the value of sharing

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Here are the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to noted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, author of the essay The Gospel of Wealth.

O respected personage! I have read your work, The Gospel of Wealth, and noted therein truly apposite and sound recommendations for easing the lot of humankind.

To state the matter briefly, the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh advocate voluntary sharing, and this is a greater thing than the equalization of wealth. For equalization must be imposed from without, while sharing is a matter of free choice.

Man reacheth perfection through good deeds, voluntarily performed, not through good deeds the doing of which was forced upon him. And sharing is a personally chosen righteous act: that is, the rich should extend assistance to the poor, they should expend their substance for the poor, but of their own free will, and not because the poor have gained this end by force. For the harvest of force is turmoil and the ruin of the social order. On the other hand voluntary sharing, the freely-chosen expending of one’s substance, leadeth to society’s comfort and peace. It lighteth up the world; it bestoweth honour upon humankind.

I have seen the good effects of your own philanthropy in America, in various universities, peace gatherings, and associations for the promotion of learning, as I travelled from city to city. Wherefore do I pray on your behalf that you shall ever be encompassed by the bounties and blessings of heaven, and shall perform many philanthropic deeds in East and West. Thus may you gleam as a lighted taper in the Kingdom of God, may attain honour and everlasting life, and shine out as a bright star on the horizon of eternity.

Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp.114-115

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.
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