Alaska: Course on Social Action and Public Discourse Provides Insights into Coherence between Teaching and the Betterment of Humankind

Kay Larson, a Bahá’í from Wrangell, Alaska, and a delegate to the Alaskan National Convention in May, wrote the following in her Learning Self-Assessment at the end of the course on Social Action and Public Discourse. It is her answer to a question asking her to summarize how the materials in the course had changed her understanding of the topic.

Ever since becoming a Bahá’í, I have collected a huge stash of materials related to sustainable development and anything connected to social and economic development. I’ve attended workshops, seminars and events related to it. This course on Social Action and Public Discourse (while adding to the materials in my files) has brought everything together. A discernible pattern is emerging about it all that contributes to a “whole picture” rather than isolated and random “screen shots” of efforts attempting to improve the lot of humankind. . . . I gained a better understanding not only of the evolution of definitions, concepts, and vocabulary for social action and public discourse but also a fuller appreciation for all that has been done and is being done from the grassroots to global endeavors that “showcase” these lines of action.

The most beautiful thing is to see the coherence, integrity, and wholeness with which they fit into the overarching framework of the Plan of God and Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh.

Before we had the Training Institute, I felt that our efforts toward expansion and consolidation (though sincerely put forward) were scattered, disjointed and lacking continuity, but all that has changed. A clearly discernable pattern of growth is emerging . . . .

I had felt the same way about our efforts to engage with society in addressing issues of common concern. We did have some Offices in place that served to prioritize and bring a degree of order. But this course has helped me see another, closely related, coherent framework in relation to courses of social action and public discourse. It’s clearer to me now, that there is a “golden thread” that ties our efforts together with the Plan of God, whether of modest or epoch-making scale. These, of course, are the principles and elements that have been emphasized in the readings.

When asked to summarize the ways in which she was using or could use what she had learned in the course on Social Action and Public Discourse, Kay wrote the following:

Oh my! Timing for me on this was perfect. The learning and use of my studies will be ongoing. I’m very excited to continue the journey. For just a few examples:

  • In a couple of my posts to forums, I mentioned that several individuals in our community have been restless about matters pertaining to “justice” (linking social action and public discourse to this); they feel we have not grown in numbers because we are not reaching out in this way: the all-too familiar false dichotomies of whether to “do Ruhi” or “social action” have partly contributed to a stagnant state.

For many reasons (known only fully to the Creator), the “floodgates” have opened for all of us to begin talking about “it.” Many new conversations are on the horizon. I feel more confident and better equipped to offer meaningful and helpful points of view (along with all of the course materials to aid in our consultation). The impact will be upon individuals, our Local Spiritual Assembly, the community, and our cluster. Already the children’s class (composed mostly of friends of the Faith) is “breaking out of our shell” and moving outward. I’m sure the pre-youth and youth classes in our area will be touched and charged with new energy along these lines also, when individuals return from their various Youth Conferences and begin “connecting the dots.”

  • I’ve mentioned the Native community, Traditional Food program, traditional gardens, and such. I’ve been in touch several times with my friends and the plant scientist in Anchorage. Have sent them wild strawberries from my yard and some booklets on plants of southeast Alaska. Perhaps I can help orchestrate a visit by them to our community to help with setting up a “teaching garden” (if people are interested in it).

I remain in close touch with friends here (drum group this evening at the new Tribal House and so on). It’s a matter of moving forward one step at a time, to work together in blazing new trails, bridging rivers and creating new enterprises together—all for the benefit of generations to come.

  • All of these houseguests! During the course on social action and public discourse, I’ve had everyone staying with me from a New York fashion photographer, to Traditional Foods project leader, to youth counselor for a wilderness outreach program. Conversations at the table are all about what people are doing toward social action and public discourse. There is a fine line between some of the dialogues when they lean toward “teaching the Cause”—a delicate balance to know when friends are in a “seeking” mode and when we are talking in general about Bahá’í principles of action.

The “wilderness counselor” was attracted immediately to the idea of unity when we first met him at the health fair. That was a small effort at “social action.” It led to some rather deep discussions in which he wanted to read the writings of Bahá’u’lláh to “know for himself” who was this “person.” He took the Kitáb-i-Íqán with him to a culture camp and found solitude now and then by going to his tent to read this book. When he returned, we had another deep discussion that led to talking about the “World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.” He said from the time he was young he heard this term and had always wanted to be “a part of the New World Order.” He is out at camp again, but when he returns, the dialogue will continue for sure. We will look at Shoghi Effendi’s work and study the evidence for the unfolding World Order. What started out on a level of modest “social action” has gradually evolved into “public discourse,” and, according to his lead, into full discussions as a seeker. I see the dynamics and am more comfortable with it than ever before.

  • Conversations via email, Skype, and other venues with “far-flung friends” will continue of course, enhanced by the new learning from the course.

We are on a roll. There will be no end to exploring these concepts in word and deed.