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INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
The 9th Conference of the International Environment Forum
Education for Sustainable Development:
The Spiritual Dimension
in support of the
United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014)
preceding the 2005 Bahá'í Conference on Social and Economic Development
Orlando, Florida, USA
14-15 December 2005
Sponsored by the National Spiritual
Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States
in collaboration with
members of EDSED www.edsed.org
International Environment Forum
U.S. Partnership for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
The 9th Conference of the International Environment Forum took the form of a Seminar on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) which was held on 14-15 December 2005 in Orlando, Florida, USA. The 9th Annual General Assembly of the International Environment Forum was held there on 16 December 2005. The full report of the conference is given below.
This seminar was a pre-cursor to the 2005 Bahá'í Conference on Social and Economic Development (SED) from 15-18 December 2005. (http://www.rabbanitrust.org/bahai_sed_conference.htm)
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): The Spiritual Dimension
In support of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-14), this seminar fostered a deeper understanding of the spiritual dimension of sustainable development and explored the challenges and opportunities presented by the Decade. Building upon the 2004 seminar on ESD, this year's session drew deeply upon the Creative Word and sought to identify the unique contributions that Bahá'u'lláh's teachings offer the field of ESD.
For Bahá'ís, Bahá'u'lláh's promise that civilization will exist on this planet for a minimum of five thousand centuries makes it unconscionable to ignore the long-term impact of decisions made today. The world community must, therefore, learn to make use of the earth's natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, in a manner that ensures sustainability into the distant reaches of time. (The Baha'i International Community, 6 April 1995, Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Baha'i Faith)
Readings provided before the seminar helped prepare participants for the discussions. A beautiful setting and a dynamic, participatory learning environment (using World Café and Open Space Technology), infused with spiritual resonance, helped all the participants to engage in the collective exploration of key questions. A "fishbowl" session allowed a number of experienced practitioners to respond to some critical questions. The goal was to enable participants to articulate the dynamic between the spiritual and material aspects of sustainable development and to apply that understanding in service to humanity.
The seminar provided an environment in which representatives of Bahá'í development efforts could share information and experiences, advance their collective understanding of the spiritual and theoretical foundations that characterize a distinctly Bahá'í approach to ESD, and consider how to implement education for sustainable development in their communities.
ELECTRONIC (E-MAIL) CONFERENCE
An electronic (e-mail) conference took place from 19 November to 4 December 2005 prior to the Conference in Orlando for those who were unable to travel to the conference. It discussed two themes: success stories of environmentally-sustainable development, and the role of education in addressing the next themes of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development: energy, industrial development, air pollution, and climate change. Some of the success stories were shared with the main conference.
The conference was followed by the 9th General Assembly of the International Environment Forum. (see separate report)
A short visual report on the seminar
Article about the Conference in One Country
FULL CONFERENCE REPORT
Based on a complete transcript of the conference prepared by Dimity Podger
edited for the web by Arthur Dahl
[The dynamic and participatory format of the 9th Conference made it difficult to capture for a wider audience. Dimity Podger agreed to audio tape all the sessions and transcribe them. The resulting 174 pages of notes have been edited below for the web while retaining the spontaneous flavour of the discussions. We hope they communicate both the content and the process of the conference.]
Peter Adriance opened the conference on the morning of 14 December 2005. He welcomed the participants from many different countries, backgrounds and professions, and provided an overview of the context and programme summarized below.
The conference title is "Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): The Spiritual Dimension", with the intention of emphasizing the interactive and the spiritual. After the 2004 seminar on "Education for Sustainable Development: Systems Thinking for the 21st Century", many people wanted to go deeper into the spiritual dimension of this, and look closely at what the Bahá'í Faith brings to ESD. The goal of this seminar, as defined in the programme, is that: "By the end of the seminar participants will be able to articulate the dynamic between the spiritual and material aspects of sustainable development and will be committed to apply that understanding in service to humanity."
The seminar was organised and co-sponsored by a number of groups: the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States; the International Environment Forum (IEF) as its ninth annual conference; the European Bahá'í Business Forum, because of its interest in sustainable development and sustainable development education; and the US Partnership for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The Partnership, with over 300 organizations, was formed to respond to the UN Decade of ESD. Its vision is sustainable development integrated into education and learning throughout the US, and its mission is to leverage the Decade, to take advantage of the Decade, to be a catalyst to make that happen. This seminar is a collaborative effort with the Partnership, and Steve Cochran, interim steward of the Partnership, will facilitate the Open Space session, as he has with many different groups, in many sectors – business, government, zoo educators, faith communities. In the Partnership, there is a Faith Sector Team, co-chaired by Peter Adriance with Martha Gardner with the National Council of Churches. Faith communities have been identified as significant partners in the Decade and we are exploring what that means. We have a Steering Group on the faith sector team that is Bahá'í, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish. And in the Christian we've got Protestant and Catholic organisations. It represents millions of people who are approaching the Decade from a faith perspective.
Peter highlighted the major features of the programme: the theme of the first day was knowledge, with a Fishbowl conversation in the afternoon, an opportunity to listen in on the thoughts of our colleagues on the topic of ESD, followed by a World Café. Each day began with spiritual reflection. Most of the second day was for Open Space, an interactive, participatory session driven by each participant's passions. All was brought together at the end of the program with the Circle of Integration.
Lisa Brown described how the hotel conference room had been organized and decorated to create a setting for the programme. The organisers wanted everyone to be connected to one another, to organise around a sort of circle. Instead of a traditional speakers podium as the focal point, everything was organized around the center, rather than a side of the space, with a symbolic environment in the center symbolizing a sacred space, a spiritual anchor. There would be a lot of activity, a lot of movement in this room, but the spiritual center would remain constant and stable and solid and unchanging. The two days were dedicated to the spiritual dimension of this topic, so the center highlighted all the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh as a spiritual anchor. The centerpiece also suggested the worlds of God in creation, with outside the cosmos, stars and the atmosphere, and the earth, and things suggestive of all the worlds of God: the mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, the elements of water, fire, and air suggested and symbolized. The centerpiece was to enjoy and provide inspiration and to be treated as sacred space, to which everyone would make their own contribution. [see conference photos]
Dimity Podger explained the recording of the dialogue over the two days to be able to share the discourse that Bahá'ís are having around the topic of ESD with everyone they can. It would be put up on the web to share with the world through the Internet on the IEF website. Anyone who would like to be anonymous in those transcripts could so request. The idea was to record via audiotape as well as making notes what goes on in this room and the discussion. Dimity also said she was a PhD student studying faith organisations and their contribution to ESD and vice versa, and would use the record for her own research, so anyone who did not want to participate could indicate that they did not want her to use their comments during the seminar.
Spiritual Reflection Part 1 - "Yea, Verily!" The Transforming Power of Bahá'u'lláh's Message
Each day of the ESD seminar began with an hour long session designed and facilitated by Rick Johnson with the objective of anchoring the day's activities in the spiritual dimension. The sessions were interactive using stories and art activities that focused on the transforming power of Bahá'u'lláh's Message, fostering spiritual resonance and helping set the tone for the seminar.
Rick Johnson explained the procedure for the spiritual reflection session. The participants were seated in groups of 2 to 4 around small tables with markers and crayons, large sheets of paper, a page of instructions and different sets of stories (see Spiritual Reflection).
Rick: To make the seminar spiritually resonant, we need to engage with each other and society around us, and the environment, in a way that really accessed, or encouraged us to access, the spiritual dimensions that brought us all here in some sense together. First, how did we all get to be here in the room together? We are going to look at some stories of Bahá'ís who in some ways were transformed by their encounter, their experience with the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Because in some way all of us experienced or encountered the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, either ourselves, or through friends we knew or whatever, and that brought us all together here and we're part of that process when we leave.
The second thing in any kind of education, but particularly the research and study of sustainable development education, only about 30% of what you learn has anything to do with what you study. The other 70% or so comes from what you do with what you learn, how you affected by the people around you and what you give back to the community. So this morning will in a way be an exercise in that process too. We will be doing some studying together and we'll be giving back to the community together in an interactive way.
We are going to explore the impact that Bahá'u'lláh had in people's lives by looking at some stories (see Spiritual Reflection). We're going to look at the spiritual qualities expressed in these stories, to understand the impact that Bahá'u'lláh had on people's lives, and the transformation inspired by their contact with Bahá'u'lláh's Teachings. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh, said that when people heard about the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, they often arose immediately to devote themselves entirely to spreading the teachings and serving humanity as they required. He said it was if they were asked, "Am I Not Your Lord?" and they shouted, "Yea, Verily!"
There are many stories that illustrate the power of Bahá'u'lláh to transform lives and inspire transformative action. One story is provided to each table (see Spiritual Reflection). Some of the stories are very simple, with very simple action; some are more complex; some focus on adults, some on children; some are in the past, some current. All illustrate people who are seeing the world differently, and doing things differently in the world, because of their embrace of Bahá'u'lláh's Teachings. Each small group has one story to read and reflect on in 10-15 minutes, discussing the following focus questions:
After the discussion, the small groups used the paper at their table and the arts supplies provided to give a visual response to what they read with the following instructions:
The large sheets were then posted on the wall.
Rick discussed with the group the symbolism of the banners: The first banner symbolizes the life-giving power of Bahá'u'lláh's invitation to follow His Teachings. The question 'Am I Not Your Lord?' is like the physical sun offering itself to plants! The second banner symbolizes the response of the diverse body of believers who followed Bahá'u'lláh. The fruits are the spiritual qualities that each of us can develop as a result of following Bahá'u'lláh. As each one of us strives to develop these spiritual qualities in our lives, we transform the world around us. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see this progress in the world?
Introductions and Orientation
This session facilitated by Elena Mustakova-Possardt provided a dedicated space for all of the participants to get to know one another better through more active introductions illustrating the talent in the room. Participants formed a large circle around the central creative "sacred" space, with the opportunity to step forward from the large circle and form a smaller circle. The facilitator asked a series of questions, asking those responding yes to the question to step forward to form a smaller circle around the sacred space, making a symbolic offering of their expertise to this sacred space. Each person in the inner circle said two or three sentences about themselves, their name, what part of the world they were from and what kind of work they did, in answer to the question for which they stepped forward.
The first question was "Are there people in the room who work at the preschool and elementary school level?" After forming an inner circle and introducing themselves, everyone stepped back to the larger circle. Subsequent calls were for those working at the middle and high school level, educators who teach at the university level, undergraduate or graduate students, people who work for the government in the US or in other countries, who work with non-governmental organisations, who are involved in business, and who are in retirement but have been in education most of their lives. Inner circles were then formed by people who have at any time raised some of their own food or had to catch their own dinner, who have had to live without running water, or who have had to heat their own homes providing their own source of energy.
Finally participants were asked to take a quiet moment and think about their hopes and dreams for the seminar, and write them on small pieces of paper. These were placed in a bowl in the center of the room, in the sacred space. The organisers read the hopes and dreams at the end of the day to determine whether the seminar was progressing according to people's comments. The aim of asking people to write their Hopes and Dreams was to connect people to the seminar and help focus them on their objectives.
Devotions prior to Fishbowl
The afternoon session opened with Gwendolyn Watson, improvisational cellist and singer, accompanying devotional readings. Inclusion of devotions and music was an important element in the design of the program.
The Planning Group invited seven people from those registered to participate in the Fishbowl, a 75 minute facilitated conversation with questions directed to the participants by the facilitator. Chairs for the participants and facilitator were set up in a circle around the sacred space, which was located in the middle of the room. The remaining seminar participants sat at chairs at their small tables around the inner circle, turning their chairs to face the centre. They were essentially an audience to the conversation in the centre. The following transcript has only been lightly edited to preserve the spontaneity of the exchange.
Transcript of Fishbowl Conversation
Peter Adriance: Put on your fins……….This is a very exciting part of our program. I'd like to welcome Brad Pokorny. Brad is the editor of One Country and he has agreed to come and be the fisher among fish. And he's fishing for ideas, concepts and understanding. And the fish themselves are people that we have pre-identified as having an interesting perspective that would be wonderful to hear. And so we hope that by observing this fishbowl conversation we will come away with a deeper understanding of why we're here and what's this about.
Brad: Thank you Peter. I hope I can somehow live up to whatever it was you caught and brought me here for. This is something I've never done before. When he asked me to do this I said "Group interviews really don't work well, it's much easier to interview one on one and that's what I'm good at". And he said "Well let's try this". We're going to experiment today. Of course One Country covers sustainability, sustainable development, has for many years. So hopefully I have some background, but I'm not an expert in it. So I'm just going to try to ask questions, hopefully a little bit hard questions, a little bit probing, and try to pin people down. My general point of view where I come from is that we need to make ourselves understood to the world at large and not just have a dialogue with ourselves. So that's what I'm going to kind of push towards. What do we mean by that and so forth. So, I think we should just start by a little bit of introduction so we know who's here and go around the circle and maybe say your name and then why you are somehow involved in sustainable development or education very briefly, and then we'll get to know people that way.
