Nineteen years into this awkwardly beautiful, frighteningly vulnerable 21st century, the world’s pulse right now is racing. Progress, once slow, has accelerated enormously.
If this young century were a human being, he or she would soon or already have the right to vote, to enter into legal contracts, to make adult decisions beyond the authority of any parent or legal guardian.
So let’s imagine the entire history of humanity compressed into that short timespan. At this point would we, the human race, be mature yet? According to the Baha’i teachings, we stand at the threshold of maturity as a species, the age of planetary civilization, a time of unity in diversity, of material and social interconnectedness:
The world of humanity has, heretofore, been in the stage of infancy; now it is approaching maturity. Just as the individual human organism, having attained the period of maturity, reaches its fullest degree of physical strength and ripened intellectual faculties so that in one year of this ripened period there is witnessed an unprecedented measure of development, likewise the world of humanity in this cycle of its completeness and consummation will realize an immeasurable upward progress, and that power of accomplishment whereof each individual human reality is the depository of God—that outworking Universal Spirit—like the intellectual faculty, will reveal itself in infinite degrees of perfection. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 37-38.
The prerequisite for success? We must manage to achieve spiritual interconnectedness by recognizing our oneness. To that end, the Baha’i writings ask all of us to act as protagonists in creating a just and unified world:
… to endow the body of this world with a living soul, and to bring this young child, humanity, to the stage of adulthood. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 34.
When my own kids were in their late teens, someone gave me excellent advice: to have confidence in them. It felt like being asked to have confidence in walking a tightrope—blindfolded.
Right now, although no one is asking, I’d like to say to the world, “Have confidence!” Yes, I know, our world has multiple problems—but we are maturing.
In this stage of our collective growth and maturation, we at least need enough courage to envision our positive goals and make our way in that general direction, putting one foot in front of the other. Our anxiety may be justified but it can also be corrosive, distracting us from the work that needs to be done and threatening our resolve.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, clearly saw the negative forces of disintegration at work in our contemporary cultures, that, if unchecked, would “continue to eat into the vitals of a despairing society.” But even more importantly, he wrote of the concurrent forces of integration, and the “gradual diffusion of the spirit of world solidarity which is spontaneously arising out of the welter of a disorganized society.” – The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 44.
Shoghi Effendi lived long enough to see the structure and fabric of our international systems being created, which would later lead to enormous gains in the areas of the environment, public health, human rights, universal education, interfaith activities, and social action at local, national and international levels, all as the 21st Century arrived.
In recent years, several prominent authors and speakers have highlighted the progress that we have all but missed in our compulsive focus on the day’s newsfeed. Googling Steven Pinker, Hans Rosling, or humanprogress.org will net more than enough reason for hope, optimism and confidence.
We can attribute the enormous progress made to date to democracy, cooperation, collaboration, peace and solidarity—all linked to our increasing sense of humanity’s oneness. Political typhoons notwithstanding, those integrating forces are stronger than we think. We can and should have confidence in them.
A great deal of digital ink has been spilt warning us of the very real catastrophes awaiting us if we fail to make the right decisions. Most are sincere; some have a financial interest in holding our attention through dire news and fearsome predictions.
We can all use the power of language, and the power of our actions, to call for and exemplify the qualities we want to see in our maturing civilizations, as opposed to the ones we don’t want to see. Let’s focus on creating a balanced, democratic world that’s non-violent, sustainable, just, orderly, creative, respectful, child-friendly, entrepreneur-friendly, inclusive. Some assembly required.