asserts that:
… shared global challenges – including climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions – are likely to manifest more frequently and intensely in almost every region and country … The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic marks the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come … the difficulty of addressing these transnational challenges is compounded in part by increasing fragmentation within communities, state, and the international system.
Clearly, we need to promote vision and action that encompasses both the global and the local levels. Toward that end, the world’s Baha’is have a unique global and local plan that helps build a unified world. More than a century ago Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”
Local efforts to create unity through the inspiration of the Baha’i teachings can accrue to global unity, and anyone who wants to play a part can start by praying for God’s assistance. Baha’is pray daily, using this prayer from Baha’u’llah, to align ourselves with God’s will and purify our souls from attachment to ourselves and to the material world:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.
But prayer alone is not sufficient. As we pray, we can act at the same time. Abdu’l-Baha, the eldest son and successor of Baha’u’llah, gave this advice: “… strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers.”
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For Baha’is, deeds and not words prove a true spiritual intent. The Baha’i teachings say that work done in a spirit of service is also a form of worship. That includes those who perform their jobs with trustworthiness and radiance, and those who reach out to their neighbors during the pandemic, or at any time. Abdu’l-Baha taught that: “By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds.”
The most effective deeds include those which help build the capacity of the world’s peoples, and are aligned with the requirements of this historical moment. To meet those requirements, the Baha’i teachings emphasize the unity of humankind, the equality of women and men, the abolition of all forms of prejudice, the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty, the essential harmony between science and religion, universal education, the independent investigation of the truth, and the establishment of true justice in the world, as Baha’u’llah wrote in this passage:
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.
Baha’is around the world, motivated to bring about global justice and unity, learn about the needs of humanity through a dual perspective of spiritual and material development. Baha’is conduct community activities to study the progressive teachings of all Faiths, including age-appropriate training for children and youth. The junior youth empowerment program is a key process that engages a wide participation from various faiths, where young people study together, learn to express themselves in a safe space, and carry out community service.
To help build and model unity, global governance capacities develop as Baha’is come together in communities all around the world to communicate freely and make decisions through the practice of consultation. The spiritual and social development experiences of all countries – of schools, agriculture and environmental programs, health and economic development – form the basis of learning throughout this unique worldwide community. Baha’is have no clergy, and democratically elect their administrative bodies at the local, national and international levels, to guide the affairs of the worldwide Baha’i community and collaborate with other Faith groups and like-minded institutions.
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Baha’is have actively participated, for example, in the United Nations framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Baha’i International Community (BIC) applauded the U.N.’s Agenda 2030 in this document, Summoning our Common Will, while advocating that all people should be seen as protagonists of development and not as passive objects. These platforms for global development help expand knowledge and generate a common will for change among the world’s peoples. At the recent Commission on the Status of Women, for instance, the BIC shared a film to help instill hope and optimism about gender equality and women’s empowerment: UN Commission on the Status of Women examines the role of women in public life (bahai.ca)
Baha’u’llah compared the world of humanity to the human body, where millions of disparate cells cooperate in a continuous process of giving and receiving. In the same way the challenges facing humanity will require the active contribution of all, harmonized to fulfill God’s vision of an ever-advancing civilization. The diverse global Baha’i community harmonizes the energy of individuals, communities, and institutions through these parallel processes, and welcomes all people who want to work locally and think globally to join us.
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