239 Days in America, Day 106: July 25, 1912 | Boston

What Can the Hypocrite Know? 1

WHILE IN AMERICA ‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ spoke to a wide variety of public audiences, including peace societies, church congregations, women’s groups, and social justice organizations. But he also spoke directly to groups of Bahá’ís — followers of his father’s religion — and often when he did so, his tone changed.

“I am expecting results from this visit,” he told them on July 25, 1912, at the Hotel Victoria in Boston, “and hope that my coming may not be fruitless. The results I expect are these: that the individual soul shall be released from self and desire and freed from the bondage of satanic suggestions.” By “satanic” he meant “the natural inclinations of the lower nature,” and not some independent evil spirit.

“Man possesses two kinds of susceptibilities,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “the natural emotions, which are like dust upon the mirror, and spiritual susceptibilities, which are merciful and heavenly characteristics.” It was an analogy he had used many times before — the soul as a mirror reflecting divine qualities and virtues, and the constant struggle to keep it pure.

New Hampshire 2

The next day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke with more visitors until the late afternoon when He departed for Dublin, where He arrived at 7:00 P.M. and took up residence at one of Mrs Arthur J. [Agnes] Parsons’ two homes. Until August 16 He remained in Dublin, surrounded by green hills, flowering gardens, and flowing streams.

Thursday, July 25, 1912 3

As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had said He intended to leave Boston for Dublin, the friends and seekers gathered at the hotel. He encouraged them to lead fruitful lives and to overcome self and desire.

Consenting to a request of Mr Kinney, the Master paid a visit to Green Acre. When He got there, two Arab seekers fell at His feet crying, ’O Thou the Prophet of God’. He lifted them with His own hand, saying: ‘I am ‘Abdu’l-Bahá [the Servant of Bahá].’

At 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left Boston and by 7:00 p.m. He was gracing the gardens of Dublin. The Master took up residence in one of the two houses Mrs Parsons had especially prepared for Him, which was furnished with every comfort; however, the Master said that we must bear our own expenses. Mrs Parsons had hoped that the arrival of the Master would remain private so that He might rest a little. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá learned of this He said:

We have come for work and service and not for leisure. We must render service to the Threshold of the Blessed Beauty and must make such servitude the cause of our solace and the joy of our souls. As this place is a summer resort and many prominent people are present, therefore, unless they should themselves ask, the friends should not teach openly. They must deal with them with perfect dignity and honor.

Continuing, He said:

Consider where we came from and where we are now in Dublin here in America. We must offer thanks for the assistance and protection of the Abhá Beauty that we may breathe a breath in the path of servitude.

He then gave an account of the life of Hájí Abu’l-Qásim, an indigo merchant, and the restoration of his grave. ‘He was’, He said, ‘one of the servants of the Blessed Beauty. My first thought on my arrival in Egypt was to repair his tomb.’ Similarly, He spoke of the good intentions and sincerity of Áqá Muhammad Taqí Isfahání, who is residing in Egypt. In the evening he enjoyed His dinner and ate in good health and happiness.

Talk at Hotel Victoria, Boston, Massachusetts 4

I am very happy to greet you here today. This is the second time the breeze of God has wafted over Boston. I am expecting results from this visit and hope that my coming may not be fruitless. The results I expect are these: that the individual soul shall be released from self and desire and freed from the bondage of satanic suggestions. May the mirrors of hearts be cleansed from dust in order that the Sun of Truth may be reflected therein.

Man possesses two kinds of susceptibilities: the natural emotions, which are like dust upon the mirror, and spiritual susceptibilities, which are merciful and heavenly characteristics.

There is a power which purifies the mirror from dust and transforms its reflection into intense brilliancy and radiance so that spiritual susceptibilities may chasten the hearts and heavenly bestowals sanctify them. What is the dust which obscures the mirror? It is attachment to the world, avarice, envy, love of luxury and comfort, haughtiness and self-desire; this is the dust which prevents reflection of the rays of the Sun of Reality in the mirror. The natural emotions are blameworthy and are like rust which deprives the heart of the bounties of God. But sincerity, justice, humility, severance, and love for the believers of God will purify the mirror and make it radiant with reflected rays from the Sun of Truth.