Joell Vanderwagen: My name is Joell Vanderwagen, from Toronto. I guess I've been involved in environmental issues for 40 years. I have a degree in urban planning which made me specialise in thinking about how to create sustainable human settlements. But I've also done a lot of writing and I guess I'm a writer now. I'm just going to leave it at that.
Nora Toennis: Hello, I am Nora Toennis from Germany. I was working for 3 years in Macedonia and just came back recently. For that reason I will speak about my experience there. And it was more in field of peace building so I think for a Bahá'í it is the most nice thing to do is to work for peace. In Macedonia we were trying to work for sustainable peace. I think because as a Bahá'í I had the feeling, I really had this vision and this very strong belief which probably came out of each action or each thought, for that reason I have the feeling we are may be different from some other people who maybe preach peace but they don't believe in peace or in equality of all the humankind.
Duncan Hanks: My name is Duncan Hanks. And I've spent the last 20 years living and working in Indonesia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Canada and travelling internationally and I'm just trying to figure out as a Bahá'í what it means to be a Bahá'í in terms of the application of teachings and principals to our daily lives and to the communities where we live and serve. And in that desire I've found myself in unique places around the world serving with wonderful organisations doing some very, very cool stuff.
Rick Johnson: I'm Rick Johnson. Like Duncan, I'm not an expert. Lots of years of experience working in various kinds of settings, starting with, I grew up on a working farm, so my interest in sustainable living is pretty deep. Later I spent some years in college teaching in environmental education. And for the last 15 years I've been kind of immersed in the day-to-day reality of education, particularly Bahá'í education and with special emphasis on children, junior youth and youth.
Arthur Dahl: Arthur Dahl. I've been working in this area I guess just about all of my life. From children's classes we learned about the creation, and I had a wonderful mentor by the name of Vinson Brown who taught me a lot of things about the environment in our Bahá'í children's classes, which meant that I became an environmentalist. My whole life has been seeking how you bring the spiritual approach and the scientific approach together. My training is in ecology, I've set up regional environmental programs and worked with the United Nations all over the world and I've tried to bring these two elements together in everything I've done.
Irma Allen: I live in Swaziland. All my early years were in pure education. But, working in Africa, I felt teaching people how to pass examinations that came from another country, external examinations, is not really a measure of success of education. And so I became more interested in the environment and the idea of people living in harmony with their environment and improving quality of lives. I took further degrees hoping that would be the answer. I've been working in environmental education for many years and the more I worked in EE the more I realised that without the spiritual dimension we are not going to get there. And so now like with Arthur, that's the greatest challenge for those working in pure fields and how to marry the spiritual dimension to the scientific dimension, and so that we can progress and go forward.
Melinda Salazar: I have 30 or more years experience teaching all ages in the areas of race, culture, power, gender, developmental psychology, peace studies. A trip to South America about 12 years ago, to my mother's origins in Columbia, led me to discover a big environmental disaster in the cities of Ecuador and Columbia. And I sought to better understand what's happened between the North and the South and I pursued another degree in environmental studies and sustainability and tried to make better sense of the world we are living in from the perspective of sustainability and women's role in making that all happen.
Brad: I'm just going to be mean and jump in and ask people questions. Irma, I'm going to start with you because you said something very provocative. You said that without the spiritual dimension we're not going to get there…we're talking about sustainable development, ok. Why? I'm sure there are materialistic sustainable development people out there, a good part of at the UN and so forth, those people would scratch their heads and say sure, we'll get there anyway. Why?
Irma: Because we have all the systems in the world, we have economic systems, educational systems, to have the world in a better, I mean to have more equality to have more justice, but we are not getting it. Why, because we lack the values. We lack that spirit of sacrifice that only can be motivated and engendered in us through our religious beliefs. We cannot really be our brother's keeper or keepers of the earth if we don't have the spiritual motivation and the guidance that comes from the Writings.
Brad: Now there would be people who would say, look at the last 100 years. We've moved more towards equality of women, we've moved more towards peace, we've established the UN, wouldn't it be fair to say we are moving in that direction without spirituality.
Irma: Maybe, but I still think that underneath, until we really recognise this oneness of mankind can only be brought about by spiritual awakening, we are not there. I see in Africa everyday, we are moving with systems education, maybe, maybe getting better or business may be growing, but there are still people out there oppressing the poor, there are still decisions in government that are not made for the interests of the whole and I don't think we have the whole picture until we have that, that spiritual will, that acceptance of the oneness of mankind, that responsibility for everybody else.
Brad: Anyone want to add to that?…Duncan.
Duncan: From a religious perspective, I think one could think about how the point of Revelation, if we were to look at the Bahá'í Faith, at that point of Revelation there is a spiritual dynamic, a spiritual force that is released and many would refer to it as the spirit of the age, whatever. I think it's exciting to look at development literature and development practice and see the number of spiritual principles that are followed through by all of the major religions of God and see their application. If we're to look at questions of gender quality, look at the questions of participation, cooperation, consultation, reciprocity, concern for social justice, all of these things are at the very essence of what religion offers the world. It is no surprise to me that development practitioners are in touch with those very issues. The role of religion now is to continue to contribute to the discourse so that those words and those concepts don't get robbed of divine intent and become secularised, so that we don't do gender because a donor organisations says gender is important. We do gender because that is the Will of God.
Joell: I'd like to explore what are the effects, in terms of our personal life, of a spiritual change, becoming a spiritual person. And I'd say first of all it begins with the heart and the awakening of the capacity to care, to care for the people around us, to care for creation, to have that positive life giving energy that you want to put into the world, and that goes along with the capacity for empathy, whether the person across the table from you or the person around the world. That's what oneness means and unity means, that you can empathise with them, and that empathy going beyond to all sentient beings, and the capacity for relationships. So that's the heart changes. And there are the head, head changes, the interest in the truth. It turns out our brains, our neural networks are formed as children in relation to the environment we are in, and if we experience pain, anger, insecurity, fear, we may be then driven to compensate by seeking power, seeking status, engaging in competition, because we're fearful. So, if we go through a spiritual change and awakening, we can let down those barriers that filter out information. In other words, I've talked to many really educated people who don't know anything about climate change, don't want to know anything about climate change, and the information is all out there, but they have filtered out that information because it doesn't fit in with their model. So I think one of the things of a spiritual transformation is the ability to open our minds and to really seek the truth. And then the next step would be to apply all of this in consultation, and a key thing there is the capacity to listen that comes before everything, and then the courage to do the right thing.
Brad: I'm going to cut you off there, because I'm hearing a number of interesting points…And again I want to bring it back in a way to the outside world. Duncan mentioned the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and you mentioned a lot of notions of personal transformation and so forth, but now you're making a big leap there between, it seems to me, if we are talking about ESD, we have to get into where society is at a certain point here and bring them up to this lofty vision, that it seems to me you are trying to express. How were you going to make that leap, can you put this into terms that the average person, who has not thought about spiritual transformation, can understand?
Joell: Well, I think that all the great religions have taught these things. When we talk about Buddhism for example, there is the concept of mindfulness, and awareness, what am I doing and what is the effect of all of these. So I don't think that this has ever been absent, but the particular thing that the Bahá'í Revelation adds is this understanding of history, of God's purpose for this stage of history, that there is hope. It is not all going to fall apart, that there is hope, and that is one of the great things that we have to offer is this vision of hope, that God is still involved in history.
Brad: Any other comments?
Arthur: Scientifically we know what is wrong with the world, we know what we need to do to make it sustainable. The science is not perfect, but it is good enough to act on. The UN has laid out the action plans at Stockholm and Rio and Johannesburg. The governments have seen what they need to do. The roles have been defined, but it is not happening. And I think we have a very materialistic society that is focussed on the material dimension, but it is not working. It has failed. Our efforts for development, have by and large failed in the world. There is still part of the population getting richer and richer; the poor are just as poor if not poorer. We are becoming increasingly vulnerable to globalisation, to diseases and all sorts of things. The world is in an extremely fragile state because of its unsustainability. Something is missing. And that is where the spiritual dimension adds something at the top and bottom. At the top, it adds a vision of the purpose for future society and world civilisation, a vision of civilisation, not just material, but something much more human in terms of culture, in terms of art, in terms of knowledge and sciences, spirituality and spiritual purpose. So at that large level, it is redefining civilisation as more than just material. At the individual level, its also redefining individual purpose, not just to live well materially, not just to meet the basic needs and more and more in a consumer society, but that our real purpose as human beings has a spiritual sense, which should take primacy over the material. Until we can add those two layers of spirituality to this vast knowledge and in the middle, the institutions will continue to fail because they are like symptoms of illness – we are treating the symptoms of the illness, we are not treating the basic illness. So until we can stand back and help others outside to recognise that their well- thought out and well-planned efforts are failing because something is missing, because they have misdiagnosed the disease – it is more than a material disease, it is also a spiritual disease, and both treatments are needed. That's why we have to expand the awareness of those outside, and through practical examples. By applying values, you can bring about fundamental change. There are already pilot examples in the Bahá'í community and outside. Once values come in, they give us a bit of direction and we begin to find solutions to the problems.
Brad: Now what I hear you saying though, generically, I could imagine a lot of different religions saying similar things, talking about spiritual values. They give us direction, everybody wants peace, most people are talking about a lot of the same ideas. Where does the Bahá'í Faith or the Bahá'í Revelation, which ever way you want to analyse it, bring something different, special or distinctive to this?
Arthur: To begin with, the Bahá'ís are saying that all religions are the same thing. They are not necessarily different religions, they all come from the same source, teaching the same truth, all going in the same direction, which is why there are such similarities between them. What the Bahá'ís bring in addition is the most recent of the Revelations, is many more specifics about the solutions to the problems of today's age in terms of an awareness of the oneness of humanity, in a much larger sense than religions in the past have taught, in terms of the need for a federated world government, an auxiliary language, a whole series of social principles that will define steps that we need. Until that whole solution is applied, we can't solve any part of the problem. You can't solve the environmental problem separately from the economic problem, separately from the social problem and so on. They are all interdependent, and that is what sustainable development says, they are all interrelated. We need a holistic solution, and the Bahá'í Faith is one, providing a basis to try to unify the other religions. So we don't always see religions as separate, different, often competing or even antagonistic parts of the problem, as often people from outside who reject religion, often see religion as part of the problem rather than the solution. Whereas the Bahá'í Faith, by redefining and renewing religion, makes it part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem. That is a major contribution that Bahá'ís can bring, this redefinition of the positive role or purpose of religion in this whole process, also, to demonstrate that religions can in fact come together and address it together.
Brad: I like that last point about a lot of people say religions are part of the problem. So you're saying that the Bahá'í Faith, with its view of religions in general, shows how it can be part of the solution. I'll let anyone follow up but I think that is an interesting point.
Irma: I have something to add on to what Arthur was saying. When I was looking through the writings for ideas on how to do sustainable development, the oneness of mankind kept coming forward. Until the oneness of mankind is assured, you won't have the well-being of humanity, which led me to think more about it. The thing too, not only that the Bahá'í Faith promotes the oneness of religion, the Bahá'í teachings talk about the respect, dignity of people. In most secular groups, doing projects for sustainable development means you send experts out there and you get money from over here and they'll do something for people. It strikes me that this hasn't worked. And why? Because I think that you have to communicate that brotherhood, the idea of respect and dignity and have the people help themselves. You read it but it is not happening. The people themselves have to come up with their own decisions. People themselves, that means us wherever we are, everybody wherever they are, have to come up with them. So the best way to help one another - and how we reach out to the greater society really - is by sharing this idea, this vision of the oneness of humanity, and the idea of respect, the dignity, what every person from every culture, with every language, with every different kind of educational background can contribute to this process. And I think there I have seen in Bahá'í grass roots projects, I have seen the success of these endeavours with the oneness of mankind as the underlying foundation and as the essential ingredient to being able to empower everybody, including ourselves.
Nora: When you were asking for how we can uplift the society towards spiritual transformation, I was thinking what makes us maybe different from some other religions who also have the goal of growth or unity, but I think because Bahá'u'lláh gave us more concrete principles, or also through Shoghi Effendi we have more concrete plans or visions, and I think as we know from, I mean, psychology maybe, the clearer our visions and our goals are, and the more energy we also have. And maybe this is something that makes this more unique because of all of these Writings from Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, we have very concrete guidelines. This gives us more energy to be more focussed, and then we can be more efficient. Another thing is also what I was thinking, because in the Writings it also is said, that we have to try to understand the society and the problems of the society in order to find the solutions. And I think because we do maybe understand as Bahá'ís some of the problems nowadays, that this is all part of the growth process. We aren't so much sinking into the problems as maybe a lot of other people that think "Everything is so bad, and how can we improve the things" and we are actually aware that all these negative things happen because we know now that it is the time that something new evolves.
Brad: So as far as what Bahá'ís have to contribute is a vision then.
