By Bill Harley
We talk a great deal in the world about progress. We all want it, but what is it? Many people define it as “moving forward”. However, moving forward assumes an agreement about the direction we are going and the goal or outcome we seek. When there is no such agreement, “moving forward” is perceived as progress by some and regression by others. Much of the “progress” we track in the world is simply change. Many people assume that most of the change created by our governmental bodies, institutions, organizations and popular culture represents progress. But how do we know for sure?
After being released from forty years of imprisonment and exile in 1908, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, certainly one of the most luminous figures of the 20th Century, traveled from the Middle East to the West spending a large part of the year 1911 in Europe and of the year 1912 in the United States. During one of his talks in Paris he provided a definition of the word “progress”. He said,
Progress is the expression of spirit in the world of matter. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 90.)
This profound statement has many dimensions to it. At least one of them seems to be that progress occurs when spiritual principles are expressed or manifested in the material world. All of a sudden, we have our bearings on what progress means and how to achieve it.
Spiritual principles come from the scriptures of the major world religions. Some examples of spiritual principles are: loving one another, being honest and having integrity, treating our neighbor as we want to be treated, obedience to law, forgiving others and turning the other cheek, striving for fairness and justice, the oneness of humankind, the equality of women and men, maintaining social order, taking responsibility for the well-being of the natural world, submission to God, protecting the dignity of all human beings, achieving universal education of both girls and boys, and eliminating all forms of prejudice.
It follows then from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s definition that if we make decisions and take actions in which we express or manifest these and other spiritual principles in the world, the result is progress. If we make decisions and take actions in which we reduce the expression of spiritual principles in the world, the result is regression. This would be true for individuals, couples, families, organizations, institutions and governmental bodies.
Our second book, TRANSFORMED: How to Make the Decisions That Change Your Life, introduces Compassionate Consultation as a deliberative, decision-making and problem-solving process which assures the outcome of progress. This is because the 4th step is to “Identify & Agree on the Spiritual Principles Involved” in relation to the issue being addressed. As a result, the subsequent solutions and decisions generated by the process further express “spirit in the world of matter”. Progress is assured.
Sometimes, the spiritual principles involved can have direct relationships; for example, two principles we want to honor can reinforce each other as with “loving one another” and “treating our neighbor as we want to be treated”. At other times, the spiritual principles related to an issue can have indirect relationships; for example, two principles can restrain or counter-balance each other as with “forgiving others and turning the other cheek” and “striving for fairness and justice”. Either way—whether the relationships are direct or indirect—agreeing on the spiritual principles we want to honor deepens the deliberation, sheds light on the optimal solutions, and guides us to enlightened decisions which foster progress.
If you want to be an agent of progress in the world at the micro or macro level, start identifying and agreeing on the spiritual principles involved before you start deliberating on solutions. For more information, read our second book, TRANSFORMED: How to Make the Decisions That Change Your Life.