If your faith is true, you yearn for a better world and dedicate
your actions to that purpose. You want to purify and perfect
yourself so that, at a minimum, you do no harm to others. That is
not easy. One way to fulfill this goal is to remember that Jesus
assured us that we are the light to the world. This worthy goal may
also be achieved by "Seeing the God in others" and treating them
"with great respect and love," as Gurumayi teaches. If you are a
Ba'hai, then you believe:
Now is the time to cheer and refresh the downcast through
the invigorating breeze of love and fellowship, and the living
waters of friendliness and charity.
If you are part of the New Age, you also believe in the importance
of love and service to people and this planet.
Faith breeds enormous optimism about what is possible
through the power of God and of love. Yet it also demands
realism, and any honest assessment of the world finds it falling far
short of the ideal. This creates great opportunities for the faithful,
who are committed to God's kingdom and who permit God to
work through them.
It is important for each of us to serve God -- or at least the
greatest good. I know each of us takes this responsibility seriously
and that each of us serves God as we see fit. Yet, a fair appraisal of
our society is that there is something seriously lacking in our human
relationships. Let each of us
consider our role in healing those relationships.
Our most serious problems are spiritual, and not material.
Yet our world is so material that it thinks of these problems in
material terms. We speak of food for the hungry, prisons to deter
violence, interdicting drugs, taking away guns, improving housing,
increasing job opportunities, and improving education. These are
all important, but they do not address the deep human emptiness
that hangs like a pall over our cities.
We are a nation divided. The well-off do little that is
lasting and personal to heal their cities. They send money, food,
clothing and toys. They may help to give out food. They may even
help to run summer camps for the needy, for a week or two. But
few create a lasting relationship with people in need. Most of the
time when we speak of solving city problems, our minds turn to
"programs" and to people's material needs.
It is my conviction that, motivated by love and by sheer
survival instinct, we can learn to resolve problems in the worst
urban areas, where:
The principal characteristics of this "problem" are that we, as
a nation, have given up. I know, from my difficulty in effectively
addressing the spiritual problems of my own son, even though
enormous emotional and material resources were expended, that
the beginning of knowledge about this problem is to admit the
depths of our own ignorance. Then we need silence and prayer, by
ourselves and with others (and without judging the source of their
spiritual strength) in order to plumb the depths of the human soul
and devise mutual solutions.
I suggest a spiritual process to clarify our national objectives.
Management specialists will recognize this process as similar to a technique used in
Quality Management. We must become committed to improving
the quality of life for all our people. We must develop a shared,
widely-supported vision that will mobilize our enormous spiritual
resources behind that goal.
I have in mind a process in which we form intense spiritual
study-groups of about 40 people. The groups should represent
different interests ("victims," neighborhood residents who have
succeeded, social workers and teachers, charity volunteers, spiritual
leaders, concerned but distanced middle-class people, wealthy
people, corporate managers). These people should be supported so that
they will be a new, more important kind of Grand Jury. They will spend
over a month in common living quarters,
devoting all their time to mutually addressing and solving this one
problem. The conferees -- acting as representatives for all of us --
would devise a new national vision that could mobilize private
volunteers, charities, and government.
These groups of conferees would issue in-depth reports on
how the process worked and how the nation could support their
conclusions. Videotapes of their deliberations would be published
so we could share the process. My vision is that these groups
would meet in different parts of the country, perhaps five of them
at first, producing results through their own separate processes.
There could then be a follow-up effort to mold a common solution
from the efforts of all the groups. If the process is imperfect, we
could devise improved ways to conduct the process and we could
keep on plugging until it works.
I do not know the outcome of this process, but I have some
guesses. First, I think the disparate participants will experience a
profound sense of love from their common effort and that they will
form lasting bonds. Second, they will find that no combination of
separate "programs" (jobs, housing, food, education, medicine,
police) will produce a result unless it helps the community to
redefine itself spiritually.
The urban problem is community-wide, which impedes
progress through individual spiritual conversions. That is why
Alcoholics Anonymous strongly suggests that alcoholics leave the
culture that supports their alcoholism. It is why a recent group of
black youth from Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York City reported
strong initial results from time spent with a Kibbutz in Israel. It is
why a foundation was successful in taking black youth from
Baltimore and educating them in Kenya. It also is why the results
may have dissipated when the youth returned to their community.
I have been moved by transformational workshops, which
produce enormous short-term changes in people. For these
changes to last, however, people must do continuing spiritual work
or they quickly slide back into old patterns. However, if a whole
community were in a workshop, then social forces might help all
the participants to continue their work.
I want to acknowledge that Arnold Mindell has been holding
Worldwork or Citywork programs that prove the feasibility of the
process I am outlining. His workshops bring many people together
in the hot spots of our nation. He has done his work in Compton,
California and in Watts, California; also in Miami and New York
City. He also plans to work in Washington, D.C..
Each of the Mindell workshops brings a diverse group of people
together. Instead of burying the sources of conflict, these
workshops allow the conflict to be expressed. In two-and-one half
days, the participants in these workshops have achieved a higher
level of love and understanding. They have come to appreciate the
importance of diversity and of conflict. Therefore, these
workshops have the potential of developing lasting lines of
communication that could help to achieve lasting solutions.
What I am proposing is building on this idea through longer-lasting workshops, commissioned to develop a common vision and
a workable national course of action. I, of course, cannot know
whether this will work; but I am tremendously optimistic that God
will visit these groups and steer them in the right direction. They
will develop love and understanding by braving the conflict existing
in them. They will rise to a higher level of love and constructive
action because of their commitment to one another and to a better
What do you think? Can we do this dance together? Can
you improve on my vision? Will you join me in this exciting project
to mount a successful revolution based on love and understanding?
1. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, The Glad Tidings of
Baha'u'llah, George Ronald, Oxford (1949) at p. 76.