It is my hope that you may consider this matter, that you may search out your own imperfections and not think of the imperfections of anybody else. Strive with all your power to be free from imperfections. Heedless souls are always seeking faults in others. What can the hypocrite know of others’ faults when he is blind to his own? This is the meaning of the words in the Seven Valleys. It is a guide for human conduct. As long as a man does not find his own faults, he can never become perfect. Nothing is more fruitful for man than the knowledge of his own shortcomings. The Blessed Perfection says, “I wonder at the man who does not find his own imperfections.”

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

“We have come for work and service and not for leisure.”

Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America

Curated by Anne Perry

July 25, 1912


  1. Sockett, Robert. “What Can the Hypocrite Know?” 239 Days in America, 25 July 2012, https://239days.com/2012/07/25/what-can-the-hypocrite-know/.
  2. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 117.
  3. ’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#section123
  4. 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, 244. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/17#026795839

239 Days in America, Day 60: June 09, 1912 | Philadelphia

Acres of Diamonds 1

“IN THE ESTIMATION OF God all men are equal.” 2

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words at the Baptist Temple in Philadelphia on June 9, 1912, echoed the Declaration of Independence, conceived in that same city nearly a century-and-a-half before. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that his father, Bahá’u’lláh, “taught that an equal standard of human rights must be recognized and adopted.”

It was something that the pastor at the Baptist Temple — Dr. Russell H. Conwell — had been practicing for over forty years. By the time ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited Conwell’s church, it was surrounded by a university, and not one but three hospitals, all designed to uplift the community of Philadelphia.

Conwell first heard about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during a visit to the Middle East. He later sent a cable to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Egypt, inviting him to address his congregation. It wasn’t Conwell’s first trip to the Middle East. Forty years earlier he had gone as a journalist, a trip that set his life in motion …

Talk at Unitarian Church, Fifteenth Street and Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 3

At a time when warfare and strife prevailed among nations, when enmity and hatred separated sects and denominations and human differences were very great, Bahá’u’lláh appeared upon the horizon of the East, proclaiming the oneness of God and the unity of the world of humanity. He promulgated the teaching that all mankind are the servants of one God; that all have come into being through the bestowal of the one Creator; that God is kind to all, nurtures, rears and protects all, provides for all and extends His love and mercy to all races and people. Inasmuch as God is loving, why should we be unjust and unkind? As God manifests loyalty and mercy, why should we show forth enmity and hatred? Surely the divine policy is more perfect than human plan and theory; for no matter how wise and sagacious man may become, he can never attain a policy that is superior to the policy of God. Therefore, we must emulate the attitude of God, love all people, be just and kind to every human creature. We must consider all as the leaves, branches and fruit of one tree, children of one household; for all are the progeny of Adam. We are waves of one sea, grass of the same meadow, stars in the same heaven; and we find shelter in the universal divine Protector. If one be sick, he must be treated; the ignorant must be educated; the sleeping must be awakened; the dead must be quickened with life. These were principles of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.

New York, Philadelphia, New York 4

On Sunday morning, June 9, He [Abdu’l-Bahá ] drove to 15th Street and Girard Avenue where the Unitarian Church was located and told the congregation of some of the major Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. In the afternoon He received visitors, including reporters, who came to His hotel rooms. That evening He spoke before the congregation of twenty-five hundred in the Baptist Temple, at Broad and Berks Streets. In His lengthy address He elaborated on nine of the principles of the Bahá’í Faith.

Sunday, June 9, 1912

As the Master intended to leave Philadelphia for New York in the morning, many friends were disappointed owing to their imminent separation from Him. They came to the railway station in great sadness to see Him off and all along the way supplicated assistance and guidance from Him.

In the evening in New York, the Master gave the friends a poignant account of His journey to Philadelphia, outlining the objective of His visit. He also spoke on spiritual stations and the inner progress of the soul, which are the ultimate fruits of human life.

Today the Master revealed many important Tablets. One of them was to Monsieur Dreyfus:

“O thou kind Friend,

“I visited Philadelphia, for a few days, at the invitation of two ministers and at the request of the friends of God. Two large congregations gathered in the two churches and I spoke within the measure of my incapacity. But the confirmations of the Abhá Kingdom, as evident as the sun, descended and enfolded us. Although we are powerless, He is Mighty. Although we are poor, He is All-Sufficient. The importance of this blessed verse became truly manifest: ‘We shall aid whosoever will arise for the triumph of Our Cause with the hosts of the Concourse on high and a company of Our favored angels.’

