Prior to the recent midterm election, my social media pages were flooded with get-out-the-vote promotions.
Everyone and their mom seemed to encourage, beg, or sometimes bully, each other to get to the polls, send in their ballots, and make their voice heard. While the newfound political engagement feels necessary in a world where politicians continually shape the lives of the masses, there also seemed to be a number of underlying assumptions that much of the “go vote or else” rhetoric could easily imply.
One assumption I worried people might believe is that change only comes through voting.
The Baha’i teachings suggest:
We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end. How excellent, how honorable is man if he arises to fulfill his responsibilities; how wretched and contemptible, if he shuts his eyes to the welfare of society and wastes his precious life in pursuing his own selfish interests and personal advantages. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 4.
Though certainly one important tool for responding to the blatant call for change in our world today, voting only represents a single means toward that end. Sometimes—not always but sometimes—voting can feel like having to pick between the lesser of two evils. Voting does not always seem like it moves us towards a radically different world, but rather one not worsening as significantly.
To continually search for new ways to promote the joy of humanity on a day-to-day basis helps us to reclaim and maintain power, even as our old systems of governance struggle to work effectively to ensure that all of us are protected.
At times, though, we can feel our governmental system provides us with a mode for change. Representatives may offer proposals that we recognize as leading to greater justice and healing. One of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, Abdu’l-Baha, said:
From every standpoint the world of humanity is undergoing a reformation. The laws of former governments and civilizations are in process of revision; scientific ideas and theories are developing and advancing to meet a new range of phenomena; invention and discovery are penetrating hitherto unknown fields, revealing new wonders and hidden secrets of the material universe; industries have vastly wider scope and production; everywhere the world of mankind is in the throes of evolutionary activity indicating the passing of the old conditions and advent of the new age of reformation. Old trees yield no fruitage; old ideas and methods are obsolete and worthless now. Old standards of ethics, moral codes and methods of living in the past will not suffice for the present age of advancement and progress. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 439.
Historically, American institutions have been used to suppress many people, but this quote from the Baha’i teachings implies hope. Voting in ways that move the whole of humanity towards this kind of progress could contribute to the reformation described in this passage. But simply voting once every few years won’t change everything—instead, we each need to find ways to become sources of social good every day:
… the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 3-4.
God has given us eyes, that we may look about us at the world, and lay hold of whatsoever will further civilization and the arts of living. He has given us ears, that we may hear and profit by the wisdom of scholars and philosophers and arise to promote and practice it. Senses and faculties have been bestowed upon us, to be devoted to the service of the general good; so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times and along all lines, whether the occasion be great or small, ordinary or extraordinary, until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge. – Ibid., p. 4.