239 Days in America, Day 101: July 20, 1912 | New York

The Secret of Divine Civilization 1

“IT IS A SPECTACLE never before witnessed,” William Jennings Bryan wrote from the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. He was surprised at how aggressively moneyed interests had entered the political process in 1912. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had first gone on record about leadership and corruption thirty-seven years earlier, when he was just thirty-one years old. In 1875 he wrote a long, open letter — called The Secret of Divine Civilization — to the people and government of Persia in support of the early modernization efforts of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, the king who had banished Bahá’u’lláh and his family from Iran.

In The Secret of Divine Civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá demanded a high standard of conduct from political leaders: “First,” he wrote, “the elected members must be righteous, God-fearing, high-minded, incorruptible.” “These give no thought to amassing enormous fortunes for themselves; they believe, rather, that their own wealth lies in enriching their subjects.” He added: “They take no pride in gold and silver, but rather in their enlightenment and their determination to achieve the universal good.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s open letter to the people of Persia engaged a wide range of national issues. In America, Social Gospel churchmen marched in the forefront of reform, but in Iran the clergy, and their arbitrary interpretation of the law, was a major barrier to progress. Two plaintiffs could go to two different religious officials about the same case and receive opposite decisions. “It may even happen that in one and the same case two conflicting decisions will be handed down by the same mujtahid, on the grounds that he was inspired first in one direction and then in the other,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote. “There can be no doubt that this state of affairs has confused every important issue and must jeopardize the very foundations of society.”

New York City 2

The next day [July 20] He spoke extensively about the martyrs. On the following evening He was invited to the home of the Consul General of Turkey where he spoke to a group of Armenians.

When the July 20 issue of Harper’s Weekly appeared on the newsstands, it included an article entitled, “A Ray from the East,” by Charles Johnston:

During the past few months there has appeared at peace conferences, in fashionable pupils, and at select meetings of devotees, a venerable Oriental with benign eyes and a patriarchal beard who is heralded as the head of a new world-religion … 3

Saturday, July 20, 2022

‘Abdu’l-Bahá received an invitation from the Consul General of Turkey. After meeting with the friends and expressing His happiness at their devotion and unity, He left for the Consul’s home. He took the ferry across the water, then a tram and arrived at the Consul General’s house. The Consul himself had gone to meet the Master by another route but his wife and relatives received Him with the utmost respect and reverence until the Consul General returned.

A number of prominent men and statesmen, as well as the Consul General, were present. The Master rested for a short time in one of the rooms. Then the Consul General, praising ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, introduced Him to the audience. The Master came to the table and spoke on the danger of wine and alcohol. He then considered some philosophical subjects and answered questions from the Consul’s wife about misconduct and its harmful consequences. She was pleased and when He was about to depart expressed her gratitude by kissing His hand. Everyone begged His pardon for any lack in their service to Him.

The Consul General’s brother-in-law requested and obtained permission to take the Master’s photograph. The Consul General then accompanied the Master to the railway station to see Him off, even though ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had asked him not to do so.

At a gathering of Armenians in the evening the Master gave a stirring and impressive talk concerning the attributes of the world of humanity, spiritual courage and valor. His talk was not recorded because we arrived at the meeting late. 4

Talk at All Souls Unitarian Church, Fourth Avenue and Twentieth Street, New York, 14 July 1912 5

Other sources of human dissension are political, racial and patriotic prejudices. These have been removed by Bahá’u’lláh. He has said, and has guarded His statement by rational proofs from the Holy Books, that the world of humanity is one race, the surface of the earth one place of residence and that these imaginary racial barriers and political boundaries are without right or foundation. Man is degraded in becoming the captive of his own illusions and suppositions. The earth is one earth, and the same atmosphere surrounds it. No difference or preference has been made by God for its human inhabitants; but man has laid the foundation of prejudice, hatred and discord with his fellowman by considering nationalities separate in importance and races different in rights and privileges.

