countering hate and violence

Someone posted a question on the Baha’i group on Reddit, asking “What can be done by one person to counter hate/violence in the world?” It was a great question, so I decided to try and give it an answer. Here goes.

As I see it, the most potent antidote to a rising tide of hate and violence is to help yourself and others around you—especially young people—to raise their capacity to show spiritual qualities such as love, kindness, steadfastness, justice, reliance on God and compassion, and to serve humanity selflessly.

Get involved in a junior youth group and give young people a space where they can learn what it means to transform themselves and their community at the same time. Or get involved as a teacher of children’s classes so you can give younger children the spiritual foundation they’ll need to become agents of change within their communities. Work with a teaching team so that you don’t burn yourself out, and so that you can coordinate your actions with others.

It’s important that we not underestimate the uplifting and transforming power of these seemingly simple acts of service. Carried out consistently, persistently, and with a spirit of service, they can completely change the face of our communities—not only Baha’i communities, but the greater community.

If you want to see what this can eventually lead to, check out the Frontiers of Learning video. In particular, the section from Colombia brings me a lot of hope, but all of them show the transforming power of collective action within the framework of the Plan.

the five-year plan

So some people on Reddit were talking about Bahá’í jargon recently, and someone asked for the definition of the Five-Year Plan—because it’s been “evolving so much, I don’t know what it currently is anymore”. Here, then, is a stab at a definition.

Literally, the series of Five Year Plans are simply global plans, carried out under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, to implement the Divine Plan as elaborated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Tablets of the Divine Plan. There have been other “Five Year Plans” in the past, but the current series of four consecutive plans began in 2001 and will last until 2021, to be followed by further plans.

The current series of plans has been characterized by two principal, complementary movements, which have remained the focus of each plan in the series:

  1. The movement of increasing numbers of collaborators through the training institute process—which offers them training to offer specific, concrete acts of service, including but not limited to the “core activities”—study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups, and devotional meetings;
  2. The movement of clusters from one stage of development to the next, where each stage is characterized by a higher level of intensity, organization, and systematization.

The first in the series of Five Year Plans (2001–2006) introduced these two complimentary movements, and provided an opportunity for national Bahá’í communities to define “clusters” as distinct geographical divisions within their countries. This was done to break down the task of measuring community development and growth to a more manageable sub-national level.

This was also when most people were introduced to study circles and to the materials of the training institute. At this time, not many people grasped the purpose of the training institute, believing it to be yet another deepening program among many others. This perception gradually began to shift as Bahá’ís began to implement the institute process across the world, building up experience and reflecting on which kinds of implementations worked and which didn’t. Children’s classes and devotional meetings were also introduced as core activities, to be open to all.

The second in the series of Five Year Plans (2006–2011) introduced the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme as an element of the plan, as communities worldwide identified the need to engage young people between the ages of 11–14 as a particularly receptive population. At this point, what’s now known as Ruhi Book 5 was added to the main sequence of institute courses, allowing participants in the institute process to receive training on how to engage and empower junior youth to arise and serve humanity.

One of the main numeric goals of this particular plan called for the establishment of 1,500 intensive programs of growth in clusters around the world. This entailed the establishment in these clusters of a working, self-sustaining, and ever-expanding institute process in which new collaborators could be trained in specific acts of service and then arise to carry forward that same process. As Bahá’ís embraced the process and arose to serve, striving to understand what an intensive program of growth should look like in their clusters, a great deal of learning was generated that would inform future plans.

The third in the series of Five Year Plans (2011–2016) set a new numeric goal of 5,000 programs of growth worldwide. In this case, the requirement was that there simply be a program of growth—i.e., an institute process operating at any level of intensity. At this point, many of the clusters that had established an intensive program of growth during the previous plan began assisting believers in adjoining clusters to establish the institute process there. The concept of “milestones” was also elaborated during this plan; using this terminology, the numeric goal for this plan was for 5,000 clusters (or fully one-third of all clusters worldwide) to reach the first milestone.

It was also during this plan that the construction of new Houses of Worship were announced in several countries and clusters worldwide. The importance of nurturing the devotional character of a community through devotional gatherings become much clearer as Bahá’ís gained a better understanding of the connection between worship and service, and the unique role of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in community life.

The fourth in the series of Five Year Plans (2016–2021) is the one we’re in now, and it calls for raising the level of intensity in each of the 5,000+ clusters targeted during the previous plan, so that each of these clusters can be said to have an intensive program of growth in place (i.e. a working, self-sustaining, and ever-expanding institute process). In other words, each of these clusters are to reach the second milestone or beyond during this plan. At this point, enough learning has been generated through the experiences of Bahá’í communities around the world that the framework of the plans is clear and needs only to be exploited to its fullest potential.

tl;dr: An evolving series of plans with the overall aim of developing the capacity of more and more individuals, communities and institutions to serve humanity. Each plan in this series has had its own particular focus and goals, but each one has built on the last and served to carry forward two complimentary movements: The movement of increasing numbers of collaborators through the training institute process, and the movement of clusters from one stage of development (or organization/systematization) to the next.

milestones of the five year plan

640px-Borne_routière_MadagascarSo by now, you’ve probably gotten a copy of the long-awaited letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated 29 December 2015, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, which spells out the framework for the upcoming Five Year Plan. (If not, it’s available online, from the official Bahá’í Reference Library website!)

First things first: It’s a really awesome letter. A friend and I read through it the day it came out, and we felt that it was one of the most complete letters we’ve read—in terms of describing the entire process of growth from the initial stages, through the establishment of a program of growth, past the intensification of growth and into the far reaches of activity where Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation starts to permeate into the fabric of society. We were also able to see quite clearly the stages at which our clusters were located in the process, and the next steps awaiting us as we progressed from one milestone of growth to the next.

Those “milestones”, though—what are those? In the interest of cutting through some of the jargon, here’s my attempt at a brief explanation/recap of “milestones” in the context of the Five Year Plan. Continue reading

change in culture

change in cultureIn May 2006, the Universal House of Justice wrote to the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada regarding the goals and plans of the Canadian Baha’i community. The latter had set some ambitious goals for the growth and development of the community, promising to firmly establish intensive programs of growth in no less than 46 areas of the country (Ottawa, of course, being one of them). The Universal House of Justice pointed out in its letter that “[s]uch a bold objective cannot be achieved merely by adopting the outer form of the activities of the Five Year Plan [i.e. the ‘core activities’]”, and that “a true change in culture is required”.

So what’s this whole “intensive growth” thing? Is it freaky or evil? Not really. The Baha’i community, just like any religious community, can either stagnate or grow. A healthy community grows; an unhealthy one stagnates (or worse, God forbid—disunity sets in and it dies out). Bahá’ís naturally want their community to grow, to become more united, and to attract receptive souls who are willing to throw their lot in to build a divine civilization. “Intensive growth” is simply what’s needed at this time because of the lamentable, perilous and frightening state of the world. If the world were in better shape, we might be able to just go along at our regular (slow) pace, getting more and more united as the years went by, gradually learning how better to serve humanity and follow the teachings sent by Baha’u’llah; but because the world around us is losing it so quickly, we have to learn quicker—put some Miracle-Gro on our garden—so that if and when things start spinning out of control—which seems to be real soon now—the Bahá’ís will be able to offer your average Jack and Jill somewhere to turn to for a respite from all the confusion.

That “change in culture” has been happening gradually within the Baha’i community over the past year. Taking on a new way of acting and living our lives is challenging, and like any change, it begins with friction and discomfort. Let me give an example…
Continue reading