Nora: Yes, and I think this is what makes us really successful, what I experienced working in the Balkans. Because, really, people were wondering why I had this energy to work for peace, or to try to bring them together, and they maybe were convinced also in a way because if you have this strong belief, you affect other people, and if you have this positive vision of the world, you can kind of motivate them also.
Brad: Knowing that part of the focus here is not just the problems, but the education for sustainable development. How can we take some of these principles that are fairly distinctive in the Faith and also the concept that all of the religions have these at heart, that may be a motivational framework to…I was going to say if education is about explaining this to people who don't know it, or learning or bringing people along, how do we apply it?
Melinda: I'm going to try and tie in all the previous strands and pick up on this as well. One of the characteristics of this system of material development that failed is the transfer of knowledge from north and south, and back to the question of how do we make the leap and what is the role of education, and why religion and why the Bahá'í Faith. The Faith has the teaching that the indigenous people of the world, when educated, have a significant role to play in the unification of the planet and moving us forward. Those who know most about the power of spirit as an organising community force are those indigenous cultures. How to make the leap, what is the role of education, how do we look at shifting the transfer of knowledge from north to south and reverse that trend? What is it that we can learn either through community development experience, case study successes? How can we infuse our education with those who have been rendered invisible by western development, by the last 100 years, by the modern world? How can we look towards the indigenous cultures of the world, and both in terms of the productive, the successful, self-determination projects that they have, and Bahá'í social and economic development that they have engaged in? What can we learn about those spiritual qualities that can be developed in our young people in the west in urban settings and throughout the rest of the world?
Brad: You are asking questions. How can we...? How can we...? In 25 words or less…
Melinda: Yes I do. From a teaching perspective, being able as a Bahá'í, and being able to make sense of the Writings we saw, to make use of what we have available of post-colonial theory, for one thing, and being able to use resources of those NGOs and other organisations, Bahá'ís included, that have the words and the lives and case studies of indigenous people, and to make those central in our curriculum. And I've done that in my classrooms and I believe that I've been relatively successful with a whole lot of struggle and resistance of the part of students. But I see students being able to make that leap between their behaviour and attitudes and practices and those that native cultures once did. And I see that as a useful educational tool.
Brad: I'm going to play the sceptic again here. I would also imagine that there are a lot of people who talk about that 'oh yes the south has a lot to say', but I would also imagine, and maybe Arthur can confirm this or not, that people in the UN that give this line, probably really don't believe it, but they probably still believe that we in the west have the answers. Can you give an example of a really concrete knowledge that clearly is superior or has a new reflection or insight as opposed to the western model somewhere in this realm, and if someone else can give that too.
Duncan: I wouldn't use the word superior, but in terms of a learning process, what the Bahá'í Community has to offer is exactly that, a willingness to engage in a learning process. If somebody were to sit and say there should be a global curriculum, a global methodology type of instruction, content that could be equally developed and implemented in every country of the world, people would immediately begin to argue that, no, that goes against what we understand by educational theory and in terms of our concern for cultural difference, and yet the Bahá'í community is engaged in a universal program called the Institute Process. What's exciting about that is it has an outward orientation. This is not something closed or for Bahá'ís only. The intent is to invite people of all faiths and no faith to engage in a systematic exploration of the Creative Word and its relevance in terms of building a sustainable civilisation. That in and of itself that I can sit here in confidence and say that, in just about every country and territory on the planet, Bahá'ís are engaged in this process, is I think an illustration of one aspect of what is a viable model that the world can look to and say 'interesting'. The fact that the Bahá'í community globally, again open to people of all faiths and no faith, is inviting people to devotional meetings with the intent of calling on the divine for guidance and inspiration, I think again is a very interesting model. And the third aspect of the core objectives of the Bahá'í Community is our concern for the spiritual and moral education of children, not Bahá'í indoctrination, but character development. These three pillars constitute a platform that are elements of a model that the entire world can look to, and it's interesting because that's coming to us from a faith community. Now the concept of religion, two little points and then I'll throw this back, but what does the Bahá'í faith have to offer? The principle of oneness invites us to rethink certain dichotomies – the separation of religion and science is one of those. And I think it is exciting, I wouldn't dismiss for a second all of the well-intended efforts by the scientific community and the use of other like-minded organisations in the UN system and others, that are using the best of scientific knowledge for the advancement of the interests of a sustainable planet. We need that. This isn't a question of science against religion. It is a question of harmonizing the interests of scientific advancement with spiritual integrity and insight. And with that said, revindicating the role of religion is part of the responsibility of every thoughtful person on the planet, because religion is ultimately - has been historically - the source of moral and ethical values that have guided civilisation up until now. The fact that certain fanatical elements and orthodox movements, or you know, have damaged the name of religion is an abomination. It is not the norm.
Brad: That last point I would ask that you said, revindication of religion, would that be, and maybe this is something for the World Café, an essential element that Bahá'ís could bring to the whole process of ESD in the sense of starting…we have a certain level where we start from, but I'm again thinking of, if we are really talking about ESD, we have to start with the outside worlds level, and maybe that's a meeting point right there. I don't know if that's a question to reflect on or whether the World Café…Who had their hand up. Joell you wanted to say something?
Brad: Okay, well, this is a problem with a group interview…(laughter) if you can do that…whoever is more urgent here.
Joell: Well, I wanted to follow up on the topic of Aboriginal people, and I want to talk about my own learning curve and tell a little story. In 1989 I was invited to write a weekly column on the environment and pitched in with enthusiasm. I had all my knowledge from my masters degree, so it was all about issues and facts and action and this kind of thing, all very left brain. At the same time I had gotten involved in an organisation that brought together native and non-native people in Canada. And because of that I got invited to a lot of native gatherings where elders were speaking, and these are really traditional elders, not victims of the residential schools or whatever, but were really in tune with the old teachings. As I listened to them, time after time, my whole mind started to shift and my consciousness shifted. Instead of the environment being a subject, using all this jargon, things like that, it suddenly became a relationship. When native elders speak they don't speak about the environment, they speak about creation, and the creator and mother earth, and all our brothers and sisters, and everything is a brother or sister, grandfather sun, grandmother moon, and its trees and birds and animals. It's not abstract terms, it's real things and the relationship to that. So my writing changed. Can't describe it, it changed in its tone, it was much more simple and direct and rooted in this relationship with creation. Native people, they can teach us more about how the ethic of living in harmony, and taking only what you need and being thankful to mother earth and the creator. Now there are non native groups, particularly Christian groups that have developed this notion of creation spirituality, and Brian Swyme and Thomas Berry are among those. Brian Swyme is a mathematical cosmologist, and he talks about the revelations of modern physics, so that in a sense, the revelation isn't just coming through the Book and the written word, it is also coming through creation and the exploration of creation through modern science. He talks about, for example, the big bang. Well it's not like the universe was shrapnel exploding into a pre-existent space, he says. No, the universe emerged and unfolded and is developing so that space and time emerged and developed with the universe. So it is one organic being, one organic reality. In a sense it is all spirit. So like, there are a lot of things latent in the Writings that we don't understand yet and this kind of makes me think about 'Abdu'l-Bahá's teaching that there is the spirit of the mineral, the spirit of the vegetable, the spirit of the animal. The spirit, what does that mean? I think that the aboriginal consciousness understands that sense relationship to this spirit that we're enveloped in. Now…
Brad: I want to stop you there, unless you have a burning point to make…
Joell: I'm just creating a framework here, I think that there is a key Bahá'í teaching that helps us understand the place of aboriginal spirituality, and that is that humanity as a whole has evolved through the same stages as the development of the individual: infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity. Now it is my sense that the Adamic cycle represents our adolescence. Shoghi Effendi says that it is 6,000 years old. So that takes us to 4,000 BC which takes us to the emergence of the large, complex, organised societies in the Middle East with phonetic alphabet, and it is my sense that this was the beginning of the development of the masculine wing, our masculine powers of organisation, of abstraction, and the power struggle for power among men. And my sense is that the Aboriginal people are the carriers of previous dispensations where you see the universe as the great mother, which is giving birth to all things, and you know the female as a symbol of that. There's a search among women – what does the goddess mean – and that the Bahá'í teaching on how progressive revelation has perhaps unfolded with the development of the species and put that aboriginal consciousness into a framework we can understand, that that's the kind of feminine wing of our spiritual consciousness and they can help us reconnect with that.
Brad: I'm going to ask the question about that, don't want to answer that right now, want to toss that out to the World Café, in the sense that that is a very provocative viewpoint, and in the sense of this aboriginal thing being a key element of it. Now is that element, as we move to ESD, we can include, would that be something that many people would not get, so to speak? Is that way above a certain level of whoever people are trying to deal with, is the idea of different religions, coming from their own religious backgrounds? So there are not many people who necessarily have an aboriginal background. Is it better to start from people's previous religious background, to move them along towards a concept that we've pretty much established as spirituality, that is essential?
Joell: Just one more sentence, the Adamic cycle has been about detachment from nature. In the stage of our development we have to detach from the mother and I mean start to relate to the father, so the masculine I tend to think about detachment. We characterise the Abrahamic religions as having, or deep ecologists as having, taken away the sacred from nature. I think that has been a part of our development in order to master. I think the pre-Adamic stage was about relationships as opposed to detachment. So it is about re-establishing a sense of relationship with creation, but on a mature level.
Brad: And I want to suggest in that sense though, my perspective is that if you look at who is doing the least sustainability, it may be the Adamic religions. Are they going to buy that first? Where is the starting point on educating them towards sustainability?
Joell: I think that this is something for the Adamic and Aboriginal religions to explore.
Brad: Who would like to talk?
Rick: One of the things to consider is that we are really about defining religion and redefining religion in a way that transcends the past phase. I don't think it is ultimately long term useful to spend our time going back and going through the past over and over again. It is really just time for us to move forward, and for everyone to do so. I think there are some Bahá'í teachings that help with that and which are in some ways distinctive. Going back to where we were before and I'll relate it to education. One of the passages from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh is very interesting. He says that "the purpose of the one true God, exalted be His Glory, in revealing Himself unto man is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden in the mine of their true and inmost selves". So He is not saying this god or that god or another god, He's saying that the Divine purpose was to plant potential inside each person regardless of who they are, and that His purpose in providing religion, the prophets and all of that, is to bring forth that potential. That's very distinctive. People aren't marked by sin or the limitations of potential. They can develop. The other thing that I think is distinctive from a Bahá'í perspective is that nothing can be achieved, even conceivably, without unity. Having myself gone through, in earlier times, a lot of NGOs and public interest groups, what you find over and over again is that noble purposes are torn apart within the organisation itself by disunity, and they are incapable of working together because they can't recognise the unity or find the basis of it. So virtually any group you are in, if you have that principle and can work to encourage that principle, it's something distinctive. The last thing related to that is the teaching fundamentally - which was mentioned many times before, but I want to put a different spin on it - and that is the idea of oneness, the oneness of all phenomenon and the oneness of hearts and souls in the Writings. The Bahá'í perspective is that ultimately we will realise we are one soul in many bodies. And that's a very revolutionary concept because what it says is that, ultimately, we are not fully developed in our humanity if we don't feel pain when other people feel pain. And currently a large part of our difficulty is that there are a lot of people in pain and those people who aren't feeling the pain have no awareness, no interest, no feeling or desire to change that.
Brad: I think you've hit the whole problem of sustainable development right there. People are enjoying themselves at a certain level, and a lot of people that are, don't care, and that's why we are on an unsustainable track.
Rick: Sorry, I want to add one comment related to education, and then I'll pass on, and that is that related to education you have ultimately - it is more nuanced than this but if you boil it down to the basics - you either have the capacity to work with the youngest ones and have a process that develops them in a holistic, healthy, and spiritually growing way, or you can spend your time and money on adult remedial spiritual education, which a lot of don't get engaged in. And that isn't a negative, it's just the recognition that, in whatever context, you can either work with the young ones to step by step to unfold and develop in a more positive way, or you can try to encourage unlearning - which is infinitely more difficult - and rebuilding.
Brad: So children's classes…and parenting…Arthur?