“I hope that both you and the maidservant of Bahá will be able to render important services on this journey and will become the cause of proclaiming the Word of God. Convey my respectful greetings to the maidservant of Bahá. I pray God for confirmations and assistance for her.

“May the Glory of the All-Glorious rest upon thee.

During this time, both day and night, many people besides these servants were present at the table and enjoyed the presence of the Master.

This evening He spoke of the days in Baghdád, saying:

“The Blessed Beauty did not make any more public speeches after leaving Baghdád and Adrianople. The mode of His discourse and the style of His utterances were a cause of wonder and were without peer or likeness. However, out of respect, I do not wish to give my speeches in that manner.” 5

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

Mahmud: June 9 – The mode and the style of Bahá’u’lláh’s discourse and utterances were a “cause of wonder and were without peer or likeness”

Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America

Curated by Anne Perry

June 9, 1912


  1. Sockett, Robert. “Acres of Diamonds.” 239 Days in America, 9 June 2012, https://239days.com/2012/06/09/acres-of-diamonds/.
  2. 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, 182. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/13#242057922.
  3. 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, 174. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/13#529704265.
  4. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 88.
  5. ’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=4#section77

239 Days in America, Day 9: April 19, 1912 | New York, NY

“Isn’t that the Woman of It?” 1

‘Abdu’l-Bahá opened his eyes again: “I am going to the poor in the Bowery now,” he told her. “I love them.” He invited Kate Carew to come along.

“There was another gasp of surprise at the Bowery Mission as, still hand in hand—he just wouldn’t let me go—the Baha and I trotted through a lane composed of several score of the society’s members. A few of the young ladies had their arms filled with flowers, which afterward filled the automobile. Some four hundred men were present, belonging to the mission.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to the homeless men for about twenty minutes. Jesus Christ was also homeless, he told them. “You are His comrades, for He outwardly was poor, not rich. Even this earth’s happiness does not depend upon wealth.”

“You will find many of the wealthy exposed to dangers and troubled by difficulties, and in their last moments upon the bed of death there remains the regret that they must be separated from that to which their hearts are so attached.”

“Therefore,” he said, “we will thank God that we have been so blessed with real riches. In conclusion, I ask you to accept ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as your servant.” 2

First Days in America: New York City 3

On Friday, April 19, ‘Abdul Baha spoke in Earl Hall at Columbia University, telling his audience, “it is our duty to put forth our greatest efforts and summon all our energies in order that the bonds of unity and accord may be established among mankind.” 4

That evening, Mahmúd noted, “most of the friends stayed longer in His presence” and they “continued coming until late in the night.” Because it was His last day in New York before leaving for Washington and Chicago the friends wanted to be with Him as long as possible.

Talk at Earl Hall, Columbia University, New York

God has created us all human, and all countries of the world are parts of the same globe. We are all His servants. He is kind and just to all. Why should we be unkind and unjust to each other? He provides for all. Why should we deprive one another? He protects and preserves all. Why should we kill our fellow creatures? If this warfare and strife be for the sake of religion, it is evident that it violates the spirit and basis of all religion. All the divine Manifestations have proclaimed the oneness of God and the unity of mankind. They have taught that men should love and mutually help each other in order that they might progress. Now if this conception of religion be true, its essential principle is the oneness of humanity. The fundamental truth of the Manifestations is peace. This underlies all religion, all justice. The divine purpose is that men should live in unity, concord and agreement and should love one another. Consider the virtues of the human world and realize that the oneness of humanity is the primary foundation of them all. Read the Gospel and the other Holy Books. You will find their fundamentals are one and the same. Therefore, unity is the essential truth of religion and, when so understood, embraces all the virtues of the human world. 5

Friday, April 19, 1912

It was the last day of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s stay in New York. From early morning until noon there were the usual comings and goings of numerous friends and believers at the Master’s hotel. In the evening a large meeting was arranged for the Master’s talk at Earl Hall at Columbia University. In addition to students and professors, there were many other interested people, as well as the Bahá’ís. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk was most penetrating and dealt with the supernatural powers of human nature and the results achieved from education and knowledge, and gave an explanation of peace and so on. After the meeting, those who had already met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá brought other seekers to meet Him in another room. These meetings were so long that the professors’ plan to give the Master a tour of the university had to be abandoned.

