Community Conversations: Introduction for the Public
Community conversations for global solidarity aim to bring people from all backgrounds and all political positions together, to build social cohesion in societies often divided, to consult about the needs of their communities or neighborhoods and to assist them in bringing about transformational social change.
The proposed framework is general enough that it could be applied all over the world in a vast diversity of cultures and natural environments, building solidarity from the local to the global level.
It is now too late for incremental changes, no matter how well designed. The huge problems of climate change and environmental disintegration, of abject poverty and impending economic collapse, of the threatening global hunger crisis, of inequality and injustice, of human conflicts and breakdown of social cohesion, of violence and war, leave us no other realistic choice than to rise to a higher level of human consciousness and maturity. Spiritual traditions tell us that humans have vast unexplored capacity for spiritual development. The high capacity of human ethical action has been shown throughout history by individuals helping each other, by sacrificing and working for the common good.
Communism and capitalism both failed because of their materialistic approach and have led to oppression and the amassing of power and wealth by a few at the expense of the generality of humankind and of the environment. In contrast, the community conversations proposed here are based on spiritual values – values that can be shared by people of any or no faith.
Solidarity in this context means the recognition of the essential oneness of humankind, that we are all interconnected with each other and with the natural world, and that achieving our true potential as human beings requires that we care for each other and strive toward the well-being of all people.
These community conversations aim for fundamental change by tapping into the capacity for goodness in all people, thus generating enthusiasm for a just, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable society.
This tool for community conversations can be adapted by people all over the world to their specific needs and local culture.
For information about the background of this initiative, go here.
With their 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations have clearly laid out what we must achieve to enable all humans to have their basic needs met and lead a dignified life while maintaining the integrity of the Earth’s natural systems. There is also an abundance of knowledge and scientific advances we can draw on to make the world a better place. However, despite many well-intentioned efforts, actions toward these goals have been slow, incremental, and by far not adequate to the human suffering and the existential threats to humanity’s future. What is missing is a strong collective will. The Baha’i Writings explain: “The attainment of any object is conditioned upon knowledge, volition and action. Unless these three conditions are forthcoming, there is no execution or accomplishment.”1
The purpose of these community conversations in global solidarity is to facilitate the emergence of this missing volition, of a collective will and unified action. Centering our consultations on solidarity, on the common good, resonates with human souls and can be a powerful motivation for action.
The inspiration for a deep commitment to solidarity comes from the Baha’i teachings: “Let your vision be world embracing rather than confined to your own self.”1
“Humanity’s crying need ... calls ... for a fundamental change of consciousness ... that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family.”3
Developing such a vision for the common good is the path toward addressing our dire problems and in the process fulfilling our true human potential.
With widespread global solidarity, it is realistic to envision a world in which all people’s basic needs are met, where all people are equally valued and live in peace, in which human economic activities are in harmony with the natural world, in which humankind does not use more of the Earth’s resources than can be replenished, and in which global warming has been limited to the lowest still possible temperature rise and the climate system brought back into balance, in which pollution is systematically cleaned up and many ecosystems restored, enabling all life to thrive.
In a world of solidarity, the principle of the oneness of humankind is anchored in the hearts of individuals and communities, and it is adopted to be the overarching guideline for governing institutions. There will be no room for the false perception of “us” and “them”. It will be a society characterized by transparency, honesty, accountability, equity, unity, and responsibility.
When people are deeply interested in and engaged in contributing to the common good through their work and service, they can develop their true potential and find meaning in life which will also address the growing mental health crisis.
At the same time, each individual is the trust of the whole society. Society should support all individuals in need. When fully realized, the Global Solidarity Accounting initiative supported by community conversations could lead to a social safety net from the local to the global level.
In this way, there will be a reciprocity of giving and receiving between individuals, government and society as a whole.
Participation and Ethical Standards
Diversity of thought, background, and experiences is a vital asset for finding the most suitable pathways forward. Therefore, it is important for these conversations to have participation from all segments of society: Different racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds, women, Indigenous people, youth and elders, people who have lived in the community for generations as well as newcomers and immigrants, faith communities, representatives of business, political leaders, scientists, etc.
These community conversations need to adopt a fundamentally different way of operation compared to what most people are accustomed to. In many countries, there is increasing division in society. People with different ideological views do no longer talk with each other; they only fight for their own view to win. Racial and religious divisions and hate speech are worsening. Social media with their “echo chambers”, confirmation bias and potential to spread disinformation and slander have contributed to this social crisis.
Participants in these community conversations strive to free themselves from such negative traditions, from ideologies, partisanship, and preconceived ideas and opinions so that they have an open mind that will empower them to search collectively for the best actions to address their community’s needs. Before speaking, participants would need to first weigh their words, whether they are promoting a preconceived idea, an ideology or self-interest, or whether they are offering their thoughts as a contribution to the common good in the spirit of solidarity. The goal is not to seek compromise of different opinions, but to search together to assess the community’s needs and to find a common way forward.
To be successful, these consultations would need to be characterized by humility, respect for all, and careful listening to other people’s knowledge, experiences, and points of view. They will require an attitude of learning as well as patience with oneself and others.
The methodology of community conversations
The methodology behind community conversations consists of ongoing conversations that can be held in communities, in neighborhoods and in local governmental institutions.
There are two parts to the process:
1. To assess the reality of the community’s condition and to identify problems
2. To consult together about how to address existing problems and to improve conditions, to decide on actions and to carry them out.
Part 1 contains numerous questions. While these questions address specific areas of human and environmental well-being, the framework proposes a holistic approach. A social or environmental problem cannot be solved in isolation as it is usually strongly connected to other issues. Often, several problems need to be addressed together.
Participants will need to pick a few areas of greatest concern as it would not be practical to consult about all of them.
It would be necessary to have a facilitator who has no other agenda than keeping people focused on their mission which is making progress in solidarity, who prioritizes ethical values as well as considerate and constructive interaction over “efficient business”, and who can practically guide the process of consultation.
At the beginning of each meeting, the facilitator should remind everyone about the ethical foundation of the process – to work for solidarity within the community, while having global solidarity in mind, as well as solidarity with future generations. Everyone must put the well-being of all people before their personal interests.
Such conversations would be ongoing, reflecting on progress made, and assessing current conditions, always open to adjusting actions and to shifting priorities as needed.
While these community conversations start with assessing current conditions, their ultimate aim is to serve as a tool that assists actions toward greater solidarity. The objective is to bring people together, to gather resolve, and to serve as an inspiration and focus for actions that consider the limits of human and other resources but strive to be adequate to the global existential threats to human well-being and the natural world.
1‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 217–218
2 Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah XLIII
3 The Universal House of Justice, 24 May 2001 Letter
Last updated 3 November 2022