What possible influence could you or I have as single individuals on the future of the planet? Very little if we gauge this from a purely material point of view. The problems are all just too big, too entrenched in human behaviour, to make a difference.
However, from a spiritual perspective, it can be seen that what takes place outwardly is a response to our inner values and thought processes.
The author Deepak Chopra explains that the reality of things is often not what is outwardly there, but rather what we tell ourselves about it.
He gives the example that if he was in India and he came across a cobra on the path, he would jump with fright. However, a snake collector would bend forward with interest. A Hindu devotee, recognising the sacred form of Shiva, might bow in awe.
It seems to me that similarly, whether one views the family primarily as a consumer unit, or an outdated social convention, or alternatively as the foundation stone of human society is really dependent on our choice.
We can throw up our hands in despair that there is nothing we can do at this late stage to make a change, or we can decide that the time is now to implement inner personal change.
The personal is not just political but also predictive. We change the world, a little bit a time, by changing our thoughts. And if we do this in groups, the change becomes ever more powerful.
Baha'u'llah advocated the necessity for independent investigation of reality - whether scientific or religious - in order that people will develop in accord with their own convictions, freed from dependence upon the learning or the approval of others; to become self-educating.
In the past we needed Priests, Rabbis and Mullahs because they were the only ones in society who had the privilege of a level of education required to read and study the Holy Books of the time.
Today, being self-educating requires that all members have access to universal education.
Because the true reality of man is his thought, not his material condition, it therefore follows that true education will necessarily involves the training of thought. All Baha'i principles and practices have a role in facilitating this process of education, to a greater or lesser degree.
Amongst these principles is the value placed upon questioning, as the means of provoking a search for understanding. The regular practice of personal meditation expands individual consciousness and comprehension, and is conducive to a well trained mind. The ability of working in groups is also valued because it enables individuals to draw upon the strengths and perceptions of others, whilst still taking responsibility for their own individual development. Baha'u'llah also enjoined the practice of consultation in groups, a skill to be taught and practised from the earliest years as it fosters greater understanding and enables the exploration of reality, making it an essential tool for education.
Lack of resources temporarily limits the ability of communities and nations to totally fulfil the provision of ideal education, imposing a certain ordering of priorities. Decision-making agencies would benefit from applying the Baha'i principle of giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society. The complete participation of women in every aspect of human life will enhance all humanity and greatly accelerate the advancement of society in general. Until the present time, fully one half of the world’s population has been repressed. In order to gain the benefits which will follow the liberation of this vast body of human resources, opportunities for equal education must be provided and the barriers to advancement and progress be removed. Inherent in this great expansion of human resources is the increased ability of our age to resolve many of those issues which until now had proved both major and insoluble.
In harmony with the explicit principle of equality is a recognition of the diversity of human society, a harmony expressed in the phrase Unity in Diversity.
In addition to the uniqueness of talent and capacity which exists between individuals, the Baha'i Faith acknowledges difference in physical condition. Women have the unique capacity to bear and nurture infant children, and have a special role to play in these early years, especially in the area of moral education, as a foundation of good character and values such as truth, courtesy, kindliness, cleanliness and so forth, is laid down in the hearts of the children.
However, far from limiting the roles of either sex, the Baha’I concept of equality fosters a broader range of human endeavour.
The horizons of men must also be widened, freeing them from a narrow range of stereotyped roles and behaviours, empowering them to express a range of qualities, and to fulfil roles, which in the past were often considered unmasculine, including full involvement in the nurturing and development of their children.
Children will be greatly benefitted through receiving parenting from better trained and educated women, and from fathers who are freed from many historical restraints which have limited their involvement with their children.