19 August 2010

Sacrificial Service and the Power to Sustain it

These are some ideas I posted to this site over a year ago. In the course of editing the old text, I ended up re-writing the whole thing. I think the ideas are well worth a second posting.

One long-standing problem within any social movement is that, though a spirit of sacrificial service is indispensable to gathering momentum, it more-often-than-not leads to burnout among core human resources. The movement can then grind to a halt as key people no longer have the time, energy, or physical and mental health to carry on; This often leads to an impression among many that in order for an effort to be sustainable they should just relax and take it easy; that they shouldn't push themselves too hard. Understandably, this approach to sustainability leads to a situation in which there is little action to sustain in the first place. The problem then is that sacrificial service and sustainability, though both are vital, end up pulling each other apart.

It seems to me that within the model of taking action exemplified by the Ruhi Institute, sacrifice and sustainability are not only harmonious, but that they actually reinforce each other.The reason for this is that raising the capacity of an ever broader number of participants is at the heart of the institute's vision of moral and spiritual empowerment.

Here, the content of the action is to raise the capacity of others to study Baha'u'llah's writings and put his teachings into practice, whether that be through visiting new believers, teaching children's classes, animating junior youth groups, sharing Baha'u'llah's message with others, tutoring study circles, or other forms of service. At the heart of the process is  the raising up of human resources capable of replacing those who are at the forefront of action. The capacity-building and mobilization of human resources is an on-going cycle which with every turn reinforces it's own stability.

The harder participants push within this system, the greater the number and greater the abilities of the individuals who are being accompanied into the field of service. To the extent that this occurs, the vitality of the movement becomes ever more sustainable. Increased sustainablity helps build confidence that intensive service will not be offered in vain, but will instead help gather momentum for the process of spiritual empowerment. To the extent that efforts are channeled into this system for building capacity, sacrifice and sustainability reinforce each other. The process of spiritual empowerment gathers its own momentum.

Granted, this is a very patient process. Weeds grow faster than a sturdy tree at first. But, as can be seen in Baha'i communities around the world, the rise in capacity of a growing number of participants is a very real phenomenon and is at this moment reshaping people's conceptions of what the Baha'i Faith is capable of. In due course, the power contained within this mighty system will be revealed.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's important to remember that everything in nature has a natural ebb and flow: our breath; our circulatory system; the tides etc. So too in service. Even the House of Justice talks about the natural flow through our administrative systems;

    "There is, moreover, a natural flow of individuals into and out of administrative posts." (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

    I think what leads to burn out, though, is people taking on things that aren't theirs to take on, trying to be "good Baha'is". I liken it again to the body. For example, if I'm a big toe nail, I have an important function to preform. I don't try to see; or walk - those are functions of other parts of the body.

    Only when we find that piece of the puzzle that's ours to perform, will we truly be working in unity:

    "A unity in diversity of actions is called for, a condition in which different individuals will concentrate on different activities, appreciating the salutary effect of the aggregate on the growth and development of the Faith, because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing. This understanding is important to the maturity which, by the many demands being made upon it, the community is being forced to attain."
    (The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 80)

    And even then, we'll have natural periods where we need to rest before going forward again.