Arthur: I think that the great hope for sustainability in the world is that none of us are sustainable. We are all going to die, sooner or later, and the next generation can learn from our mistakes and perhaps do things differently. And therefore we need that longer term perspective. What is really exciting, from much of the evolution that the Bahá'í community has gone through, is a much deeper awareness of what education really is and how it should be done, and it is no longer the education of the teacher to the students, of the pastor to the congregation, of the mullah to the..., you know. This idea of the leader who has the knowledge who passes it on to his disciples has now been totally transformed through this recognition of the oneness of humanity, this recognition of our diversity, the need to incorporate aboriginal perspectives, scientific perspectives; and then the creation of educational processes, like the institute process, like study circles, and so on, where people come together to learn together and each one brings their contribution, their value, whether it be the aboriginal value system or whatever, in a process of unity in the group of learning together, growing together. There is a new kind of process taking place, always related to spiritual principle and its applications, and then given the revolutionary Bahá'í approach to science. Science is not for the elite scientist to do in their laboratories for instance; science should be something that everyone applies at their level, that everyone should learn to think in terms of cause and effect, to evaluate evidence, observe and draw conclusions from what they see around them. So we're just beginning to learn how to recreate the whole educational process so that it naturally drives us towards sustainability, by giving us a set of targets and values in terms of our long-term future, material and spiritual, and be able to draw on all of the strengths in the community, all the different perspectives, cultural perspectives and so on, and integrate them in a growing process that will give us the foundations of much more sustainable communities in the future. So we are all still learning together, because, working with spiritual principles, we may be a few steps ahead of others in developing these new mechanisms and processes, but the world is coming along. I just came from a World Science Forum in Budapest three weeks ago organised by ICSU on ethics and science. How do they bring values back into the scientific process, which have been ignored because of the view that technology can solve everything that's wrong? So, the Bahá'ís are several steps ahead of everybody else because they are trying to do things fully applying the spiritual principles, and therefore trying to create a nucleus of new and more sustainable organisations for the future.
Brad: A lot of anxious hands, so I will let it keep going.
Irma: Well Arthur always makes me think. You were also wanting a specific example and I was thinking as a teacher in education. I think while we are alive, Arthur, until we die, we have a lot of work to do, and that modelling has been found in education as one of the best ways of teaching. And what Duncan said about the three core activities, children, the institutes, the devotionals, I think to the extent we accelerate those and strengthen those and expand those, we are setting this model for sustainable development. I really think that that's really I personally believe what has to happen, and of course the Bahá'í Community too. But also, giving out into society, a strategy for educating people. We tend to be often, we like to be with our own Bahá'í company and our small groups and we get too involved in our activities. We have to be out in the larger society. We have to disseminate these ideas, in teacher's meetings, in international forums, in housewive's groups, in parenting groups, because these are the teachings for the New Age and I think we need, as one strategy, we can try to practice more, this expansion, this disseminating these ideas into the greater society. One case study: we just went to the 50thcommemoration of the Faith in Mozambique, and you know those Bahá'ís, that community has struggled under terrible conditions to have the Faith established, through wars and everything, but when the Bahá'ís were given recognition from the outside community, the one thing that stood out, is that the Bahá'ís led the way for religions to be united, to have an organisation of religious groups and this was recognised. This is education in a way - religions are all one - through a practical application in the wider community.
Melinda: Since we are at such an early stage in making these connections, both within our own Bahá'í community about sustainability, and in the sustainability community about the inclusion of spiritual principles, one interesting way that Bahá'ís can engage in making the links between spiritual perspectives and educating for sustainability is through higher education and degrees and being able to develop and research case studies of Bahá'í social and economic development projects. I think that there was a previous model that made the assumption that academia really does not want to hear about the Bahá'í faith, or is there no role of religion, for religion in academic study. That has not been my experience and my experience has been quite the opposite, where dissertation committees are really interested in hearing more about this Bahá'í approach to social and economic development. And in development literature there is really very little that has been written about evaluations, positive and negative, I really shouldn't say, but success and failures, and even a failure if studied from what we can learn from it. But there is really little in development literature about the spiritual perspective of Bahá'í communities in Africa, Latin America, Asia, etc, and so we need to see more of those and encourage young people to pursue higher ed degrees and to pursue in their research evaluations, to develop case studies of the Bahá'í social and economic development approach model.
Brad: Does anyone else have a burning one? Or I will move on.
Nora: While I was listening to these things some new points came up, especially by thinking about the indigenous knowledge actually. And I was thinking, if we talk here about sustainable development, do we talk about us the North going helping the South? If so, because I heard a little bit from what you were saying that if we kind of help indigenous people, they will have to contribute something. Maybe I misunderstood, I think I misunderstood the whole (laugh). But what I wanted to say, when I am listening to our discussion now, I have a feeling we are very much mind oriented and we approach development or transformation growth in a very mindful way. I think, because I have been doing some meditation course in Germany which was teaching how to see the energies of plants, etc. - which is maybe a bit strange for some people - but I thought, we Bahá'ís, we are lacking this heart and soul part and for that reason I was wondering, do we actually think also about us in the North needing the help of the people in the South?
Brad: Yes that is what I understood as being said.
Nora: I have the feeling that we are not really looking into these things, what we in the North need. Because I think we in the North we are really sick. Look at our food now and what we do with the earth. We are totally disconnected with the earth, we are total disconnected with our soul. We as Bahá'ís, we really have to start thinking about this and I have a feeling we don't really.
Brad: You've given me a good transition to what I think was my next general question. I'm listening to a lot of this, and being a Bahá'í I agree with a lot of it, but I'm trying to imagine to myself that I have just walked in and I have no background and part of me would listen to this and say "Gee you guys have it all figured out, you've got this institute process going, you've got this and that, you've got spiritual principles, you say it is working well." Is that really true? What do we need to learn now? The purpose of this seminar is to go from here and go onto a whole decade, but, in some sense, are we just about taking what we have and communicating it to everyone else, or is there a learning process that we have to go through? What is our own next step? Who wants to jump in?
Duncan: This is very interesting. As I listen I am thinking about myself and reflecting on "earth is one country and mankind its citizens". The question of North-South for me is a dichotomy that we can place, and it can become an obstacle that absorbs an enormous amount of our energies. The Revelation is intended for all of humanity. The question of disseminating our ideas and our experience is an important process, but if we look at it and think about how people outside may look at the Bahá'í community. If you were to say the Christian approach to "......"is this, that's a meaningless statement to me, because I think there are hundreds of sects of Christianity and approaches to "......" Even to say the Islamic approach is "......" You know what, I've lived in Muslim countries and I've seen the terrible/wonderful diversity. In the Bahá'í community it's interesting because we don't have that reflection of schisms, we are one global community, which in and of itself represents a whole myriad of challenges, because it is hard to visualise. We have never had an example of an entire globally embracing model that is one. This is our problem as Bahá'ís, because how can you present these ideas with tremendous humility and not with arrogance? It is not our intent to say that we have all the answers or the best model. No that is not our intent at all, it is certainly not my intent, or my understanding as a Bahá'í. What we strive for is to embrace a learning attitude that embraces people of different faiths and different understandings, different political ideologies, different ethnicities. That is an ongoing process. What is unique about that process is that it happens in our neighbourhood, it happens our region, it happens in our country, it happens on our continent and it happens internationally. And again what is intriguing as a Bahá'í community, a single entity, we're visible on the learning agenda on all fronts. And the learning that is taking place internationally, through the Bahá'í administrative order, feeds its way down to little old me living in a town of 4,000 people in Ontario. Why is it that I can receive, almost daily, reflections on the experience of Bahá'í communities from all over the world who are doing exactly the same thing that I'm trying to do, which is just to figure out how to apply Divine teachings in my life. That to me is terribly exciting, the fact that I can log onto the Internet, in the privileged community where I live, and learn about what's happening in some of the remotest, and (quote unquote) "underdeveloped materially" places, where they don't have the luxury of high speed internet from their wireless network from their living room. Here am I able to access that experience, and I don't know of how many models there are of any community of faith, or not of faith, on a planetary level, that can demonstrate that type of learning and reflection.
Brad: Who else?
Joell: I think I would add to the points that Duncan and Nora have made that we are largely talking here as Westerners, educated, middle class, let's say, white people, and it's not just a matter of North-South, but a matter of native and non-native, or white and native, because this aboriginal consciousness is in North America as well as in the South. But I want to say there are whole areas of consciousness that we have just begun to to tap and understand and grow into. And I want to tell just another quick story about another learning experience that I had, and there was an organisation called the Holy Cross Center of Ecology and Spirituality in Ontario and I went to this workshop there – a whole weekend workshop – and their premise was that we weren't going to be able to make these shifts just through our head but that it would have to be through a really deep process that really changed our consciousness. So they did a lot of creative work. The first night that I was there we all gathered in this old library and the lights were turned out and it was pitch black, and there was a globe that was hanging from the ceiling and it was just illuminated with a flash light. So all you saw was this illuminated globe in this pitch black. And then some actors read from the transcripts of mission control of the first trip to the moon, and on the way to the moon you hear the astronauts talking the language of engineers, its technical, efficient language. They get to the moon. They look back at the Earth and they are dumbstruck, dumbfounded. And they start talking like poets. So you listen to these transcripts of their actual words and the feelings they had when they came back to the Earth and by the time the lights were turned on we sort of went "Gasp, oh oh my God…the technology we are using to destroy the earth is also giving us this whole new vision, this whole new vision of this glowing blue planet in the midst of this endless black empty void" and one of them said: "my glimpse of the planet was a glimpse of divinity and I felt like I was here and like the sensing organ for the human race just to see this." So this in a sense was another revelation coming up out of modern science, in a sense into the kingdom of creation that complements the Writings. So that's the kind of creative stuff they did that would just bring this shift in consciousness, a different way of seeing, a different way of knowing.
Arthur: You said: do we have the answers, do we already have the solutions? I think, if sustainability is anything, I think there is no one set of answers. Sustainability is a process. It is not a goal. We can't say tomorrow we have achieved sustainability. It is like an airplane in flight, and as long as the machines are working it is sustainable. Any one thing could make that totally unsustainable: terrorists coming into the cabin, whatever. The solution for sustainability in this country would be totally different from the solution in any other country or any other community. Each community has to apply the scientific principles of sustainability and the spiritual principles of sustainability at their own level in their own context, and the answers would be totally different depending on the context. So what Bahá'ís are bringing are not the answers but a set of processes applying spiritual principles and drawing on all the experience in the community, with full participation, to find all the different solutions to sustainability at a particular time and place. And that's what is revolutionary, what the Bahá'ís are bringing. It is not we have answers, but that we are able to accept the contribution of science, the contribution of spiritual goals and principles, and the human processes of consultation, of participation, of everybody contributing, that allow us to find those many solutions at many times and many places. And that's where we have something to offer. It is not exclusive for us. We are saying we are building the tools, everybody must join in. We are told to turn outwards and get everybody else involved in the process. The more it becomes inclusive of all people from all backgrounds, the more that process will work effectively as long as the spiritual principles are there to give us the guidance. That is what is revolutionary about the Bahá'í approach to sustainable development.
Brad: I'm going to keep going and we have about 15 mins left, and there is one really overarching question that I now need to get to, because that was part of my assignment here, and that is to look also at how we, and I think we've pulled it out, the way we have come to this point. We've talked a lot about these processes, things happening in the Bahá'í community, institute process, we've mentioned that, understanding of aboriginal teachings. Now, what about the Bahá'í community itself? How can we motivate, how can we make the connection between this outside world of sustainable development which has almost become a technical field, with the UN, you know, and how can we make the bridge between that field out there and what we as Bahá'ís know about process and so forth, and motivate our own Bahá'í communities? How can we inject this stuff, whether - I'm just raising the possibilities - whether it be into children classes, whatever? How can we create this model, and I want to say for myself, an easy to use model, because I think the idea Rick brought up about children is so important, makes a lot of sense, easier to make a new thing that fix an old one? How can we inject this into our children's classes? I know that's a lot of questions and a lot of stuff there, but that is where we have to wrap this up, and I see Peter nodding. getting on the right point.
Irma: I am going to comment on the last one: learning, are we learning and do we have all the answers? I think one of our greatest opportunities is just serving in a Bahá'í community. The Local Spiritual Assembly is a learning place, brings together people who are not necessarily associated or even be with one another. Again I am thinking of our own case, we have a gardener, a doctor, a house wife, a teacher, we have different cultures, different races, and this is a wonderful learning opportunity, because people are brought together that would not normally associate, maybe socially or whatever, different economic backgrounds. And so we learn from one another and we are learning, I think this is very, very important. We don't have the answers. It is a process and part of this, this model, is that we have an infrastructure that allows learning from one another, the best way to learn.
Melinda: I'm going to say something about vision, but I mean seeing. This is uncomfortable, it's always easier to do this in audiences that are not Bahá'í because of our assumption, because of our belief that we members of one country. There are at least two fish in this bowl that are not from white backgrounds, who are from Latin backgrounds, and I want to identify that, that we are not all white, and nor do I identify in that way. And I'm sure that there are a lot of other fish in this ocean that are surrounding this bowl that have mixed identities, mixed blended ethnicities, and it is part of who we are and it is part of our diversity, and I think it is important to say because there are a lot of assumptions that come with these words. Having said that, the other piece about vision and seeing, I don't think we can make the assumption that all of our Bahá'í communities are thinking this way. I think that there are tonnes of Bahá'í communities, most of our communities – and I am speaking as a resident of this particular country – that don't see the connections and have never heard of the Decade of Education for Sustainability, that when we try to bring movement in the direction of taking our Bahá'í communities to a more sustainable thinking, acting or behaving more sustainably, that there's a lot of resistance and a lot of questions. How do we best motivate the Bahá'í community to act on educating for social development or sustainable development and for understanding what sustainable development means? I think that we need champions in our communities, and we need to be able to look to the Office of Social and Economic Development letters, and to better understand that social and economic development work, sustainable development work, is the next stage of our Bahá'í community development, that it is a process, that it is multidisciplinary. The connections between what is going on in the sustainability community, and the Bahá'í Community, are that we see beyond the rigid borders and boundaries of disciplines, and, again, building on better pedagogy is one where there are no experts, that we are all learning together, building capacities, and that our practice digs into our roots, that our deeds are to exceed our words, that we reinforce multiple intelligences and that education is transformative, and that our communities, our local assemblies, our groups, all have the potential for transforming themselves and moving more towards sustainability.