Diversity of languages has been a fruitful cause of discord. The function of language is to convey the thought and purpose of one to another. Therefore, it matters not what language man speaks or employs. Sixty years ago Bahá’u’lláh advocated one language as the greatest means of unity and the basis of international conference. He wrote to the kings and rulers of the various nations, recommending that one language should be sanctioned and adopted by all governments. According to this each nation should acquire the universal language in addition to its native tongue. The world would then be in close communication, consultation would become general, and dissensions due to diversity of speech would be removed.

Another teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is in relation to universal peace: that all mankind must be awakened to and become conscious of the harm of war, that they should be brought to realize the benefits of peace and know that peace is from God while warfare is satanic. Man must emulate the merciful God and turn away from satanic promptings in order that universal inclination shall be toward peace, love and unity and the discord of war vanish.

’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny

Invitation from the Consul General of Turkey

Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America

Curated by Anne Perry

July 20, 1912

  1. Menon, Jonathan. “The Secret of Divine Civilization.” 239 Days in America, 20 July 2012, https://239days.com/2012/07/20/secret-of-divine-civilization/.
  2. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 114.
  3. Charles Johnston, “A Ray from the East,” Harper’s Weekly, 59 (July 20, 1912), 9.
  4. ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=5#section118
  5. ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 232-233. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/16#387272638

Understanding Diversity as a Dynamic

Diversity is closely linked to organization effectiveness and feeds the dynamics associated with garnering social power, distributing authority, and exercising leadership. Ross MacDonald, introduced in previous blog postings here and here, and Monica Bernardo co-authored a recent paper published in the Journal of Developmental Education, Fall 2005, Vol 29, No 1 highlighting their research on “diversity” and “ground truth.” Ross is warmly welcomed back to this blog to draw from his and Monica’s paper about this key topic. Ross, the floor is yours…

In previous articles about ground truth, I highlighted the importance of attending to multiple perspectives. In this entry I consider the issue of how well we listen to and to what degree we value multiple perspectives by focusing on the catch phrase, diversity. Nearly every organization must consider issues of diversity. Weighing in on diversity are federal mandate, state law, judicial threat, moral authority, public pressure, and pressure from employees. Clearly, leadership in any organization must consider “diversity issues.” Whatever that means. And that’s the problem as I see it.

Too many discussions about diversity fail to consider what it is we are talking about. In so doing we make diversity issues an onus and not an opportunity. We have typically answered the call for diversity by attending to the most superficial features of skin tone and gender and by trying to up the numbers of the under-represented. In so doing, we delude ourselves and others that a “head counting” approach is both powerful and meaningful. After all, it is easier to vary the color of faces than to listen closely to their experiences and alter our thinking about the complex dynamics of difference that play out among us. An exclusive focus on placing people into a set of categories based on gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth blinds us to the less visible and more complex dynamics of diversity of which we all are a part.

The problem is that this is a convenient kind of blinding; it allows us to assume that because we have satisfied a numbers requirement, we have achieved diversity. While adding people to the mix certainly has intrinsic value and moral force, we must consider what happens in that mixing. How are people interacting? How are those satisfying diversity numbers being positioned and perceived? Pursuing these questions in good faith and with open minds increases organizational capacity. Wouldn’t that kind of understanding be immensely useful to any organization looking to enhance employee relations, heighten team productivity, and serve a broadening customer base?

Therefore I propose that we pursue diversity as a continually expanding knowledge about the dynamics of difference. Considering diversity as a dynamic of difference requires questioning how we perceive, value, and act on differences among us in our organizations and communities.

Recent advances in astrophysics provide an apt analogy for understanding the dynamic of diversity. In studying the universe to search for the origins of energy and life, astrophysicists traditionally have relied almost exclusively on what they could see — visible light and its properties — to explain the universe and its workings. Similarly, in our work and social environments, traditional thinking about diversity also has attended to what we could most conveniently see, variations in skin tone and gender, to understand the complex workings of our social and organizational universes.

Now, however, astrophysicists have inferred the presence of invisible matter and invisible energy. Invisible matter is believed to be a key underlying dynamic of the phenomena of gravity. Invisible energy exercises forces so powerful as to compel the continuing expansion of the universe. Once scientists attended to their own false assumption that there was nothing there, they saw that there was in fact a great deal operating outside their view of the world. Once they attended to those things and their operations, their understanding of the dynamics of the universe changed dramatically. For an example, click here.

