6 qualities of the empowered

studying the guidanceYou know how you can read something one day, get something out of it, and then read it again next week and get a fresh new insight? That’s often what happens to me when I read the Bahá’í Writings. Most recently, I’ve been working hard to finish reading all of the recent messages of the Universal House of Justice—the 8 February 2013 and 1 May 2013 messages announcing the convocation of the worldwide youth conferences, for example, and the 1 July 2013 message to all the conferences; the 2013 Ridván message; and Insights from the Frontiers of Learning, the long but fascinating companion document to the wonderful new film Frontiers of Learning.

Anyway, a friend of mine shared the last sentence of the 8 February 2013 message the other day, and I took the opportunity to read it again with fresh eyes. In it, the Universal House of Justice writes of its hope for the youth of the world, giving an overview of the kinds of qualities that characterize the “new race of men” anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh—a race not defined by nationality or ethnicity, nor by superhero-style mutations or magical powers(!), nor indeed by any material considerations, but by the strength and maturity of their character, by their spiritual qualities. To give a little context, the Bahá’í International Community gave some very useful commentary on this term in its Statement on Bahá’u’lláh:

The distinguishing feature of humanity’s coming of age is that, for the first time in its history, the entire human race is consciously involved, however dimly, in the awareness of its own oneness and of the earth as a single homeland. This awakening opens the way to a new relationship between God and humankind. As the peoples of the world embrace the spiritual authority inherent in the guidance of the Revelation of God for this age, Bahá’u’lláh said, they will find in themselves a moral empowerment which human effort alone has proven incapable of generating. “A new race of men” will emerge as the result of this relationship, and the work of building a global civilization will begin.

In the last paragraph of the 8 February 2013 message, the Universal House of Justice enumerates some of the qualities that youth will need in order to make a difference in the world—qualities related to moral and spiritual empowerment. Let’s examine them here, point by point. “In our prayers at the Sacred Threshold,” the message reads, “we entreat the Ancient Beauty that, from out a distracted and bewildered humanity, He may distil…”: Continue reading

economic crisis: it’s about ethics

“The economy is in crisis”, the televisions at the gym blared. “you may no longer be able to afford that SUV.” “Due to the economic crisis,” read the printed signs at the fast food restaurant, “our sub sandwich supreme has doubled in price. We regret any inconvenience this may cause.” “Because of the economic crisis,” burbled the talking heads wearing corporate-looking suits, “we have had to reduce our workforce by half.” We all remember, right? Whose idea was it to have an economic crisis, anyway? It may be a better question than you think. Who plans ahead for misery? We all do, it turns out—when our actions are driven by a “concept of self-centered materialism”, as recently stated by members of the European Baha’i Business Forum.

Any response to the world economic crisis must address ethics, given that the crisis is “fundamentally one of trust and integrity,” the European Baha’i Business Forum said in a statement published last week. Furthermore, the situation requires an ethical response “at all levels” – from individuals, from corporations, and from governments and regulatory entities, said the statement, released as some 400 representatives from dozens of countries and organizations gathered in Geneva for a two-day Global Ethics Forum.

“We need to replace the concept of self-centered materialism with that of service to humanity,” the EBBF said. Cooperation must replace competition, the statement continued; ethical behavior must replace corruption, gender balance must replace sexism, world unity must replace protectionism, justice must replace injustice.

I remember having a talk with my boss at the Conference Board—one of Canada’s powerhouses in the business of economic research—during the time the fearful words “economic crisis” first hit the news screens, as we walked into work in the morning. The conversation revolved around what makes, or causes, an economic crisis. The conclusion was pretty similar to the one reached above by the EBBF in their statement: it’s about ethics. When people get into the habit of doing business unethically—by selling products (like mortgages, loans, etc) with exploitive terms, or otherwise cheating their clients—the system they put together will end up failing. When this situation arises in a business that relies so strongly on trust as the financial industry, the impact of that failure will naturally be much bigger. People do more business with people they think they can trust; if that trust is then broken, the chaos created as those people pull back out will naturally seem like a “crisis”. In contrast with most of the Western world, Canada’s economic system emerged into the first quarter of 2009 relatively unscathed—because Canadian banks, unlike their American counterparts, had long observed a policy of conservative lending that precluded the sort of unethical lending rampant in the American banks. Honesty is like a magnet: observe it and you will create a strong and stable network around you; disregard it and everything you build will crumble.

Read the Baha’i World News story.

blog action day: thinking about poverty

sip?“really, though,” I thought to myself while jotting down notes about blog action day’s chosen topic of poverty, “what am i doing sitting here, sipping on a milkshake, when the three dollars I paid for it could have paid for a meal for a hungry child?” I still don’t have an answer. But it did get me thinking—thinking hard enough to put together a few thoughts on a topic I admittedly don’t think much about. thinking about wealth, family, and social position, and how I tend to take them for granted, just because that’s the way things are. thinking about what poverty means in Canada, one of the more affluent nations of the world—where, according to my own employer, the Conference Board of Canada, and to OECD statistics, one out of every seven children lives in poverty. thinking, and wondering what in the world one person could do to stem the tide of what has been and continues to be a global epidemic that afflicts billions of people.