Brad: I was going to ask another question in the same vein. Is this about our national assemblies telling us we should be doing this more, or is this about the grass roots creating the curriculum that works so well and is so beautiful that it catches on like Ruhi caught on? Where is the leverage here?
Rick: I was going back to the previous point and say that, in terms of raising awareness in the Bahá'í community, is to raise awareness of the principle that, or the understanding that, sustainable development isn't out there. It's an internal concept and has as much to do with the Bahá'í Community and all of us. And I think actually there is a little bit of a ..., the more we talk about, and label it sustainable development as something distinct and different - although there is some utility in that - the more we do that, the more we nurture the continuing notion that it is something out there. In truth, our communities are not sustainable in many, many ways. People are in pain, families in pain, communities in general and Bahá'í communities too, not in the... - I want to be clear, because I'm not being critical I'm just observing - that just as there is pain in the secular world, or wider community, there's pain in the Bahá'í community too, and those are all opportunities for sustainable development. When we encounter issues wherever, whether in our neighbours, families, or our local community or the wider community, where there is pain and non-sustainable environmental practices, if you track that back to the root, it's the same principles. And so I would just offer the suggestion that one of the things we can all do in sustainable development is help work together, to clarify our visions so that as we see pain, as we see non-sustainable practices, that we clarify and understand that they are sustainable development areas, and through developing community capacities and through building capacity in individuals - all these beautiful things we've been taking about - is the way to respond to those. So, all I really wanted to say was that sustainable development isn't out there, it's wherever there is pain and non-sustainable living.
Brad: We have about 3 minutes. Please be quick.
Duncan: For me this question is a question of the Covenant. Mine is an informed faith. I made that decision independently to become a Bahá'í. With that comes responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to serve and love humanity. Do I separate education for sustainable development as another thing on my agenda? And the answer is no. It is a reflection or manifestation of who I am as a person and a person of faith. So, in every waking moment, as I strive in my humble and lame way to serve my Lord, I aspire to all of the elements of the framework that were put out in the document that we read on ESD – which is why it's exciting to me to have that tool, because sometimes one gets lost in the vastness of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh to figure out where to begin and how and what to do. When we have organisations that are thoughtfully articulating ideas and putting out a framework, it gives me a place to collaborate with like-minded organisations. It allows me a place where I can take my understanding of religious teachings and apply it, for which I am eternally grateful. Which is why, as a Bahá'í, we need to continue our efforts as an outward looking community, to collaborate with like minded organisations, to renovate social structures that are out there, to create new ones, as a responsibility of the Bahá'í community, to engage in creating social and economic activities as Bahá'í agencies, as Bahá'í-inspired agencies. All of these are options that are available to us, but it begins and ends with the Word, the Covenant.
Joell: Unfortunately I know a lot of people who are very, very firm in the Covenant and devoted to Bahá'u'lláh and are completely oblivious to their relationship to the earth, who don't care about using pesticides, destroying micro-organisms, what these toxic chemicals are doing to the environment. They don't care how much gasoline they use, they don't care how many disposable things they throw away. They are completely unconscious and oblivious. So I really think as Bahá'ís we need to start to use some language about our relationship to the earth, because we are not just part of a human community, but part of an earth community, as Thomas Berry would say, and if you had been following the Montreal conference and the things that are coming out about climate change, for example the Gulf Stream has slowed by about 30 per cent. If that shuts down, the whole planet system is going to flip and northern Europe's going to be in Arctic conditions. I really think that what is coming out of the Montreal conference, the scientific evidence, we are entering the greatest crisis that humanity has ever faced, so the question of sustainability is going to be a matter of survival and life and death, and that's where our capacity to organise and our capacity to understand the relationship to the earth have become critical.
Arthur: We are embedded in our societies, and if we don't consciously question it, we are swept along in the current, particularly in the Western material civilisation. It's so comfortable, it's so easy, it's no wonder we don't want to question it. We don't think about all the people out there who don't have it, the majority of humanity who are excluded from many of those benefits. And therefore, sustainability, sustainable development, forces us to challenge our relationship to the material civilisation around us, and to recognise how corrupt and immoral it is in terms of its impact on others and therefore, how we cannot as spiritual beings ignore that dimension any longer, and have to question our lifestyles, our consumption habits. Look at the paragraphs in One Common Faith about the consumer society, the condemnation is there, it is very strong, which we must integrate into our communities. So I think from the point of view of any spiritual community, the Bahá'í community and any others, the challenges of sustainable development are challenging us to bridge our spiritual beliefs, our spiritual principles and the reality of our daily lives in a much more integrated way, and to rethink that, and to start going in some different direction. I think that is an important role for our community, and one we need to carry much more rapidly. By becoming aware, we become detached from the material side of things. We know there will be problems coming, everybody is talking about the crises that are increasing on horizon. If we are prepared spiritually and detached from this rather than attached materially, then we will be protected as we are swept through the current of these difficult times. If we don't, we are going to suffer that much more. So it is in our own interest, it's in everybody's interest, of all religions, to look at these issues and what they mean in terms of our spiritual principles. And we must change now. We must educate our children to live differently in order to get through the times that are coming.
Brad: I'm going to wrap this up. Thank you all for a fascinating discussion, terrific and fascinating. I've some really interesting questions, if you're going to talk about - I don't know if you want to do this - but if you going to talk about education and where it goes, there are some issues that were raised: Does this change come from the top, meaning the House of Justice or the National Spiritual Assemblies, do they have the responsibility, or is burbling up from the bottom up? Do we already have ready made things, Ruhi – is it already part of this, is it strategic to tack on to what we are already doing, and try to push it in a different direction, or are we talking about new curricula? Do we start in terms of the outside world? Do we start where people are with their own religions, or do we bring in this whole new concept of this new Revelation? I think that there is a really interesting point that has been brought up between indigenous peoples here, but at the same time to reflect on where does that fit in with the oneness of humanity, because there is a whole another string. Do we have peoples, are there separate peoples – is that a correct idea of indigenous peoples? Is that something to incorporate into the curricula or are we all one people together, is there a way to turn the curricula in that direction? As always the great thing about having the microphone last is that I get to toss out these questions and people can be frustrated about wanting to answer them…(laughter).
World Café – Decade Café
The last event on the first day was a World Café-style event named the "Decade Café" after the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The room was set up and decorated like a cafe, with small round tables for four, table decorations, paper placemats for writing on, even Decade Café coasters. Valerie Davis and Peter Adriance were the facilitators. The following is a lightly-edited transcript of their introduction and the group reports.
Description of the Decade Café
Valerie: This next part of our program is to build on what we have been doing, building on each of the previous parts of the program's growth in knowledge, and at the same time moving further and further away from explicit structure. As we engage you increasingly in the program, you are going to see that the typical guidelines are going to disappear. So this is setting the scene for tomorrow's very open space.
So we are going to start here by talking about the purpose of the Decade Café. So, we are going to tell you a little bit about World Café, which is a concept we are going to work with here in our Decade Café. Peter and I had the opportunity to experience this at a Sustainability Conference that was filled with about 300 business people engaging in dialogue together about sustainable development and about business. It was a very powerful exercise and we wanted to give all of you an opportunity to experience this as well.
The way this works is that we need people sitting in groups of four to five. We set the tables up for four. Please look around and if you are sitting at a table with less than four could you fill in spaces. We are going to be moving around a lot so don't consider that the seat that you have is permanent.
The World Café is a process of dialogue and what we are going to encourage you to do is to practice collective listening, to listen to everybody. What that means of course is that we also have to make sure that you give voice to everybody at the table. So active listening, dialogue, essentially consultation. We are going to ask one person at each table to be designated as host. The host will remain at the table. They are the only person who will stay at the table. They have a number of roles. The first is to welcome guests as we move through the exercise: as their current guests move off, to welcome new ones who come to the table; to provide continuity in the dialogue by letting the new visitors know what the nature of the conversation was at the table in a brief summary before we engage in the next dialogue at the table; and also to play a little bit of a facilitator role to make sure everybody has the chance to have their voice heard at the table.
So initially what we are going to have are three questions. At the end of each round of questions, everybody is going to move, with the exception of the host who will welcome the new people. Eventually at the end of the three rounds of questions we will converge the ideas we've been collecting. We are going to do a bit of a checking as to the nature of the conversations as we go along. They will be very brief, if you have a new idea add to it. Just so you can get a sense of what the conversation is around the room. And then we will have a little bit longer sharing at the end.
Peter: The purpose is to build on the previous conversation that happened in the Fishbowl and within the context of the seminar theme, which is "At the end of the seminar participants will be able to articulate the dynamics between the spiritual and material aspects of sustainable development and will be committed to apply their learning in service to humanity."
So we are going to look at Café assumptions and etiquette, and these
have been posted on the wall and will remain there for your reference during
the café. So the assumptions are that:
- the knowledge and wisdom that we need is already present and accessible, it is all within you, within everybody here in the room;
- all the right people who need to be here are here;
- the collective insight evolves from honouring the unique contributions, making sure we have all the voices from the tables, collective ideas, bringing together ideas through consultation and turning them into a collective consciousness;
- listening into the middle so that is part of the consultation concept – when you put an idea out it is no longer yours, let go of it, detach from it, it belongs to the group, to the table;
- noticing deeper themes and questions, so listening carefully at your table and when we do the larger collective sharing; and
- intelligence emerges as the system connects with itself in diverse and creative ways and this is a very creative process.
Peter: Okay, really what we are doing here draws on the Bahá'í practice of consultation, giving our full attention to the ideas being put out. So the etiquette rules are to focus on what matters, as it relates to the question being considered; contribute the thinking each of us; that each of us has something to contribute here; speak your mind and your heart; listen to understand, in other words, you're not formulating your response while another is talking, you're deeply listening to what they have to say; listen together for insights and patterns and deeper insights and new questions will emerge from this. On the table you have placemats. Feel free to draw, play on those and engage both sides of your brain. As you're doing that, have a lot of fun. The placemats stay where they are, rather than taking them with you. A lot of the conversation will be on the mats. For master doodlers there are extra placemats. Plenty of paper.
We are going to have brief reflective periods after each of the conversations take place, and I might add that when we change tables, there are a lot of people moving around, and we don't want to spend a lot of time moving. Gwendolyn is going to help us with musical chairs music. We ask that you don't talk when you get up and move to a table that you haven't been with before.
Valerie: So for each round of questions we have approximately 20 minutes. We are going to put the first question up and you can proceed into your dialogue and we will let you know musically that it is time to stop and move.
Peter: Thinking back to the Fishbowl dialogue, what has bubbled up for you? What is emerging here? What new connections are you making with regards to ESD?
The groups discussed this question for 20 minutes and reported back to the whole group.
Report Back to the Whole Group
Group 1 (Participant 2): Voluntary simplicity, that's what it brought up…connecting to voluntarily giving up not out of reasons of aestheticism but the joy, contentment and inner peace, the freedom from the cares of worrying about all the material possessions that you have and their management.
Peter: Other key insights. What's bubbling up for you?
Group 2 (Participant 3): Following on from that, our group talked about the Secret of Divine Civilisation, that true economics is love and kindness, not about money. 'Abdu'l-Bahá says true economics is love and kindness. So we sort have a misconception of what economics is.
Group 3 (Participant 4): One of the issues that bubbled up here had to do with the observation, if the fish bowl had continued longer, at least a couple if things might have happened. One is that the session might have gotten past a lot of the slogans that we hear, bumper sticker type Bahá'í expressions that camouflage the real understanding or meaning that should issue forth at some point once the subject is explored in depth and how do we get past the bumper sticker expressions? Our suspicion and our second observation was that probably the divergence of opinions represented by the individuals who participated directly in the fishbowl would probably have been much greater than what appeared during that time.
Peter: Interesting thought.
Valerie: That has provided a nice segue into our next question but we'll go there in a minute.
