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Spiritual Values and Action in an Interconnected World

Bobak Tavangar | Jul 24, 2013

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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Bobak Tavangar | Jul 24, 2013

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

Hacker worldAs growing global connectivity parallels humanity’s heightened collective consciousness, our world has begun to demand unprecedented new standards for values-driven action. I have drawn consistent guidance from the writings of the Baha’i Faith:

Humanity has emerged from its former state of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moral standards, new capacities. New bounties, perfect bestowals, are awaiting and already descending upon him. The gifts and blessings of the period of youth, although timely and sufficient during the adolescence of mankind, are now incapable of meeting the requirements of its maturity. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p.165.

At my company, we’re building an artificial intelligence that links and learns patterns in large sets of data. And lately, that work and its implications has me thinking hard about my own spiritual values, and how they connect to my actions and goals.

My company processes data pertaining to people, governments, news, intellectual property, financial flows, and all sorts of organizations. The way we organize all of this information – think of a large, interconnected spider web – constantly reminds us how our actions, or our inaction, impacts everyone. Studying the data, it quickly becomes apparent that our reasons for why we do something are just as important as how we do it.

Put another way, in a world where each of us continuously generates ripple-effect impact on those around us, our actions have to be congruent with our values.

By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancor. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138.

Now, more than ever in human history, it is easier to connect, inspire, build, and accomplish. It naturally follows then that our emphasis be placed first on Why rather than How. We need to challenge ourselves, base our actions on value-driven rather than results-driven equations, and ask some tough questions:

People in the information spaceAre governments financing infrastructure projects to serve their citizens or enrich their friends? Do philanthropic foundations support certain NGOs because they care about empowerment or because they are concerned with prestige? Do students and professors engage in academic debate because they care about the collective pursuit of truth or personal triumph over their peers? Why do universities charge such high tuition? Why do journalists investigate corruption? Why, truly, do politicians run for reelection? Why do banks have Corporate Social Responsibility programs? Why do people start companies?

That iterative, value-driven questioning process has driven me toward even more self-reflection in my work. Whether it’s reviewing product design, preparing material for investors, learning the nuances of a new piece of technology, or managing a product development cycle, I endeavor always to crosscheck what I’m doing against my values, in an effort to understand the impact that my actions will have on those around me.

In this context, the Baha’i teachings set a very high standard for unity in this age of human-computer connectivity:

A fundamental teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the oneness of the world of humanity. Addressing mankind, He says: “Ye are all leaves of one tree and the fruits of one branch.” By this it is meant that the world of humanity is like a tree, the nations or peoples are the different limbs or branches of that tree and the individual human creatures are as the fruits and blossoms thereof… all are recipients of the bounty and bestowals of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 246.

This beautiful vision of unity has enormous implications for humanity’s growing interdependence. But getting there means asking hard questions in a quest for truth, prioritizing values, and constantly making spiritual principles integral to every other consideration.

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