From both the friends and inquirers was frequently heard the remark, ‘Oh, that this meeting would never end, for we do not want to leave Him.’

As it was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s last night in the city, many believers remained longer than usual in His company. Each was a Majnún, enchanted with the beauty of the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant and attracted to the divine fragrances.

The friends continued to arrive until late at night. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá bade farewell to all and promised to be back among them when He returned. 6

  1. Menon, Jonathan. “”Isn’t That the Woman of It?”.” 239 Days in America, April 19, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/04/19/isnt-that-the-woman-of-it/.
  2. 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, 32-34.https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/2#141496815.
  3. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 36.
  4. 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, 31. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/2#018105204.
  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, 32. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/2#018105204.
  6. Mahmud-i-Zarqani, Mirza. 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=2#section26

239 Days in America, Day 1: April 11, 1912 | New York, NY

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Arrives in America 1

After being forty years a prisoner I can tell you that freedom is not a matter of place. It is a condition. . . . When one is released from the prison of self, that is indeed a release.— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

First Days in America: New York City 2

His [‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s] first words were about the press, saying:

The pages of swiftly appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world… But it behooveth the editors of the newspapers to be sanctified from the prejudice of egotism and desire, and to be adorned with the ornament of equity and justice.” 3

Talk at Home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. Kinney, 780 West End Avenue, New York

I am greatly pleased with the city of New York. Its harbor entrance, its piers, buildings and broad avenues are magnificent and beautiful. Truly, it is a wonderful city. As New York has made such progress in material civilization, I hope that it may also advance spiritually in the Kingdom and Covenant of God so that the friends here may become the cause of the illumination of America, that this city may become the city of love and that the fragrances of God may be spread from this place to all parts of the world. I have come for this. I pray that you may be manifestations of the love of Bahá’u’lláh, that each one of you may become like a clear lamp of crystal from which the rays of the bounties of the Blessed Perfection may shine forth to all nations and peoples. This is my highest aspiration. 4

Wednesday, April 10, 1912 [Thursday, April 11, 1912]

When the boat anchored, some newspaper reporters came on board to see ’Abdu’l-Bahá to ask Him about the purpose of His journey. He replied:

Our object is universal peace and the unity of humankind. I have traveled to Paris and London and now I have come to America to meet with those who seek universal peace and I hope that the peace societies of America will take the lead in promoting this end.

They asked, ‘How can universal peace be achieved?’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered:

Its realization is through the attraction and support of world public opinion. Today universal peace is the panacea for all human life.

They questioned, ‘What are these ills?’ He answered:

One of these ills is the people’s restlessness and discontent under the yoke of the war expenditures of the world’s governments. What the people earn through hard labor is extorted from them by the governments and spent for purposes of war. And every day they increase these expenditures. Thus the burden on men becomes more and more unbearable and the tribulations of the people become more and more severe. This is one of the great ills of the day. What a great tribulation there is in the countries of Italy and Turkey in these days! The fathers hear of the death of their sons and the sons are distressed on hearing the news of the death of their fathers. What cities are laid to ruin and what rising fortunes are thrown to the winds! The antidote for this great ill is world peace, which is the source of universal tranquillity.

They then asked: ‘Is it not possible that peace can become the cause of trouble and that war the means of progress?’ He replied:

No. It is war which is today the cause of all trouble. If all would lay down their arms, they would be freed from all difficulties and every misery would be changed into relief. However, this cannot be brought about except through education and the development of people’s thoughts and ideas. 5

Additional Commentary

Bahá’í s follow the teachings of the prophet and founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh – and they also attempt to follow the spiritual example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s son and successor.

Today ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s exemplary life – selfless, altruistic, and entirely devoted to world peace and oneness – inspires millions of people all over the world. It also has a special resonance for the Bahá’í s in North America, because he visited the United States and Canada for eight months in 1912.