Group 4 (Participant 5): Listen, they forced me to talk (laughing). Because I am going to talk with my heart. When I saw you sitting and talking and thinking and really high, spiritually high, I could not stop myself to think of the people of Haiti. We have in the Bahá'í community some kids that go to school with no food, no food from today and no food from yesterday. So when they go to school they can't think, and when I was looking at you all, very well, comfortable, thinking as high as you could go, I was thinking of my kids. And then one of the ladies talked about the fact that there is different kind of people here, and shouldn't we realise we have no blacks. So our growing process will be for next years to have them here too. And to have some Indian people too. And maybe you can find in your own community some of the minorities from your communities and please invite them to come here. Also, I was thinking when I was very young. I'm French and the French are too intellectual sometimes, but some times I think and then I felt like there was a platform on my head, like a roof, you know. I couldn't think very high and I always felt that platform. Then I became a Bahá'í and the platform left. So I think this is a great privilege for all the Bahá'ís to be able to think and have the basic spiritual things of our days so we can think, and Bahá'u'lláh is here to give us all that thinking and Bahá'u'lláh wants all of us to think, you know, the rich and the poor. As I went home during the break, there is the marriage prayer, Bahá'u'lláh says 'from every one of them I bring small and big pearls, this is the unity of humankind."
Group 5 (Participant 6): My group had a few thoughts. One was that one of the connections that was formed was the understanding that when we leave this life we are accountable, and so there is a connection that needs to be made in the Bahá'í mind between, not just being - using Christian terminology - being saved when you become a Bahá'í, then it carries with it a stewardship aspect to it for which you will be called to account in the next life. Another one was that people need to be brought out of their comfort zone, it's not that people don't see that there are problems with the environment or the economic well-being of other people, it is that they are not in their comfort zone when they think about this, and so making people feel more comfortable when they step outside of their own envelope is very important. And the third thing which I will own, although it was a table discussion, is we need to be very careful if we fall into the noble savage thinking when we look toward indigenous people, and that's all I'm going to say about that. That's it.
Peter: Thank you very much. Let's move to the next table. Move in silence.
Valerie: Table hosts please take a moment to bring the other group up to speed as to the nature of the dialogue that occurred in the last group and then start on the next question.
Question: What's missing from the picture so far? What do we need more clarity about?
The groups discussed this question for 20 minutes.
Report Back to the Whole Group
Peter: What is that we need more clarity about? Please give us a short, succinct expression of insight.
Group (Participant 7): Something that was really important that came up: all of these processes are evolutionary, they are dynamic. In the process of thinking about SD, we had to realise we were discarding as well as creating, so that mindsets open, things run in cycles, and that we build on something and we remember what happened from the past. In other words, whether we've done something before, what were the lessons learned, what can we throw out, rather than keep reinventing the wheel. That's in our discussions and our lifestyle.
Valerie: The expression I learned from Ken Wilber was transcend and include.
Group (Participant 8): We talked about the need for some more concrete examples of things that have actually been put into place, some more organisation of a knowledge base that can lead to the development of specific projects that can serve as examples, and working to systematise and integrate so that we can evaluate what we're doing.
Group (Participant 9): We talked about fulfilment and questioned what is fulfilment, and how does detachment from material desires get us to fulfilment, reflecting on statements of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Secret of Divine Civilisation about what is income, and how much does one have to make, and when does the taxation stop or start, and who needs to be helped one year, and who needs to be provided for one year. We touched upon the subject of work and the difference between work and jobs, because the writings make the reference to work done in the spirit of service is considered worship, where a job is just a job. And governments around the world are just trying to create jobs, not work.
Group (Participant 10): I was just thinking that what was a little bit missing was to remember that we're not actually representing the Bahá'í Revelation in our words, that in fact sustainable development is an effect of the Revelation, and it simply is the place where humanity presently wishes to grapple with its risks and dangers in the future, in a sense because of lack of application of those spiritual principles. I think it's potentially problematic if we think we're representing in any way or owning in anyway the Revelation or spiritual principles of Bahá'u'lláh, or any other past Revelation, because it is all part of the eternal faith of God. So if we allow ourselves to be silenced about speaking about these spiritual principles, as humanity stubbornly resists the spiritual nature of the problem and therefore confines the discussion to the saving of the planet, which wouldn't need that if we weren't confining the discussion, then you know we really limit our possibilities too. So we have to transcend that and recognise the Revelation will generate the health in the planet. That is much greater than we imagine if we seek to educate ourselves and rise above the present levels of ignorance. And then we make sure we do that in a non-judgemental but very encouraging way so that everybody feels they can participate and not feel judged.
Valerie: Wow, thank you.
Group (Participant 11): One of the ideas expressed at our table was how the inherent nobility of man is often enshrouded or eclipsed by the materialistic environment around us, and the way to penetrate that is through spiritual education.
Group (Participant 12): Just from our table there was a focus on the institute process and that we have so many resources that are so well trained at the local level. However there isn't a manifestation in action of service. Those human resources aren't really acting on a grand scale on what they are learning. We talked about whether the skills of envisioning were really being taught or educated for within the institute process, so that participants can really see what they can with what resources that they've developed, and whether that is something that we can think about. Part of that - something that's missing from ESD - is this concept of the tutor walking with the participants in their service, and whether that is something that ESD, as an idea of an educational process, can consider.
Valerie: Spiritual companioning?
Participant 13: I'd like to add onto what (Participant 12) was saying. I think that really to envision our advancement towards sustainable development as an individual, as an isolated individual, is quite a daunting task, and I think that the more we talk about this, the implications for more community and institutional changes in our communities begin to arise. The question that is emerging in my mind is what communal structures, not so much what life changes or lifestyle changes in individuals' interaction with the environment, but rather what communal structures must arise in the communities to allow for individuals to facilitate more sustainable lifestyles for individuals. Of course what relationship they would have with existing institutions within the community is also important.
Peter: thank you for the insight.
Group (Participant 6): Hello. We had quite a bit of a discussion at this table about the indigenous issue, and two things I want to mention that came out of that which may help settle some hearts. One was, the Bahá'í Faith empowers all different perspectives. It's a chance, for example, for both Maoris and General Electric to sit down in a dialogue, the biggest companies and the excluded minorities. Second was, for example, for instance, Americans feel that they have to save the world - that was just an example that was raised by an American at this table - but the House of Justice is truly world envisioning in its embrace. We see that we are more materialistic in the North than in developing countries, and, in reality, all people have something to contribute. The past histories of all peoples, whether they be western, indigenous, northern or southern, have all had some human failings, they've all had divine inspiration. We want the new world order to be unique in terms of Bahá'u'lláh's Laws and teachings. Some of those teachings were not present in any of the old cultures and that's what needs to be brought to the dialogue.
Group (Participant 14): Our discussion here was sort of a continuation of some of the themes that were already brought up, but the way that we framed it, was really seeking an opening up more in ourselves, a learner's mind, and that is very connected with what (Participant 10) just said. The mistake and danger of tending to really identify with the Revelation, and to carry on this assumption that we already have an understanding here, or that we have things figured out, whether we say that or whether we assume that, whether this is the kind of feeling that comes through in the way that we conceive of our relationship to the sustainability work in the larger world, the danger of forgetting about the learner's mind, forgetting that, whether we have access to these divine principles and this divine Revelation, the fact that we do doesn't really imply anything further. It really implies the need for that learner's mind and just the need. What was missing - that was something that really came through clear at our table - that we need to experience more of that learner's mind in how we ask ourselves: what do we have to contribute? How can we re-evaluate the lives of ourselves as individuals, of our communities, of our institutions, the functioning of our institutions? And how can we also join the process in the larger world? Can we do that from a learner's mind, precisely because of the fact that we have access to these spiritual principles?
Peter: A great collection of responses. I think it's time to move onto the final round.
ROUND THREE: What can a Bahá'í perspective contribute to ESD?
The groups discussed this question for 20 minutes.
Report Back to the Whole Group
Group (Participant 6): First of all we can contribute heart. One was that we are aiming towards children and youth, For example, the Bahá'í Education in State Schools program was something that was a model which is at such a point that it could readily be scaled up - and this was something that came over the table - that we focussed on a number of things that potentially could be scaled up, things that were working that we could bring to ESD. The administrative order itself, being a grass roots international level model, this inherent structure given to us by Bahá'u'lláh allows somebody who wants to do a SD project, to have an administrative set up that they can go to for advice, or vice versa, an assembly can reach out and try to implement projects. It's unique in that sense. And it totally empowers everybody because they have a right to vote and serve. We can also bring our model of sustainable education, which would include inspiring and helping all participants to embrace service, that all participants are empowered, but not just empowered, in fact hassled to not avoid serving (laughter), so the tying of learning to service is very useful. We've learned a lot as an international community about how to engage youth and children in service, to help them to be valuable contributors. They don't have to wait until they grow up to make a difference, so they are saved from apathy and cynicism. Another thing we have that we can offer are training models. It has taken us a decade or so to get people from all over the world to get trained up as tutors in a process. And we also have the practice of setting up national plans. So the House of Justice starts by creating an international plan, then national assemblies do plans with approval, then they get to do them without approval, and then local communities do them and then individuals. The point was made that by 2021, most Bahá'ís will understand how to set up a plan, and from the vision to enactment to reflection, adaptation and improvement, which is also something we can bring to ESD.
Group (Participant 15): Briefly, a couple of things that came out of our consultation. The consultative process itself is a model that we Bahá'ís can somehow try to adapt and bring to the larger communities. There's many different ways perhaps that we could do that. That's one idea. One other thought that came out of this was that, by aligning ourselves with the Manifestation and Bahá'u'lláh's Message, we can be a channel of all those energies that then become very evident in our optimism and what we bring into whatever group we are working with, in the Bahá'í community or the outside world, by partnering with other Bahá'ís with similar interests and using our particular talents in service, which is another way that we can bring our Bahá'í perspective to this task.
Group (Participant 16): Quickly, we said that the Bahá'í perspective could contribute to every problem, not just sustainable development, and that actually all the teachings are about SD if you look at it in that perspective; that it's both an inner and outer journey within oneself and with the outer world, and actually that sustainable development may be the switch that brings humanity to its knees, so that we actually realise that we are one country and mankind its citizens. One other thing I wanted to mention was that we talked about cluster energy and going from a C to a B to an A, and people all excited about it and what you do with this energy. Again modelling, when talking to the world about sustainable development, we have to actually be sustainable development, and have the courage to stand up and model and reflect and question our city councils, to question in our normal every day lives whether we are doing things sustainably or not, because as one person here at the table put it, good people need an outlet for goodness. So by standing up we may give them the opportunity to do something really great.
Group (Participant 14): We had a great discussion here and I'm going to struggle to summarise. As we thought about what we could contribute to the larger world in terms of Education for Sustainability, the point was made that one of the ways we can be really helpful is by transforming the larger culture, because ultimately what teaches people is culture, what they see, what is modelled for them, more so than what they are told. Trying to transform the larger culture when we ourselves are learners is a very interesting proposition. And so we asked ourselves: what is the leverage we have in helping to transform the larger culture and what we talked about? Just realising that this whole movement towards sustainability - as well as many other energies in the world - have already been released as a result of this Revelation? So in a sense, knowing this historic understanding that we have that the Kingdom of God is already existent, it is just progressively manifesting itself, and when we have that understanding in our hearts and align ourselves with our brothers and sisters in the world as we try to tune into that reality, manifest that reality more, bring a level of attraction, creates for people good opportunities to do good things: for us, the opportunity to engage in consultation and remain learners in the process and not make any other claims. All we know, that many other people perhaps do not quite realise historically, is that the Kingdom of God is already being released on this earth, and we are just in the process of catching on, as a humanity, tuning in, realising it. The other point that was made, perhaps another thing in the process of catching on, that we do understanding something about these processes that work – social and collective processes that work, and that's another thing that we contribute, again in a learner's mode of course.
Group (Participant 17): We had a very good discussion at this table, but it was sparked by a comment at the very beginning and that was the perspective that world peace is not only possible, but it is inevitable. That sense of optimism we can contribute to whatever organisation or effort we are part of makes the struggle worthwhile.
Group (Participant 9): Talked about the application of principles in our daily lives, to develop spiritual qualities to sustain us and others, through the growth and development of the worlds of God. Reflection was also made on beauty and different aspects as we move along in our life and its application.
Group (Participant 18): So two things come to mind. A couple of key words were perspective and paradox. For someone coming not from the Bahá'í Faith, that really rings true for me, is that where we are going is always changing, and people who are able to go with the flow rather than getting stuck are going to be a powerful influence in the world, as the world is so dynamic. Something else that I thought was really interesting, living life as an art, living life as an art-full experience, and I think that's really important in the world too, to contrast to the world a (?), with modern technology being very outcome oriented. Also going along with the idea of perspective and paradox, some of the people said that the Bahá'í Faith is a way, not the way, and in the sense of what we talked about, education and having that kind of mindset, and the 500 years of the Bahá'í that is today will look very different.