In 2001, the United Nations set eight overarching goals for development, the “Millennium Development Goals” (side note: I’ve gotten real tired of things being named “Millennium”. they named a bus stop near my old high school “Millennium” for pete’s sake). The first of these goals—which also touched on topics such as education, gender equality, and the environment—concerned the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Specific targets? halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day; achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; and halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. That’s no small task, I pondered to myself as I looked for a way to tackle this issue from my own perspective. How in the world are they supposed to do that, especially given the repeated failures of aid programs through corruption, misappropriation of funds, the creation of dependency in the receiving nations that elicits cries of “neocolonialist pigs!” in the radical West? Sure, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, there’s enough food in the world to feed everybody, but aren’t there still 780 million people who are still chronically hungry? What are they going to do, air-drop hamburgers?

Thankfully, through the agency of some good-natured spirit, I happened to find out about a study session on the Baha’i International Community’s recent statement, Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One that happened tonight. After attending and taking a bunch of notes, I put together a few highlights in typical dan-jones style that I’d like to share with you.
Continue reading

phone scam story

my mom tells me they got a phone call recently from a woman who told her that she and my dad had won a cruise to the Bahamas. oh, jolly good! telephone spam. now, she knows better than to trust such people—she’s streetwise enough to know that prize pitches like that are utter bunkum. when she was told she had to supply her credit card number in order to “confirm” the prize, she flipped out and started ranting (ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration) at the scammer, chiding her for trying to fleece unsuspecting citizens—but no matter, the dubious caller continued on with a prewritten sales pitch without letting up. Finally, my mom had enough and hung up on her. Unbeknownst to them both, my dad was on the other house line, listening quietly. Since the line hadn’t gone dead, the scammer continued on with her spiel, for at least a few minutes. When she stopped talking, she paused to hear nothing but dead air. The following brief exchange ensued:

Scammer: (to herself) Oh… I think she’s gone.

Dad: I think she hung up.

Scammer: Yeah, I guess— (realizing that someone else was on the line) hey wait, who are you?!

Dad: I’m the Lord.

(dead silence)

*click*

I’m proud of my dad. 🙂

Read up on phone scams on Wikipedia, or check out PhoneBusters to see how you can protect yourself.

rebuilding trust

listening carefullymy employer, the Conference Board of Canada, regularly produces and disseminates research about governance and corporate social responsibility, topics I find myself more and more interested in. It takes cojones and a strong moral/ethical compass to uphold high standards in decision-making and action-taking; that’s why it’s so hard, and why the Enrons and Worldcoms (and Norbourgs) of the world seem to keep appearing in the news these days. That goes for political governance too—Canada’s federal government is still reeling from the effects of the sponsorship scandal, a multi-million-dollar affair which destroyed public trust in government.

Correlating, one of my favourite Baha’i blogs, recently tied in the ideas of trust and governance into the Universal House of Justice’s recent letter on Baha’i elections, which urges Baha’is the world over to spend some time deepening their understanding of the Baha’i electoral process. Baha’i elections are part of a unique form of governance that excludes all forms of partisanship or electioneering, and elevates the duty of each voter to a sacred act which must be fulfilled with the utmost care, research, and prayerfulness. From the Universal House of Justice’s letter: “One of the signs of the breakdown of society in all parts of the world is the erosion of trust and collaboration between the individual and the institutions of governance”—which illustrates the importance of each of us learning more about how to uphold high standards during Baha’i elections and decision-making.

After reading the article, you may want to read up on Baha’i Administration and the Universal House of Justice (including, for those curious souls, its constitution).

what else can I say?

Quote

ASL-I-KULLU’L-KHAYR (Words of Wisdom)

In the Name of God, the Exalted, the Most High

The source of all good is trust in God, submission unto His command, and contentment with His holy will and pleasure.

The essence of wisdom is the fear of God, the dread of His scourge and punishment, and the apprehension of His justice and decree.

The essence of religion is to testify unto that which the Lord hath revealed, and follow that which He hath ordained in His mighty Book.

The source of all glory is acceptance of whatsoever the Lord hath bestowed, and contentment with that which God hath ordained.

The essence of love is for man to turn his heart to the Beloved One, and sever himself from all else but Him, and desire naught save that which is the desire of his Lord.

True remembrance is to make mention of the Lord, the All-Praised, and forget aught else beside Him.

True reliance is for the servant to pursue his profession and calling in this world, to hold fast unto the Lord, to seek naught but His grace, inasmuch as in His Hands is the destiny of all His servants.

The essence of detachment is for man to turn his face towards the courts of the Lord, to enter His Presence, behold His Countenance, and stand as witness before Him.

The essence of understanding is to testify to one’s poverty, and submit to the Will of the Lord, the Sovereign, the Gracious, the All-Powerful.

The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love.

The essence of charity is for the servant to recount the blessings of his Lord, and to render thanks unto Him at all times and under all conditions.

The essence of faith is fewness of words and abundance of deeds; he whose words exceed his deeds, know verily his death is better than his life.

The essence of true safety is to observe silence, to look at the end of things and to renounce the world.

The beginning of magnanimity is when man expendeth his wealth on himself, on his family and on the poor among his brethren in his Faith.

The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the Finger of Glory and Splendour hath revealed.

The source of all evil is for man to turn away from his Lord and set his heart on things ungodly.

The most burning fire is to question the signs of God, to dispute idly that which He hath revealed, to deny Him and carry one’s self proudly before Him.

The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His Glory, and this cannot be attained save through the knowledge of His Divine Manifestation.

The essence of abasement is to pass out from under the shadow of the Merciful and seek the shelter of the Evil One.

The source of error is to disbelieve in the One true God, rely upon aught else but Him, and flee from His Decree.

True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.
The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.

Thus have We instructed thee, manifested unto thee Words of Wisdom, that thou mayest be thankful unto the Lord, thy God, and glory therein amidst all peoples.

Bahá’u’lláh