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For some time I’ve found two statements in the Baha’i teachings highly intriguing and challenging. The first says: “Let your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own self.”
This passage, from the writings of Baha’u’llah, challenges me to think globally in everything I do. One way to do this is to try to avoid things that are opposites of “world-embracing.” Some opposites are set out strikingly in a second statement, this one written in 1931 by the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi: “The call of Baha’u’llah is primarily directed against all forms of provincialism, all insularities and prejudices.”
Sadly our world can feel dominated by much “provincialism” and many “insularities.” How then can we try to cultivate a “world-embracing” vision? What challenges hold us back and how might we overcome them?
As we know, one recent challenge – the COVID-19 pandemic – was world-embracing, affected us all and showed just how globally interconnected and interdependent we have become. Sadly the “vision” most governments saw to respond to it included things far from “world-embracing.” Some government-driven strategies privileged a few wealthy nations over others, and inequitable distribution of vaccines away from poorer countries and communities resulted, prolonging the pandemic.
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This for me showed that just because a problem is global it might not necessarily be tackled with a global vision. It also made clear that deliberate action – including having a vision beforehand – can be key to actually solving problems rather than making them worse.
Similarly, assuming particular actions will automatically bring about a world-embracing vision just because they involve a global scale, might also not get us there, either.
One example could be thinking that people who travel internationally might automatically develop a world-embracing vision from their travel experiences. It might separately be assumed that people, like myself, who choose to economically migrate to work in different parts of the world might naturally develop a world-encircling vision of some kind.
These assumptions seem problematic. Not everyone can afford international travel. The planet’s climate also may not bear more of us flying internationally, given the emissions profiles of current transport technologies.
A July 2020 statement by the Baha’i World community also notes that on average only a very tiny percentage of humanity ever migrate internationally. Economic migration and international travel alone then likely cannot generate a world-embracing vision. Even if they did, this might not happen at the mass scale needed to allow such a different kind of world to spread universally.
Given what is happening in Ukraine, it is also vital to remember people often migrate because they are displaced by conflict or other crises. This kind of mobility is not something we would wish to see more of in the world.
However, we can see some underlying dynamics in these patterns of migration and displacement. The same July 2020 statement called those patterns “expressions of deeper processes of integration and disintegration transforming our world.”
In my case, integration has been there for decades in science, as universities internationalize and global collaboration of researchers increases. For my specific situation of being someone who works in a university, this enables a more “world-embracing” vision of my career. For displaced refugees their vision may instead be simply that horrid attitudes and behaviors persist that still regard waging wars and contesting national borders and resources as acceptable.
At the same time the Baha’i teachings do suggest in future that “the flow of goods and persons from place to place” could be “vastly freer than anything which now obtains in the world as a whole,” which means that mobility likely does have some kind of place in a “world-embracing vision.” An inseparable part of this vision maintains that such a future likely won’t exist until significant changes are made in the way the world operates. Shoghi Effendi explains that these need to be both in how individuals behave and in “the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family.”
Returning to my individual situation of working abroad, a challenge I sadly face is people often asking, “when are you going home?” The unspoken assumption is that the country I live in is their home, but not mine.
… the surface of the earth is one native land. Everyone can live in any spot on the terrestrial globe. … Every limited area which we call our native country we regard as our mother-land, whereas the terrestrial globe is the mother-land of all, and not any restricted area.
When it comes to reforming “relationships that must bind all the states and nations,” as mentioned earlier, similar profound changes need to occur. The writings of Shoghi Effendi add considerable detail to the vision here. In the passage below, he prescribes a number of steps humanity must undertake before it can truly function at world-embracing scale:
A world language will either be invented or chosen from among the existing languages and will be taught in the schools of all the federated nations as an auxiliary to their mother tongue. A world script, a world literature, a uniform and universal system of currency, of weights and measures, will simplify and facilitate intercourse and understanding among the nations and races of mankind. … A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable authority over its unimaginably vast resources, blending and embodying the ideals of both the East and the West, liberated from the curse of war and its miseries, and bent on the exploitation of all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet, a system in which Force is made the servant of Justice, whose life is sustained by its universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation—such is the goal towards which humanity, impelled by the unifying forces of life, is moving.
This expansive vision combines down-to-Earth practical elements with spiritual development, where humanity universally recognizes “one God” as the source of all religions. That Baha’i vision of changed thinking is therefore also combined with overcoming practical obstacles that may prevent people from becoming “world-embracing” in their attitudes and actions to one another. This includes the need to choose or develop a common auxiliary language so people can more easily communicate, as well as adopting a universal currency and a standardized system of weights and measures.
The interdependency between humanity establishing world-embracing institutions before it can be “liberated from the curse of war and its miseries” – miseries like the forced displacement of peoples – add additional elements to this amazing vision.
On a daily basis I myself of course may still struggle trying to become more “world-embracing.” Nevertheless, I remain encouraged and inspired by the vision the Baha’i teachings can offer humanity, with its mix of individual and institutional, spiritual and practical suggestions and inspirations.