Vision of Society
Humanity has established a hierarchical social order as the norm for civilization. Many revolutions have been started in the name of creating a more egalitarian society, but these have all failed to make any difference to this hierarchical social structure. The leaders of the Baha'i Faith have been guiding the Baha'i community toward a new social order. In the Baha'i community, there is no leadership role for individuals; all authority rests in elected institutions. All aspects of the functioning of this system, including the election process, avoid the competitive and conflictive nature of the hierarchical system.
In addition, Baha'is are encouraged to go through a program aimed at empowering every Baha'i to think for him- or herself and to have the confidence to engage in the consultation process. Part of this program involves people gathering in study circles, consulting a text from the Baha'i scripture, and reflecting on how it affects their lives or how they need to live their lives differently in light of it. The other part involves each individual engaging in acts of service to the community, visiting people in their homes, conducting children's classes, leading junior youth activities, or tutoring study circles. This exposure to community activities has the effect of opening the mind to an attitude of service and an awareness of the social needs of the community.
Cultural transformation involves deliberate changes in individual choices and in institutional structures and norms. For over a decade, the worldwide Baha'i community has been endeavoring systematically to effect a transformation among individuals and communities around the world -- to inspire and build the capacity for service. The framework for action guiding these activities has been rooted in a dynamic of learning -- characterized by action, reflection, and consultation. In thousands of communities, Baha'is have set into motion neighborhood-level processes that seek to empower individuals of all ages to recognize and develop their spiritual capacities and to channel their collective energies towards the betterment of their communities. Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, they have started children's classes that focus on laying the foundations of a noble and upright character. For youth aged 11-14, they have created a learning environment which helps them to form their moral identity at this critical time in their life and to develop skills which empower them to channel their constructive and creative energies toward the betterment of their communities. All are invited to take part in small groups of participatory learning around core concepts and themes which encourage individuals to become agents of change in their communities within a dynamic of learning and an orientation towards service. (From: Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism, The Baha'i International Community's Contribution to the 18th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.)