The Prosperity of Humankind
Moving from a culture of consumerism to a culture of sustainability
Strengthening the economy is unarguably essential to achieving prosperity. However, the current culture of consumerism has created a competitive society that is out of balance, as evidenced by climate change, environmental degradation, and crippling extremes of wealth and poverty.
For over a decade, the worldwide Baha'i community has been working to effect a transformation at the grassroots level; one that encourages a shift to a culture of sustainability. This shift requires a change in perspective on human nature, the role of individuals and institutions, and active work in neighborhood-level community building.
The following concepts are drawn from a statement written by the Baha'i International Community titled, Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism, and distributed to the 18th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development:
Baha'is believe human beings are essentially spiritual in nature. Each person is born noble and has natural talents and capacities. Each of us can lend these talents to the construction of a more just and peaceful world. Life's journey is about understanding who we are, what our purpose is, and what we individually feel called to do.
The values needed to construct a more just and sustainable world - moderation, justice, love, reason and sacrifice - are often dismissed as naive. Yet, these values must be harnessed to overcome the traits of ego, greed, apathy and violence, which are driving patterns of unsustainable consumption and production.
Vision of Development
Each individual has the capacity to be a productive member of society and contribute towards the construction of a more just and peaceful world. Together, we can create the following changes:
- the awareness that we are all world citizens
- the integration of nations into one government with capacity for global decision making
- the equal sharing of the earth's resources
- the establishment of full equality between men and women
- the elimination of all forms of prejudice
- the establishment of a universal currency that promotes global economic justice
- the adoption of an international auxiliary language to facilitate mutual understanding
- the redirection of massive military expenditures towards constructive social ends
Crisis in the current economic system
The current culture of consumerism has created a competitive society that often struggles with greed. Consumers experience insatiable needs and wants and fall prey to manipulation by the market. The economic system that has emerged is fully dependent on excessive consumption for a privileged few, reinforcing exclusion, poverty, and inequality for the majority. In such a system, those living in poverty, have no means by which to express themselves.
Sustainable production should include systems that enable all human beings to contribute to the productive process. The moral elements needed to create such a system include:
- the generation of knowledge
- the cultivation of trust and trustworthiness
- the eradication of racism and violence
- promotion of art, beauty and science
- the capacity for collaboration
- the peaceful resolutions of conflict
The development of technology and the sharing of knowledge is important for achieving sustainable levels of consumption and production. Yet, the majority of technological development is driven by market forces that do not reflect the basic needs of all the world's peoples. In order to achieve social progress, it is vital for us to develop capacity in identifying technological needs and for technological innovation and adaption. At the same time, institutions need to build a higher level of capacity in addressing the specific needs of their local populations.
Education can support society's transformation to a more sustainable order. Education must be based on a clear vision of the kind of society that we wish to live in and the kind of individuals that will bring this about. Curriculum cannot simply aim to impart relevant knowledge and skills, rather it should aim to develop the vast potential inherent in the human being. Individuals must reflect on the purpose of life, develop alternative visions and approaches to problems, understand the consequences of their behaviors and adjust them accordingly. Individuals must also be assisted to channel their potential towards the betterment of their communities and the advancement of society as a whole.
Baha'i communities approach to cultural transformation
Across the globe, Baha'is are learning how to put these ideals into action, along with friends and neighbors. At their core, these grassroots efforts focus on empowering individuals of all ages to recognize and develop their spiritual capacities and channel their collective energies towards service for the betterment of their communities. This work has been done through a process based on learning, characterized by a method of action, reflection and consultation. In thousands of communities, Baha'is have:
- started children's classes that focus on laying the foundations of a noble and upright character
- created a learning environment where pre-teens can form their moral identity and develop skills which empower them to channel their constructive and creative energies towards the betterment of their communities
- formed small study groups where adults and teens examine core spiritual concepts and themes which encourage them to become agents of change
In addition, professionals in various fields have joined together in organizations inspired by Baha'i principles and values to work for sustainable consumption and production.
We invite individuals of any age and ethnicity, of any faith or no faith, to partner with us in these endeavors.
“Until all nations and peoples become united by the bonds of the Holy Spirit in this real fraternity, until national and international prejudices are effaced in the reality of this spiritual brotherhood, true progress, prosperity and lasting happiness will not be attained by man.”- Abdu'l-Baha