Similarly, the seeming invisibility of complex energies surrounding the dynamics of difference should not lead us to falsely assume that there is simply nothing there. Like invisible light and invisible matter, these dynamics of difference are very much a part of our world, representing little-understood forms of energy which, if understood more thoroughly, could propel organizations to greater understanding, acceptance, and profit.

What are the implications of the dynamics of difference for communities and organizations? We must first recognize that those who stand out when we count heads are very likely minorities and thus subject to daily uncertainty as to when ill-founded judgments are being made about them. In my thirty years as an educator who focused on programs for nontraditional students, I heard story after story about the uncertainty of daily life. Did the store owner ignore me because of an automatic belief that I have no money to spend? Conversely, am I being followed in the music store because the employee thinks I am going to steal something? Are my children being tracked into lower expectation classes because of their skin color? In my work with organizations I have repeatedly heard questions such as the following: Am I being positioned on this work group because of my skills and knowledge like everyone else or is my skin tone being positioned to create the look of diversity? Does hiring an affirmative action officer deeply invest all employees with acting affirmatively or does it allow them to shift responsibility solely to the office of affirmative action?

Yes, these actions happen daily. Yes, there are situations which may look like these where there is no malice but still the harm. And yes, some situations lack both malice and harm. But it grinds on people to deal daily with the uncertainty and to have those who don’t deal with these uncertainties discredit reports of that experience. This daily uncertainty is a fundamental part of being different but is less detectable and thus believed less credible by those in the mainstream. Therefore an important part of the dynamic of diversity is that those who are perceived as different must daily try to navigate these situations and deal with the uncertainty presented to them. Click here for a wide range of resources.

Many of those not perceived as different just don’t understand this. Their detectors are not calibrated for this subtle dynamic. They can justifiably condemn the dramatically evil and violent acts stemming from prejudice in cases such as Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd Jr.. In contrast, however, the day-to-day grind of being different is not as easily detected by those who haven’t lived it. Like previous astrophysicists, they have falsely assumed that because something wasn’t visible to them, there was simply nothing there. Yet the presence of those moment-to-moment reminders of difference and the on-going uncertainty about whether those judgments are at play in any given circumstance are key components of the dynamics of diversity. We must therefore attend to them.

Moreover, attending to this dynamic creates opportunities to position people’s heretofore invisible energies in ways advantageous to the central purposes of an organization. Why is it that, when a major bank hires Spanish-speaking tellers in its branches in Spanish-speaking communities, its customer base expands? The obvious, easily seen reason is that the teller and the customer are of the same culture, speak the same language, and can therefore relate. Following that logic, a bank should identify languages spoken in various communities and hire tellers accordingly. Is this really possible? Consider that in Southern California’s 181 school districts and 2,000 public elementary schools, more than 90 languages are spoken.

But is there more to it than language? Is it a kind of resonance which is communicated from the teller and believed by the customer – an understanding of what it is for an outsider to access the bank and of how to make a smoother connection between the bank’s resources and its customers’ needs? Is it a kind of “seeing” of that customer that others don’t? Suppose these and other factors other than language are at play and can be trained in tellers, loan agents and branch managers? If so, then it would certainly benefit the bank to invest all employees in connecting with the customer base just coming into view. We will only know if we ask the question and peer into the less visible light.

In both the universe and the workplace, there is much to be learned from what we haven’t seen. A critical step is to recognize the limitations of one’s vision – in the case of astrophysics, the limitations of telescopes and mathematical models — and in the case of organizational leadership, the limitations of identifying diversity based only on that to which we have historically attended and is most easily seen. In the same way that scientists gained tremendous insight by gazing into those formerly invisible areas of space, so might we see the ‘invisible’ dynamics by gazing into the less seen areas of marginalized people’s experiences — if we simply direct our attention there. Understanding these ground truths and shaping them into positive assets increases social cohesion and business productivity.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Sunday, February 19, 2006

Tackling Population Density, Diversity, and Disparity

Dateline: 4 November 2005, a NY Times editorial by Thomas Friedman entitled, “From Gunpowder to the Next Big Bang” outlines how China is grooming entrepreneurs to increase the rate with which business opportunities are identified and acted upon.