Only with the passage of time can we truly appreciate the magnitude and the historic importance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit.

After a lifetime as an exile and a prisoner, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá came to the global West to spread the Bahá’í principles of justice, compassion, and unity. In conversations small and large, he bestowed love, guidance, knowledge, and vision to each soul he encountered. 6

  1. Menon, Jonathan. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá Arrives in America.” 239 Days in America, April 11, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/04/11/abdul-baha-arrives-in-america/.
  2. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 13.
  3. Dodge, Wendell Phillips. “ABDUL-BAHA’S ARRIVAL IN AMERICA.” Star of the West III, no. 3 (April 28, 1912): 3–5, https://bahai.works/Star_of_the_West/Volume_3/Issue_3/Text#ABDUL-BAHA.27S_ARRIVAL_IN_AMERICA..2A
  4. ’Abdu’l-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, 3, https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/1#820079356.
  5. Mahmud-i-Zarqani, Mirza. 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=2#section17
  6. Ahdieh, Hussein. “Walking in Abdu’l-Baha’s (Actual) Footsteps.” BahaiTeachings.Org, 11 Apr. 2022, https://bahaiteachings.org/walking-in-abdul-bahas-actual-footsteps/.

Declaring Independence

Last week when I was visiting friends in a small, rural German village, my host’s eighteen year-old daughter, Lara, asked if I knew the “Declaration of Independence.” “Of course,” I quickly stated while punctuating that harrumph with the added self-assuring thought to myself, “What American doesn’t know the Declaration of Independence.” “We’re studying it in school,” she added. “Our teacher is making us memorize the introduction. Why do we have to do that? It’s two-hundred thirty years old. This is stupid!” Silence. Hmmm. She asked me if I REALLY know it, not if I knew about it! “Do you know it from heart – can you say it right now?” I inquired incredulously. Without a moment’s hesitation she blurted out the nearly 300 words in perfectly elocuted, well-delivered English. As she is reciting I am wondering, how many American kids her age can do this? My two at home are fourteen and fifteen and they don’t have a clue! I want to think they are typical middle school / high school kids, so – hypothesizing from and “n” of two – American kids get a big “F” for failure on this one. But what about the larger question she asked, “Why do we have to do that?” that is the real bugaboo. Why, indeed.

The trite answer is, “use it or lose it.” Urban legend has it that many of the signers of the “Declaration of Independence” came to a bad end due to their association with that act. While Snopes argues that many of these legends are exactly that, fabrications, checking world history, liberty does come at a price and freedom when taken for granted is lost. The common thread through the rise and fall of liberty and freedom is the ascent or descent of political and economic systems within a governmental jurisdiction. Clearly, the trajectory is an arc and what goes up must come down. Nothing stays the same; the only constant is change; and as an old “bull of the woods” boss of mine used to say, “The only thing that runs itself, runs downhill.”

In The New York Times, June 27, 2006 edition, Op-Ed Columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an editorial entitled, Chinese Medicine for American Schools. Dateline: Shanghai, Kristof writes:

But the investments in China’s modernization that are most impressive of all are in human capital. The blunt fact is that many young Chinese in cities like Shanghai or Beijing get a better elementary and high school education than Americans do. That’s a reality that should embarrass us and stir us to seek lessons from China.

And he concludes with the following:

During the Qing Dynasty that ended in 1912, China was slow to learn lessons from abroad and adjust its curriculum, and it paid the price in its inability to compete with Western powers. These days, the tables are turned, and now we Americans need to learn from China.

China, on the ascent, is blocking the Internet from its citizens…

…and the citizens are fighting it.

The U.S., on the descent, is spying on its citizens

…and we do what?

When the Declaration of Independence was enacted in 1776 Great Britain was drawing closer to the apogee of its strength as the greatest political and economic power on earth. While the hard-fought independence of the American colonies did not compromise Great Britain’s destiny as a world super power, it did send a signal that despite such greatness nothing lasts forever. Others will challenge what is taken for granted. And as was the case with the former American colonies, the United States eventually supplanted Britain as a stronger powerhouse on the world stage.

Below are the “charges” brought against King George II – deemed by the colonists who revolted, “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.”

