New Course “Applying Bahá’í Principles to Discourses on Governance in the United States” and the New Five Year Plan Bring Clarity to What Governance Means
In February the Wilmette Institute introduced a new faculty member, Dr. Brian Aull, in a Web Talk entitled “Consultation: A Revolutionary Model of Democratic Governance.” The talk, now available on the Wilmette Institute’s YouTube channel, was anything but the usual talk on consultation and ended with examples of how Brian had learned how to participate in some of the prevalent discourses of society. Hence anticipation of the course he began teaching a week later —Applying Bahá’í Principles to Discourses on Governance in the United States—was high. One learner called early in March to share how much she was learning in the course. Below two additional learners share comments on the two books that were required reading in the course: Brian Aull’s The Triad: Three Civic Virtues That Could Save American Democracy and Peter Levine’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America, both available on Kindle). Charles Glaser, who has previously taken two Wilmette Institute courses (Climate Change and Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind), said he took the course, hoping that it would “hone” his “skills in discussions with others on how Bahá’í principles can help to alleviate climate change, promote sustainable development, promote gender equality, and achieve a just and fair society for all.” After the course ended, Charles said he “found the course especially meaningful in this election year.” Suzanne Popke, from Whitewater, Wisconsin, took the course with her three teen sons “to learn more about the Bahá’í view of government since all” of her kids were “taking government classes with in high school or college right now.” Read on to see what Charles and Suzanne wrote about the governance course.
Charles Glaser’s Comments: “We have been studying, comparing, and contrasting Peter Levine’s and Brian Aull’s books during the course. In the midst of this, the study of the new Five Year Plan and the various Regional Council conferences across the country have taken place. Can we relate our study of the books and their implications to the upcoming Five Year Plan?
“The December 29, 2015, letter from the Universal House of Justice discusses the development of a cluster from emergence to strengthening to embracing large numbers and managing complexity to the stirrings of social action, which includes ‘learning how to apply the Revelation to the manifold dimensions of social existence.’ In some clusters there are even areas ‘where a significant percentage of the entire population is now involved in community-building activities.’ Thus the Faith hopes to expand to areas of activity that can include ‘tutorial assistance to children, projects to better the physical environment and activities to improve health and prevent disease.’ We see, then, that the Bahá’í Faith is becoming and hopes to continue to become a significant movement for social and governmental change.
“The Bahá’í Faith, of course, is not the first organization to carry out community-building activities. The authors of the books used in the course have offered examples of what has worked in the past, problems that have been encountered, reforms that need to be initiated, and challenges that we face if civic action is to be successful in the future. Both would agree that a new thought process or paradigm is required if progress is to continue in the future.
“Thus it appears that the new paradigm of social action, which we hope will increasingly include the Bahá’í community as the Five Year Plan progresses, must also be predicated upon a new paradigm of thinking, which includes, among other things, universal participation, acceptance of all races, nationalities, religions, and ideologies. If the social, environmental, and economic challenges which we all face are to be successfully addressed, we must abandon divisiveness, materialism, improper media coverage of events, and negative thinking of our neighbors, our countrymen, and humanity in general. In this the Bahá’í Faith has much to offer.”
Suzanne Popke’s Comments: “Reading Levine’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For gets a little depressing. The reader can feel his frustration with the difficulties in politics, laws, government, civic attempts, or lack of. His suggestions for change become overwhelming. It is like ‘What can one person do?’ Aull, in his Traid, is more positive, but specific steps are lacking.
“Reading the two books, though, really brought together for me what the International Bahá’í Community is trying to do, especially as the Bahá’í community launches the next Five Year Plan with statewide conferences. The state and tri-state conference in my area was set for April 23 in Madison, Wisconsin, and this course has really made that conference more meaningful to me. My kids always groan when these multi-year Bahá’í plans are discussed at Baha’i meetings. My nineteen year old complained, ‘Oh, no, not another Five Year Plan.’ But I now have a better understanding of what governance is and can be and what these Bahá’í plans are trying to accomplish. Many of the suggestions that Levine lists for increasing civic engagement is what the Bahá’í community is doing: emphasizing youth, building on virtues, developing consultation skills, taking a world-embracing view, emphasizing restorative justice.
“This course really encourages me to let others know what the worldwide Bahá’í community is doing. Since Bahá’ís are so spread out, often a single local community looks like there is not much activity. I was surprised that our little local Bahá’í cluster had met three steps in the cluster process just by starting one Ruhi class, celebrating some Holy Days, and doing a couple home visits. Those did not sound like much to me, but when I saw the activities as laid out on the cluster-development plan, our family got really motivated to do more. Is that what these boring Five Year Plans for? I guess this class has helped me see that governance can be fun rather than a ‘dirty word’ and that Bahá’ís are engaged in civic renewal every day.”