Group (Participant 19): We had a wonderful discussion and agreement with the fact that the Bahá'ís bring a blueprint, not the blueprint, for sustainable development. And most of our discussion then was wonderful validation of the notion that individual stories and how Bahá'í teachings and tenets have come forward, and not been brought forward specifically by Bahá'ís in ever case, but have been embraced by the design and development, from a private school curriculum in New Jersey, to the fact that Nelson Mandela in prison was inspired and sustained himself by Bahá'í teachings. Wonderful discussion at my table.
Group (Participant 20): That was kind of the direction of our table too, was let your vision be world embracing and act locally. That the concept of sustainable development is not a Bahá'í goal or concept, or solving the problems of the world or even creating peace is not a Bahá'í project, that in answering the question: what is the Bahá'í perspective? what we even bring to this room is our concept of unity Bahá'u'lláh's asking us to spread throughout the world.
Group (Participant 21): In terms of what the Bahá'í Perspective contributes, I think that a lot has been said about perspective, but one of the things that came up was understanding. And it is not that we own the concept - I think that everyone has access to it - but it is articulated in a very nice way about the processes of disintegration and integration, and that is an extremely helpful thing to understand in terms of understanding historical context and seeing the role of Revelation and religion in its relationship to the rise and fall of civilisation. So there is a question again about perspective and historical context that can in fact be very motivating and very inspiring for a lot of people. The other aspect is that it is not all doom and gloom; we had that discussion that the sense of vibrancy, sense of joy and happiness, comes with that sense of vision. And again this isn't something that Bahá'ís own per se but it is something our perspective can bring. Our aspiration as a community of faith is to serve for love of humanity, and that service has to be rendered in a spirit of joy. With that, one of the features is to want to create conditions of unity, which means we are going to discourage certain practices that may be prevalent, or maybe not, like backbiting, or falling into the dichotomy at a world government summit of government against NGOs and feeding into those things really has no point in advancing the objectives of something as important as ESD. So just through consultation and our participation, part of that Bahá'í perspective would discourage from fermenting any negativity, or backbiting, or anything that wouldn't serve the larger cause of building unity.
Peter: Beautifully, and eloquently said.
Peter: We have had quite a day. When we think back to the beginning of the day it seems like a week ago in my mind. There was so much that came down today. For those of us on the planning committee, it has been a very confirming day because our expectations are being met and even exceeded in many cases. Let's keep in mind our goal, which is to "articulate the dynamics between the spiritual and material aspects of sustainable development and will be committed to applying that learning in service to humanity." I feel we gained a lot of knowledge today, we generated a lot of knowledge. We had practice in experiencing that ability to articulate the dynamic between the spiritual and the material, and so we've come along together as a community, as a learning community. We've declared ourselves very much a learning community and a contributor to this important Decade. So, it's a great beginning.
Steve Cochran: I just wanted to say that I've participated in many World Café's before and I've never had this kind of Café setting, never a more lovelier or more authentic café setting, taking the cavernous, no light, dungeon of a ballroom like this and having been privileged over the last few days to go from the strip mall runs and seen how magically this is. All of us know that this doesn't happen by accident, love and care that goes into it. Having the benefit of having been able to peak behind the curtain to everyone, fantastic.
The session concluded with a musical moment, with everyone singing along or playing percussion.
After dinner, there were meetings of communities of interest, and a networking meeting with other groups meeting in parallel with the seminar - business ethics seminar and conflict resolution - followed by a devotional program, singers and non-singers.
Spiritual Reflection Part II – The Impact of Bahá'u'lláh's Counsels
The second day of the ESD seminar began with an hour long session with the objective of anchoring the day's activities in the Bahá'í Writings. Rick Johnson designed and facilitated the session with Peter Adriance.
Peter: Today is going to be different from yesterday. It's going to build on what we've done and it's going to take it a little bit further. Yesterday's theme was knowledge and today it is volition. And I was reflecting this morning, on the whole business, and I was thinking about how hearts and minds here are being prepared bringing about a sustainable world. Isn't that what we're doing. Isn't that why Bahá'u'lláh came to help us to do? So today we need to think about how we're going to translate what we're learning and what we're feeling, a heart connection that Rick's exercise is helping us to make – Bahá'u'lláh, His teachings – and the wonderful knowledge we've been able to glean from the writings we've studied, and the discussions we've had, the generative knowledge really that has taken place over the last day or so.
Rick: What I want to do today is to build on yesterday, and you remember that yesterday we started with the kind of concept that we are all here together, meeting to discuss ESD, but things like that happen all over the world. Why is this group here? This group is here because in some way or another the spirit of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh has penetrated the planet enough and connected with enough people that they see connections to SD and we're here. So yesterday we looked at some ways in which people, in the time of Bahá'u'lláh, in the time of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and later, responded to those teachings. Today, our initial exercise is going to be to give us an opportunity to respond to those teachings and reflect on their relationship to sustainable development.
To begin, let me just tell a brief story which will be familiar to many, but it will relate and bring us into the exercise. In 1853, a person known to history by the name of Bahá'u'lláh, was cast into a dungeon, into a deep dark pit, which had been the underground reservoir for the city of Tehran. It was no longer in use and they used as a prison. It was considered the black pit because the only way you could reach it was through a long, dark, dark stairway going down, down, down into the earth and when you got there the stench was overwhelming. Doctors who visited Bahá'u'lláh reported that the filth, run off from the streets, in that area was knee deep. It was filled with all the worst prisoners of the government. And Bahá'u'lláh, along with some others, were thrown in there and kept chained. The chain was heavy enough, weighing over a 100 pounds, that Bahá'u'lláh could not stand the weight of the chain. So when the doctors visited Him, they found Him on His hands and knees in the filth, so that the filth was up over His elbows, with the chain weighing Him down. And in that situation, in that circumstance, which you know could not look more hopeless, and would be connected to the slaughter of over 20,000 people, here is a Person completely innocent of any crime in this circumstance for about 3 months. And in that dark pit, Bahá'u'lláh told history, humanity, that God came to Him in a vision, and said all is not lost. There is hope. And not only is there hope, but there is victory over these circumstances. You are not a victim. Even though you are on your hands and knees and filth to your elbows and gagging on the stench, there is victory, and you can overcome this and you can help others overcome this.
And so from that small insight, in a certain way, to one individual in the worst circumstances imaginable, we're all here. That was it. That is essentially why we are in this room, in some sense. Now if that isn't a message of hope and transformation and capacity building, I'm at a loss to find one. And so, having said that, we can all feel inspired by that, but it also has to be, is, the energy to take the next steps forward in putting those teachings into practice. So, for the next few minutes, that's what we are going to do. I'm going to hand out little cards and ask each person to take one, and on the card is one of the counsels or teachings of Bahá'u'lláh (see Spiritual Reflection, part II). Out of the hundreds of volumes that Bahá'u'lláh wrote, not all of His counsels are captured on these cards, but a pretty wide selection is. And particularly ones which seemed to have some particular connection, possibly, or relevance or implication for ESD.
For about say the next 10 maybe 15 minutes, we are going to give you each time to reflect individually and personally on the particular teaching of Bahá'u'lláh you've been given. And we are going to ask you to do that in the spirit of steward for that counsel this morning. You are its champion, not in a competitive sense, but making sure that the counsel that's in your hands is at the table later, when we're discussing. Because Bahá'u'lláh tells us that there is no single principle that you can apply. The whole challenge is, they all apply, and they have to be balanced, and you have to find their meaning and implications. So we can't discard them because they're inconvenient, or discard them because they're uncomfortable, or because they seem difficult to balance. They all have to be there. So, Gwendolyn is going to help us out with some meditative music and we'll ask you to follow the instructions, which are:
1) Read your counsel of Bahá'u'lláh
(see Spiritual Reflection part II).
2) Meditate on it
3) Let it percolate around and you can walk around. We are focussing on Bahá'u'lláh because that is the kernel, but there are also some relevant passages from 'Abdu'l-Bahá you can look at on the tables, which you can meditate on also.
4) Pick up a marker, and then write down on the recycled paper available a) one spiritual principle that Bahá'u'lláh counsels us to know and apply in your own words. In other words you have the statement but put it into your own words, in one brief sentence. What is Bahá'u'lláh saying in the counsel you have, what is it that He wants us to know and apply?; and b) one sentence about how this spiritual principle helps us to wisely apply or approach ESD? How it connects to ESD in your head? And what I mean by wisely is: cast light on, illumine, show connections, inspire ESD. When you write your two sentences, keep those, you will be using them in the next stage.
(music for 10 minutes)
We've had a chance to word the counsels in a way that makes sense for where we are. And now we want to take our understanding of the counsel we've been given stewardship of, so to speak, this morning, and join in dialogue with others, bringing other principles to the table. And again our spirit is not going to be competitive, we are not trying to overcome. We are simply trying to make sure that the richness of the principles is brought to the table and they're all given a hearing and applied. So to do that, if you would just turn into little groups of 4-5 people. You have four assignments, but they're two larger assignments.
First: Sharing in the group:
Second: In the group
Open Space: "Bahá'í Responses to the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development: Unleashing the Power of the Creative Word"
Most of the second day of the seminar was devoted to Open Space, facilitated by Steve Cochran and Peter Adriance, with approximately 25 sessions held, although not all reports were submitted. The description of the session is given by Steve Cochran in the edited transcript below. The Open Space session reports follow.
Prior to the Open Space commencing, Arthur Dahl, president of the International Environment Forum, shared some of the postings on the electronic IEF 9th Conference, coinciding with the ESD pre-conference seminar. They concerned the role of Bahá'ís to apply sustainability in their own professional lives; developing a deep appreciation of children for nature; the treading lightly program. More details are posted on the IEF website in the report of the e-conference.
Peter: Today is about volition, and these are examples (from the IEF e-conference) of helping to nurture a sustainable world. I want to briefly introduce Steve Cochran. We met in 2003 at a meeting of NGOs, the meeting which gave birth to the US Partnership for the Decade of ESD which now has more than 300 NGOs as partners. The Faith Sector team is one I'm on. The process that gave birth to this organisation was Open Space. It was my first experience with Open Space and I've seen many since then. Steve is Director of the Center for International Leadership Results, which gives you an idea of his focus on assisting people to translate ideas into action. He's here as a guest of the National Spiritual Assembly, but he's donating his time and capacities pro bono for us, because he has great respect for the Faith and for what we've been doing in the Partnership. And the Partnership is a collaborator in this whole initiative and Steve is the Interim Steward of that initiative and he'll take us through the rest of the day. Steve.
Steve: Let's have everyone in the circle. Everybody. In Open Space there are no observers, only participants. There is one law and four principles of Open Space.
We already are filled with love and purpose and vision. We are into action. I am honoured to be asked and be given the opportunity to serve you as a community here. You will be deciding, for the remainder of today, how to best address the goal, and our goal for the rest of the day is: "Bahá'í Responses to the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development: Unleashing the Power of the Creative Word". As Peter mentioned and I know you are aware, the UN has declared 2005-2014 the International Decade of ESD. As Peter also mentioned, almost 2 years ago, a dozen of us, in some leadership capacity in sustainability issues, were in Washington, basically commiserating about the fact that the Decade was launched, and going to be launched formally in a couple of years, and that the US government wasn't going to do anything, probably. And so, once everybody stopped feeling sorry for ourselves, we started saying: wait a minute, look around this table here, David you represent 180 colleges and universities, sustainability and conservation and environmental studies organisations; Peter with the Bahá'ís and bringing together many different faith communities; I do a lot of work with senior leadership in federal government; we had higher education represented, K-12 education, we had private industry. And we said, wait a minute, maybe this is an opportunity and a very liberating chance that, in response to the existence of the UN Decade, the sustainability education community in America came together itself to form an action- oriented response to the Decade, maybe a neat thing. Like all good people we said, oh let's have a conference, let's have a party, it'll take at least a year, we have to raise a lot of money, let's have an agenda, unless we have this important person, this other important person won't come and let's create panels and let's do all of that stuff, get all wrapped up.
Open Space is nothing more than a desire among people who come together with an overarching idea, with no fixed way about how to address that, or fixed answers, to give themselves permission to open space to address the idea, and most importantly to get into action and take personal responsibility to make that happen. Open Space is just a tool. In Open Space there are four principles:
There is only one law, the law of mobility. We are each responsible for moving ourselves to where we feel that we can best contribute and/or learn. We are responsible for our own mobility.
You can also be a bumblebee or a butterfly, passion bound by responsibility. The overarching idea of this tool is passion. Like this conference, there is no one I can find here who has been assigned to come. It's great to be part of a group of people who a very joyous and who want to be here intentionally. The idea when a group of people do come together intentionally, like in this case, that's passion. The great joy of working with you over the past couple of days is witnessing that deep caring and sometimes impatience, deep desire and tenacity and forthrightness to get to work to make things happen, and that can be rolled into the word passion. As we all know, moving from awareness and passion to action is difficult. What Open Space tries to do as a tool is to serve the notion, taking the passion and bounding it with personal responsibility. And for the rest of the day that will be to keep own time, address those things that mean the most and you care most about, to make sure the deck can be utilised by all of us.