The United States Declaration of Independence, continued:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

So, who’s going up and who’s coming down make all the difference. Based on who is affronted by such conditions and the context in which they live their lives, people choose to either accept those conditions or challenge them. It is in making this choice that the principles defining the space where liberty and freedom prevail are brought to the forefront, given true meaning, and set the stage for a just civilization to progress. The very conditions imposed by an unjust government from which the colonists declared their independence now perpetrates those same conditions on its citizens and others. What some 230 years ago was unacceptable is now relegated to the ranks of the routine. We are quickly forgetting why our forefathers took the stand they did. But it won’t take others elsewhere to pick up the banner from us. Liberty, freedom, and justice that underpin them, live on forever! And that, my friends, is why we read and memorize the Declaration of Independence!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Tuesday, July 4, 2006

The Problem of Power

Since humanity began its odyssey out of Central Africa millennia ago, hierarchy is the only consistently adopted structure for distributing power within a social system. This structure holds intact the social system in which it exists. To do so, it exercises three roles:

  1. Define “boundaries” – territorial, birthright, and behavioral – that determine who’s in and who’s out
  2. Provide security that protects the boundaries, preserves the lineage, and maintains the behavioral guidelines
  3. Respond to changing circumstances so that the primary social system persists

Hierarchy is easy to install since it begins when one person assumes a dominate position relative to another. It is efficient. The dominant one sets the boundary conditions and subordinates operate within them. When coupled with fear of consequence if one does not stay within the boundaries and the promise of reward if one meets or exceeds expectations the vast majority of members comply with the dictates of the hierarchical social system.

Members of hierarchical social systems participate in governance, free enterprise, and non-governmental affiliations. The rulers set the parameters in which members operate so that government has the resources to assure security, enact rules of conduct, ownership, and commerce, and provide a system of jurisprudence in the event that members do not follow the rules or violate the rights of members. Property owners, business owners, and those who contribute their skills, time, and energy are compensated, pay some percentage of their profit and income to government so that it can function, and voluntarily give to community-based organizations that benefit the commonweal and care for those who cannot contribute. It is a system of cooperation, choice, and commitment that is simple and elegant.

Hierarchy is a structural “tool” for managing social systems. It is the integral framework upon which all institutions – governmental, business, or non-governmental / not-for-profit – are built. As such, it becomes a common denominator that cuts across society in all its endeavors. Like any tool, it is neither good nor evil. How people use hierarchical structure within their institutions and throughout their social system is what imbues it with certain characteristics of morality, ethics, and fairness and places it on a continuum of social justice ranging from barely evident on one end to being a matter of course on the other.

The driving force that shifts a social system along the scale of social justice is the use, or abuse, of power. Hierarchical social systems concentrate power in the hands of a minority number among the overall population. As Lord Acton stated, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In other words, when holding a dominant position, some are seduced by the power they have over others. This prompts them to do the following:

  1. Stay in their positions of power
  2. Keep the hierarchical social system intact so that the positions of power they hold are preserved
  3. Curtail affiliation among those who are disenfranchised by the system so that the threat of insurrection is quelled.

Basically, people who are so affected are drawn by the possibility of extracting even more profit or garnering more control. They limit choices for subordinates and force compliance to rules and conditions that are not beneficial to members. In addition, they attempt to keep the system as it is so that their gain is consolidated and ideally, continues to grow.

As an example, approximately 50% of the world’s population earns less than $2 / day per capita through subsistence agriculture. The hope of a higher quality of life is dashed each day eking out an existence under the harshest of circumstances. Leadership in these countries is averse to mechanize and modernize agriculture because those displaced would venture to cities in an effort to find work. This would overburden the already congested and over-stressed infrastructures in these urban areas elevating discontent and unrest. Better to keep people where they are so they are contained having to care for themselves. Meanwhile, the economies grow and the top echelons gain wealth.

Another example: according to an article in The Open AIDS Journal entitled, “HIV Infection and AIDS in Sub-Saharan AfricaUNAIDS report,” Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 70% of all people afflicted with HIV in the world. This area holds some of the world’s richest natural resources, yet the population is in grave peril, health-wise, including leaders. In fact, that is the point. The world has known about AIDS / HIV in Africa for nearly 30 years and has only in the last five mobilized efforts to do something. All indications suggest it is too little, too late. Millions have died from AIDS already and millions more will do so over the next two generations as the endemic unfolds. Sub-Saharan governments are rendered ineffective due to a lack of competent, experienced leadership, citizens are not able to care or fend for themselves, economies slow their growth, and property ownership and control shifts to foreigners. Colonies once lost due to revolution are reclaimed – without firing a shot.

