The potential for global and local action is shown by the increasing numbers of ordinary people and organisations involved in development issues. Responding to the hopefulness and frustrations of our age, their concerns include the advancement of women, sustainable development, human rights, moral education, literacy, healthcare, and the elimination of prejudice. Will this potential be tapped, and will the world's peoples take an active part in their future, or be seen only as receivers of aid and training, with a limited range of choices in their lives?
As the history of humanity as one people begins, its response to the crying needs of the age echoes the call that Bahá'u'lláh raised over a hundred years ago: "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements."
Pursuing the themes of justice, the interrelationship of the individual and society, the development of human consciousness and social and economic organisation and development leads to consideration of human rights. Current models of the cult of individualism or the deification of the state have proved harmful to humanity's well-being. Central to human rights is the freedom to investigate the purpose of existence and to develop human endowments. This is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related covenants in universal education, freedom of movement, access to information, and the opportunity to participate in political life, along with freedom of thought and belief and the right to hold opinions and express these opinions appropriately.
Since humankind is one and indivisible, each member of the race is born into the world as a trust of the whole. The obligations of the community include the provision of employment, mental and physical health care, social security, fair wages, rest and recreation, and a host of other reasonable expectations on the part of the individual members of society. The principle of collective trusteeship also creates the right of every person to expect that cultural conditions essential to identity enjoy the protection of national and international law. The immense wealth of cultural diversity achieved over thousands of years is vital to the social and economic development of the human race. It is the heritage of a human race experiencing its collective coming of age and will bear its fruit in a global civilisation.
The necessity for a dialogue between science and religion, the two sources of knowledge in human society, is explored. Science is generally held in high esteem but the spiritual commitment and moral principles of religion are essential to ensure its appropriate application. The civilising achievements of religion throughout human history have often been obscured by the conflict and dogmatic influences of its exponents. For the vast majority of the world's population, human nature has a spiritual dimension and identity. This is overlooked in largely materialistic development planning.
The fruits of religion are the capacity to love, the disciplining of the animal side of human nature, the ability to sacrifice for the common good, to practise forgiveness, generosity and trust. The extent to which individuals and institutions can contribute to human progress will be determined by their devotion to truth and their detachment from the promptings of their own interests and passions. Equally essential is freedom from prejudice illumined by the spiritual insight that service to humankind is the purpose of both individual life and social organisation.
The apathy of large numbers of the employed and the demoralisation of growing armies of the unemployed highlight the urgent need for a new work ethic beyond the acquisition and consumption of material goods. Through productive work undertaken in the spirit of service to humanity, human beings are able to express their immense capacities and unite in participation in the advancement of civilisation.
Recognition of nature's limited capacity to fulfil every human demand also leads to a need for a system of both scientific and spiritual values that will empower the human race to assume trusteeship of the planet. Qualities of character such as the capacity for contentment, the welcoming of moral discipline and a genuine devotion to duty, that brings feelings of self-worth rather than self-righteousness, are even more vital today.
The challenge of commitment to full equality between men and women goes beyond ensuring an equitable distribution of opportunity and access, to welcoming the full participation of a range of human experience and insight largely excluded in the past. Women, with their heritage of recognition of the centrality of human relations and the well-being of the family and community, have been prepared to make crucial contributions to the common effort. The rational soul is neither male nor female, and whatever social inequalities have been dictated by the survival requirements of the past cannot be justified when humanity stands at the threshold of maturity.
Institutions of authority will need to win the confidence, respect and genuine support of those whose actions they seek to govern. Full and open consultation with those directly affected in decision making, objective assessment of the needs and aspiration of the communities they serve, appropriate use of the community's resources and energies, and giving priority to building and maintaining unity among the members of society and its administrative units are vital. Society does not need, and is not well served by the political theatre of nominations, candidature, electioneering and solicitation. Those who are selected, will increasingly have to see their efforts in a global perspective and consider themselves responsible for the welfare of all humankind.
The turmoil now convulsing human affairs is unprecedented, and many of its consequences are enormously destructive. What is required of the peoples of the world is a measure of faith and resolve to match the enormous energies with which the Creator of all things has endowed this spiritual springtime of the race.
Be united in counsel, be one in thought. May each morn be better than its
eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday. Man's merit lieth in service
and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches. Take heed that
your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be
cleansed from craftiness and suspicion. Dissipate not the wealth of your
precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your
endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest. Be generous in your
days of plenty, and be patient in the hour of loss. Adversity is followed by
success and rejoicings follow woe. Guard against idleness and sloth, and
cling unto that which profiteth mankind, whether young or old, whether high
or low. Beware lest ye sow tares of dissension among men or plant thorns of
doubt in pure and radiant hearts.
Bahá'u'lláh This introduction to the contents of the statement "The Prosperity of Humankind"
(Bahá'í International Community, 1995)
was prepared by the Bahá'í Information Office, 27 Rutland Gate, London, SW7 1PD.
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