You will be arranging for the rest of the day and we have the opportunity between now and 2:45pm, including lunch, to create 24 hours (six simultaneous sessions of one hour each) focussed only on those things that matter most, or that you feel can best address, or can be most action oriented or important or meaningful, specifically in response to this goal. The way that we are going to do that is that everyone has the opportunity, if he or she chooses, to convene a session, and those words are sometimes loaded with things, but this can be: start a conversation, offer a model, convene a session, make a request. Additionally we have the great benefit of the last couple of days here now to get into it, e.g: Gosh during World Café, it went from 1 min to 20 mins; that discussion, I want to follow up on that, we were just getting into action and we had to cut it off. I wish during the Round Table I offered something…etc. They are not addressing this, this and this; I don't see on the schedule that this was covered. Well this is the opportunity to get right to that. It's your opportunity to come forward and write on session sheets here in the middle of the circle.
So about the sessions that you may wish to convene. Come out into the middle when we open it up. Write down very succinctly in a couple of words or a one liner what it is that you would like to start a conversation on. Your responsibility is to start the conversation within that group. Come out, write your topic on the piece of paper and say into the microphone what you would like to start a conversation on. You may wish to partner with someone else. Nothing is too esoteric. Then bring your piece of paper with the topic on it and take it over to the timetable (in large sheets on the wall, with six columns and four one-hour slots) and put it in a slot. Very quickly you will design the agenda for the rest of the afternoon. It will reflect only those things that one person cares very much about getting into specifically here. The idea of Open Space is to create that space you experience at conferences, which can be the most productive, such as the conversations had over lunch or dinner, on the way to the restroom…no clutter.
Now the law of mobility, you are responsible to move yourself around. In this we don't feel the burden of getting up and moving from a conversation while it is in progress. Bumblebees can be sharers of pollen – they know a conversation is going on down the hall and what is being talked about in their current conversation could be used. So they get up and take the ideas to the other group. Butterflies kind of flit between. This movement is encouraged.
Each convenor is given a record sheet and you are responsible for it: title of the session, convenor, email, headlines of the conversation, and specific actions, and asterisk those most compelling actions. Everything that comes from the session will be posted and emailed.
Open Space Sessions
It took approximately 10 minutes to schedule the 25 sessions, which then took place for one hour each. The session topics and convenors are listed in the open space session reports that follow.
1 Integration of Business, Sustainable Development
Convenor: Valerie Davis
Participants:Valerie Davis, Doris Romero, Christopher Gilbert, Rod Clarken, Dimity Podger, Ruth H. Allen
2 Using Film and Television to Encourage Learning
and Enterprise Training in Rural Communities
Convenor: Danny Gresham
Danny Gresham, Poppy Olson
It is important to be clear about the purpose of this initiative. The consultation process will clarify the value a community will put on their local resources, how they want their community showcased, what type of screen production they want in the area and how much activity they can cope with? This can be a very lucrative activity and have a positive effect on the local economy only if it is carried out as a sustainable process based on service, honesty and reliability.
Building capability is essential if host communities are to capture opportunities that location filming offers. Supplying goods and services to film crews requires commitment to building professionally motivated 'film friendly' communities based on an understanding of the sector's particular needs and challenges. It is important to recognise that if crews are attracted to the region because of desirable locations, it is necessary to provide an environment that will confirm their intentions to come because of the level of service.
The advantage is in having a network that creates a " film friendly community" where there were drivers, mechanics, carpenters, cooks, skilled hands of all kinds, together with accommodation, hospitality and commercial enterprises offering the kind of service the " 24/7 on call" service if needed, when a screen production is in progress.
The advantage to your community in developing an environment of service and hospitality will provide an incentive to learn new skills, clarify community values and provide a need to understand different cultures, protect and maintain the environment and demonstrate that service, honesty, reliability are economically viable and socially rewarding
The building blocks are:
Large scale productions, e.g. Lord of the Rings, occur intermittently, the real benefits are the commercials, documentaries, Television productions etc.
The advantage to your community in developing an environment of service and hospitality, honesty and reliability will provide a base for other visitor activity including events and national and international tourists.
Your community can market themselves as an environment for visitors that understand different cultures and protects and maintains your flora and fauna. The result is a community that recognises honesty and reliability are economically viable and socially rewarding.
3 Systems Games
Convenor: Melinda Salazar
Melinda Salazar, Karen Brook, David Abbott, Poppy Olson, Beverly Davis, Danny Gresham
Also: Systems Games from D Meadows Playbook – DVD to watch
4 Everyone is a Teacher and Learner in Spiritual
ESD (Becoming teachers and learners of spiritual education)
Convenor: Dwight Allen
Dwight Allen, Mahtab Mahmoodzadeh, Jason Ighani, Rick Johnson, Lisa Brown, Melanie Smith, Leila Ehsani, Sabrena Worthy, Dimity Podger, Elena Mustakova, Rod Clarken
5 Possible Responses to UNDESD by Bahá'ís
on Bahá'í Inspired Schools and Educational Programs
Convenor: Irma Allen
Irma Allen, Arthur Dahl, Lisa Brown, Rick Johnson, Sabrena Worthy, Leila Ehsani, Mahtab Mahmoodzadeh, C Podger, Beth Bowen, Elena Mustakova-Possardt, Alex Obed, Nora Toennis
6 Bridging the Religious Divide: Sustainable Education
and Development (how to create inter-faith conversations/groups around
leading spiritually-principled lives and communities)
Convenor: Alex Obed
Alex Obed, Valerie Davis, Bill Huitt, Karen Brook, Earl Possardt, Peter Adriance
Poster in bookstore: Tree with leaves of diverse scriptures
Book: Earth and Faith
http://iefworld.org - environmental Baha'i site
www.coejl.org - Jewish
www.sgi.org - Buddhist
7 Distance Learning
Convenor: Arthur Dahl
Arthur Dahl, Dan Johnson, Paul Platner, Beth Bowen, Melinda Salazar
8 Bahá'í Individuals, Institutions and Communities as Models of ESD
Convenor: Rod Clarken
Rod Clarken, Poppy Olson, Carol Curtis, Bill Huitt, Jason Ighani, Dan Johnson, Marsha Robichaux, David Abbott, Paul Platner, Owrang Kashef, Kristina Schmidt
9 Promoting Continuity and Reaching Out to Bahá'í
Community and NGOs on Application of Spiritual Principles
Convenor: Owrang Kashef
10 Gender Equality and Sustainable Development
Convenor: Sharona Shuster
Duncan Hanks, Melinda Salazar, Peter Adriance, Ruth H Allen, Joell Vanderwagen, Beth Bowen, Leila Ehsani, Dimity Podger, Elena Mustakova
11 Starting a New High School Based on ESD
Convenor: Beverly Davis
Beverly Davis, Shoshannah Seefieldt, Valerie Davis
12 Using the Arts (Music/Dance/Poetry) To Promote
Peace and Sustainable Development
Convenor: Gail Lash
Gail Lash, Mark Griffin, Paule Baruk, Nancy Watters
13 Bahá'í 'Wilderness' Experiences/Camps
– Connect with Nature and Bahá'í Writings and Native Traditions
Convenor: Lloyd Brown
Lloyd Brown, Dan Johnson, David Abbott, Carol Curtis, Alex Obed
14 Web Resource
Convenor: Arthur Dahl
Arthur Dahl, Corinne Podger, Bill Huitt, Valentin Todorov
15 Creating "Bahá'í Like" Communities
for 15-20 million Refugees
Convenor: Paul Platner
Paul Platner, Ruth H. Allen, Marsha Robichaux
16 Attracting Hearts/Spreading Fragrances
Convenor: Mark Griffin
Participants: Many in Spirit
17 Moral Dimension of Sustainability
Convenor: Melanie Smith
Melanie Smith, Bruce Saunders, Elena Mustakova-Possardt, Earl Possardt, Dimity Podger, Karen Brook, Valentin Todorov
18 The contribution that Bahá'í
women can make to the UN decade in the context of family life and their
role as mothers
Convenor: Lisa Brown
19 Learning Systemic Thinking for Sustainability
and ways to teach it to others
Convenor: Elena Mustakova
Nora Toennis, Jason Ighani, Dimity Podger, Melanie Smith, Duncan Hanks, Nancy Braun, Corinne Podger, Mahtab Mahmoodzadeh, Leila Ehsani, Donald Streets, David Abbott, Owrang Kashef, Alan Scheffer, Rick Johnson, Valentin Todoron, Jim Sacco, Sabrena Worthy, Shushannah Seefieldt
20 Bringing business (big and small) into the
discussion: getting the people next door involved
Convenor: Doug Allen
21 Being and Doing – Shifting Lifestyles and Consciousness
Convenor: Joell Vanderwagen
Joell Vanderwagen, Carol Curtis, Kristina Schmidt, Gail Lash
23 The Language of "sustainability"
Convenor: Joell Vanderwagen
Joell Vanderwagen, Danny Gresham, Poppy Olson
FURTHER COMMENTS FROM CONVENOR – JOELL VANDERWAGEN
Good Examples Of Language And Storytelling
I recommend the works of Brian Swimme ("Canticle
to the Cosmos")
And Thomas Berry ("The Dream of the Earth"- as well as their many other works and recorded speeches), as examples of evocative language and the power of story-telling.
Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme remind us that humans are "part of an earth-community" and that we need to understand "our place in the universe" – our place in the 15 billion (+ -) year evolution of the universe, from which the earth emerged about five billion years ago. This is "our place in the story of the universe". We are the inheritors of all that has gone before us. We now have the power to destroy all this. Instead, we have to use this power consciously to manage our planet as a home for ourselves and all of the life forms and life systems upon which we depend.
And of course, aboriginal people, such as the Native People of North America, provide some of the best examples of simple, clear words and stories, linked to an earlier stage of humanity's existence, when living in harmony with nature was of paramount importance.
Bahá'ís know that the Bahá'í Revelation has given us the tools to take the next step – the vision of a united humanity co-operating to do what is necessary for our survival and further development as a planetary civilization.
The Meaning Of The Word "Sustainability"
The use of the term "sustainability" began with reference to the physical environment and the carrying capacity of the earth – that we must live in harmony with these basic processes in order to maintain them over the long term.
The term "sustainable development" was first popularized with the publication of the 1987 report of The World Commission on Environment and Development, titled Our Common Future. This report made clear that, in order to maintain the Earth's life-support systems, we must reorient the society and the economy.
We must reduce our consumption, and make more efficient use, of energy and resources while moving towards a qualitative definition of economic growth that can meet the needs of present and future generations. This book is worth re-reading for its concise and comprehensive description of the complex issues of sustainable development.
I would like to suggest that, in our Bahá'í workshops on the subject, we keep in mind that it is the condition of the physical environment which provides the framework and bottom line for social and economic progress. The necessity of maintaining our life-support systems is the factor that lends urgency to the need to create a sustainable way of life. Without this urgency, we could take forever to change our societies and economies. For example, we cannot "balance" the needs of the environment and the economy. The economy and society must fit in with the environment. In Canada, we allowed the great Atlantic cod fishery to collapse because people wanted to keep fishing quotas high, in order to preserve jobs and economic growth. Instead, they have no jobs and no growth.
23 Building a Relationship with Creation
Convenor: Joell Vanderwagen
Joell Vanderwagen, Lisa Brown
Below from Lisa:
24 Baha-inspired service opportunities as an alternative
or gape year to college
Convenor: Alex Obed
25 Motivating Action for Social Welfare (than
just being focused on personal benefits)
Convenor: Nora Toennis
Circle of Integration and Closing Ceremony
The room was set up with chairs in a circle facing the centrepiece. Everyone took a seat after returning from the Open Space session. There was a brief closing of the Open Space session and then it moved into the circle of integration, where each person took a turn, going around the circle, to make a comment in response to the question: As you go forward what do you specifically intend to do, if anything, as a direct result of what has occurred here? Everyone shared their thoughts and reflections and also where they were going after this in contributing to a sustainable world.
In the closing ceremony, Lloyd Brown first shared his photos of the seminar, from the start before the room was set up through to the end of the seminar. This was followed by a second slide show that was more inspiring. A variety of musical instruments were placed in the centre for anyone to use. The backing track playing during the slide show included: "May Bahá'u'lláh's love surround you. May Bahá'u'lláh's light shine within you and the love we feel for each other guide your way home." People began singing along with the music, and playing instruments, or dancing in the middle. It was a chance to find common ground, common ground with other communities of faith, common ground with other organisations. There was silence at the end, to take in the energy and sacred space and leave with that; silence to absorb everything and take it in. Lloyd thanked everyone for coming.
The seminar was sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, in collaboration with members of EDSED www.edsed.org, the International Environment Forum www.bcca.org/ief and the U.S. Partnership for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development www.uspartnership.org.Some results of the seminar will also be available at http://www.rabbanitrust.org/bahai_sed_conference.htm.
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Last updated 14 February 2009