As yet another example, consider genocide. In his 1994 book, Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900, author R.J. Rummel defined and documented “democide,” e.g., atrocities committed by governments on their citizens. Of the nearly 170 million who died at the hand of their governments during the 20th Century, 130 million, over 75%, were victims of four regimes: Soviet, Communist Chinese, German, and Nationalist Chinese. This does not include Rwanda in 1994. And genocide continues as the people from Darfur have borne witness every day this year. A weakened population becomes weaker. Those who hold the most power in the world act as though they are powerless as these horrific injustices go unchecked. The reality is there is nothing to be gained by intervening and much that could be lost if circumstances go awry. The people of Darfur, like the millions before them, are collateral damage in an economic power struggle of global proportions.

In his unsettling essay, “Waiting for the Lights to Go Out ,” published in the October 16, 2005 edition of The London Times, Bryan Appleyard posits a rather grim future wherein civilization is doomed to return once again to the Dark Ages. The central theme of his essay is the meltdown of society as we know it due to our insatiable addiction to oil, the inevitable depletion of oil reserves, and our woefully inadequate and untimely response to that eventuality. At the heart of his thesis is that human nature has not progressed very far since we began our migrations throughout the world from our African origins. Appleyard states, “Our aggressive, tribal nature is hard-wired, unreformed and unreformable. Individually we are animals and, as animals, incapable of progress. The trick is to cage these animal natures in effective institutions: education, the law, government. But these can go wrong.” Not particularly encouraging!

Rulers enact laws that are increasingly restrictive, militaristic, and draconian or become arbitrary in their decisions. Owners pull more profit, become more risk averse, and offer fewer benefits. Having less voice and impact, non-governmental organizations become more fanatical and close-minded; their ratios of administrative overhead to pay-out increase, and beneficiaries receive less real assistance.

In summary, the thirst for power and the specter of losing it becomes a corruptive force that undermines the fundamental tenets of a system that is given to efficiency and effectiveness if used honorably. People suffer for lack of true justice. Is there any way institutions, no matter how well-intended, can escape the slippery slope into corruption and injustice? Or is this simply the dark underbelly of hierarchy which must be accepted until people have more distance in time from their early violent struggle for survival as Homo sapiens? What is your opinion?

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Monday, December 12, 2005

Integrity Expanded

As a knowledge broker, one of our main goals is to stay “in integrity,” in other words, to remain true to our purpose, principles, and intentions. Because these characteristics have personal significance rather than public they are considered “informal.” The graphic below, a variation of the diagram posted in an earlier blog, associates these three integrity elements with sides of a triangle.

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The use of a triangle sends a mixed message. Its structure is symbolic of a rigid, top-down hierarchy. However, it is the most stabile of all geometric forms requiring changes to the lengths of the sides and sizes of the angles in order to alter its overall dimensionality. In other words, the original must be destroyed to take another shape. Because of this duality between rigidity and stability, both the sides AND the angles have meaning in the metaphor.

In the diagram below, the angles are labeled “authority,” fiduciary,” and “legal.” These three characteristics are more public than personal in their significance and are considered “formal” integrity elements. In dealing with other people as part of a larger social system, we are expected to be wise stewards of resources be they investments / use of time, talent, money, creativity, etc. We are also expected to comply with the laws enacted by the government having local jurisdiction. Finally, we are accountable for our responsibilities commensurate with the authority we have to act. This is the foundation of justice.

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The combination of both informal and formal components represented by the sides and angles of the triangle provides us with integrated personal and public dimensions of integrity. This is represented graphically below.

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This same sense of informal and formal can be applied to organizations as well as individuals. In addition, any organization has an integrity as does each person who is a member of it. Because of the correlation in integrity between formal and informal, and individual and organization, integrity is the foundation of organization design approaches.

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Thursday, September 1, 2005 and updated on Saturday, September 24, 2005