Dateline: 28 October 2005, an article by Howard W. French entitled, “China Luring Scholars to Make Universities Great,” describes how China is making a concerted effort to beef up their academic institutions with rigorous, cutting edge research capabilities and open the door to more discoveries, inventions, and innovation.

Dateline: 26 October 2005, an editorial by Thomas Friedman entitled, “Living Hand to Mouth” explains how China is rapidly pushing the limits of sustainability by incurring heavy societal penalties in air and water pollution, deforestation, and loss of arable land to support the growth rate it has enjoyed over the past 10 years.

Other than being about China, what do these articles have in common? They highlight three essential tasks society is required to address as we come closer together as a global community.

First, population density. As the world’s population continues to grow, more and more people will choose to live in metropolitan areas. China has over 40 cities exceeding 1M population with the most populous being Shanghai at almost 10M. India boasts 35 cities with populations over 1M, the most populous being Mumbai at just over 16M. Cairo, the most populous city in Africa, has a population of almost 7M. Sao Paulo, Brazil, with over 10M, is the most populous city in South America; whereas Mexico City, at almost 9M, is the most populous city in North America. More especially, counting the greater metropolitan area for Mexico City, the total population stands at over 17M making it one of the densest population concentrations in the world! How do people have a quality of life in such densities? Certainly, the migration of people to these population centers will only continue. The question begs answers.

Second, population diversity. As people migrate from one area to another in an effort to improve their lot in life, they encounter those from other races, ethnicities, languages, cultures, religions, etc. The United States is a nation forged by those who came to the country in hundreds of immigrant waves across a 500+ year history. The U.S. is not alone. All countries experience migration patterns through emigration and immigration coupled by varying degrees of mobility within their borders that sees people move from one rural or urban location to another. These migratory changes are unstoppable, but not always welcomed. The consequences range from an inappreciation and nonacceptance of difference to outright conflict and bloodshed as incompatible groups find themselves in one another’s space. How do people learn to live together when they come from different places and have differing beliefs? This diversity will only continue. The question begs answers.

Third, population disparity. As people find themselves in the presence of others outside their native groups, they are confronted with a reallocation of power and resources – the pecking order is reordered. Depending on relationships with people new to the mix, this reordering takes away or grants influence. There will be winners and losers no matter what. If the losers are reduced to a point where they can no longer fend for themselves and meet their basic needs for subsistence, they will take extreme measures to assure their survival; namely, destroy the environment for water, food, clothing, and shelter, and increase the birthrate as a hedge. Both of these consequences are disastrous not only for those who are scrounging at the bottom of the power ladder, but ultimately everyone as the environment is compromised by over-population and other ways that adversely affect the whole system. How do people realize that to take so much from others and put lives at stake costs far more to correct than to leave enough so that even the least can enjoy a minimum quality of life? This disparity will only continue unless another course is taken. The question begs answers.

China is a nation dealing with density, diversity, and disparity. And the consequences of not adequately addressing these three are dire. However, as Friedman notes, China’s leaders know the future is not going to be bright for long if these conditions persist or worsen. China is stewing in the questions that beg answering.

Friedman also states that what is needed is an integrated solution. This involves countries and organizations outside China working with institutions and groups inside China. That is where the articles at the outset of this posting have particular poignancy: China is reaching across internal and external boundaries to bolster research capabilities, strengthen academic rigor, awaken and advance entrepreneurial spirit, and direct attention to improving environmental quality and along with it quality of life for Chinese citizens. That degree of focus and commitment, coupled with an abundance of resources to put into the effort, give China the opportunity to learn and gain much. While China will not find THE answers to these questions, the lessons mastered in addressing them will benefit the world. May we all get an “A” in the course!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Sunday, November 6, 2005