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Nothing Big Ever Happens without Ideals

David Langness | Nov 14, 2016

PART 5 IN SERIES Realism vs Idealism

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Nov 14, 2016

PART 5 IN SERIES Realism vs Idealism

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

…it is evident that all phenomena of material being are fundamentally one. In the mineral kingdom this component atom or element possesses certain virtues of the mineral; in the kingdom of the vegetable it is imbued with vegetable qualities or virtues; in the plane of animal existence it is empowered with animal virtues — the senses; and in the kingdom of man it manifests qualities peculiar to the human station.

As this is true of material phenomena, how much more evident and essential it is that oneness should characterize man in the realm of idealism, which finds its expression only in the human kingdom. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 349.

We human beings, unlike any other living creatures, have the potential to possess abstract ideals.

Animals don’t have ideals—they have instincts. Anyone who has ever had an affectionate pet knows that some of those instincts look a lot like love and devotion.

But you’ll never see any animal organize a rally for peace, or paint an inspiring painting, or found an orphanage, or run a food bank, or become a doctor in order to help others. Those kinds of idealistic and altruistic motivations belong solely to the human race—or, as the Baha’i teachings say, belong “in the realm of idealism, which finds its expression only in the human kingdom.”

This kind of idealism—the ability to see a better future and act on it—requires faith. It requires faith in human nature, in human goodness, in humanity itself. Everyone who serves others understands that kind of faith, because they exemplify it as they serve. Those who serve humanity express a sense of deep optimism in the future. A teacher, for example, might not even live to see the eventual results of her work with small children—but she does it because she has faith in the future.

In one way, then, idealism simply means believing that a better future will come. It means trusting the future—that the sun will continue to rise and humanity will continue to progress. In our cynical age, many people have lost their faith in the future, and believe that we’re headed for dystopia, the fall of civilization and the end of human evolution. Baha’is don’t feel that way at all—instead, the Baha’i teachings assure us that human beings have a bright collective future:

The whole earth is now in a state of pregnancy. The day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings. Immeasurably exalted is the breeze that wafteth from the garment of thy Lord, the Glorified! For lo, it hath breathed its fragrance and made all things new! – Baha’u’llah, quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 169.

With this hopeful, idealistic vision in mind, give these two questions some thought: personally, what’s your biggest and most idealistic goal? What do you envision for the future, and how do you plan to participate in the realization of that vision?

The answers to those questions will differ for everyone, but they do point toward one conclusion—we all need an expansive, hopeful and idealistic way of conceptualizing and relating to the future.

Have you ever heard of BHAGs? No, it’s not an insult—BHAG stands for a “big, hairy audacious goal,” a term first coined by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. A BHAG means setting a major, audacious and visionary goal that has an idealistic end in mind. First used in businesses, BHAGs have now made the transition to many other areas of life, especially spirituality and psychology.

Imagining and then setting big, hairy audacious goals for ourselves tends to focus us on a much larger sense of reality, and give us something inspiring and idealistic to aim for.

So what, then, might make the biggest, hairiest and most audacious goal you could dream up? What’s the ultimate goal of all human attainment? The Baha’i teachings say that goal—winning “the good-pleasure of God”—requires the growth of love and fellowship:

I ask you, is not fellowship and brotherhood preferable to enmity and hatred in society and community? The answer is self-evident. Love and fellowship are absolutely needful to win the good-pleasure of God which is the goal of all human attainment. We must be united. We must love each other. We must ever praise each other. We must bestow commendation upon all people, thus removing the discord and hatred which have caused alienation amongst men. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 99.

Starting with that one goal—spreading love and fellowship among the people you encounter every day—might be the ultimate BHAG.

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