Community Conversations for Global Solidarity
A Local Application of Global Solidarity Accounting
revised 3 January 2023
Recent efforts to think about the well-being of humans and nature in other than financial terms (see the accounting page) suggest new ways to help local communities read their local reality and consult on possible social actions. The approach is not to suggest solutions, but to help to ask the right questions about the challenges we all face in a world materially united but socially and spiritually divided. We invite you to consider sharing this with your own community.
1. THE EARTH SYSTEM
Humanity is part of a global Earth System along with nature. We must maintain the integrity and productivity of this common home of humanity to ensure our own survival, well-being and progress, and that of future generations.
2. HUMAN SOCIETY
Our present dominant economic system is materialistic, accounting for everything in financial terms that reflect and encourage endless growth in greed and selfishness. If we put humans at the centre, our human purpose should be solidarity, to acquire the refinements of human character and institutional purpose that facilitate cooperation and reciprocity individually and collectively. Our values and ethical principles should operate at three levels: the individual, directing our own behaviour and motivation; the community where we interact with others; and the institutions that direct and govern us.
Nature is driven largely by solar energy through photosynthesis in plants to provide the energy and natural resources to meet the physical needs of all life including our own. Nature created and maintains a planetary environment suitable for life. This includes the energy system behind the climate, now upset with global heating, and all the biodiversity and ecosystem services upon which we depend, and which we are upsetting with our destructive overuse, pollution and waste. At the community level, we can assess the state of our local environment, what remains of nature, our contribution to damage more widely, and our potential to reduce our environmental footprint and to protect or restore nature locally.
4. BASIC NEEDS
We all have physical requirements to ensure our individual and collective survival. These include meeting our basic needs for water, food, energy, shelter, health, security, etc, now provided increasingly by our material civilization, to the extent that we often forget that these depend ultimately on nature and its services. When our basic needs are not met, our capacity is seriously diminished.
5. SOCIAL DIMENSIONS
We are a social species, forming communities and higher levels of organization, and we collaborate in social processes like work and governance, our civilisational dimensions of knowledge, science and culture, including indigenous knowledge, and ultimately the world-views, values and spiritual capital that determine how we organize society.
6. DYNAMIC LEARNING
All systems including our communities are dynamic and constantly changing and evolving, increasing in integration and efficiency when functioning with cooperation and reciprocity, and disintegrating and even self-destructing when losing cohesion and fragmenting. There is always the unknown to be explored, and the surprises inherent in complex systems, requiring an attitude of learning from experience as we go forward. For things that are important to us, we need to measure how they change over time and the effects of our actions, so that we can adjust accordingly.
Our community can advance in addressing its problems when it has solidarity, with everyone having some capacity to contribute in service to the whole. Valuing solidarity in our community can give it a sense of direction encompassing justice, equity, cooperation, leaving no one behind, acknowledging the unity of our community in all its diversity. The ideal for out community would be the full use of everyone’s capacities. Any neglect or exclusion of community members would be like a debt with an outstanding balance to be repaid.
Many of today’s problems are due to the changing scale of human organization through globalization. The industrial and technological revolutions have raised human impacts and resource withdrawals to the planetary scale, impacting and degrading the life-support systems of nature and creating existential threats to our future. Technology has also created the means in communications and transportation necessary to function as a single global system. However human social systems, especially of the economy and governance, have not kept pace, remaining trapped in a framework of national sovereignty and global anarchy. An accounting system at the global level needs to define and motivate the steps necessary to organize governance of our common global resources. This new global perspective on human and environmental well-being can inform our community conversations as well.
An account can be both a story and a set of numerical measures. The accounting concept needs to be accessible to all, simple enough to be understood as common sense, as in telling a story with words, graphics or numbers. It should work at any level from the individual and community up to the global level. By using science-based measures, it should be seen as objective and trustworthy, helping to define the ideal state we want, and how our solidarity can lead to progress. By showing ethical human actions, the system can inspire compassion for those left behind and motivate us to act to transform our community. Scaled down to the community level, solidarity accounting can help to guide local decision-making.
How might global solidarity accounting help to stimulate community conversations?
A community, whether a neighbourhood, a village, or some other place where we live and work, is essentially a web of relationships, with family members, neighbours, people we get together with, and others we meet during daily life. In a healthy community, those relationships are strong and positive. One way to strengthen a community is to build its capacity to read its own reality, to consult on problems it may have, and to find solutions to take action.
Every community is also part of and depends on larger human groupings, perhaps a city, state or province; a valley, plain, forest or island; a nation, and ultimately the whole planet Earth. Just as the human body is an integrated whole, so that if one part is hurt, the whole body suffers, so must a community recognize that it is part of, and has responsibilities to, these larger dimensions of human organization. Even basic things like food, water, energy, and many other goods and services, come in whole or in part from elsewhere, just as a community may produce and sell things for use elsewhere. And just as we have inherited much from those who came before us, so do we have a responsibility to pass that inheritance intact to our children and all those who come after us.
This is how community conversations for global solidarity might help. The more a community can look at itself, its potentials and limitations, and plan for a better future, the stronger it will be. It can look at its problems, set its own priorities, consult on how it might be or do things better, plan some actions, and then reflect on the results and consider another step forward. Those conversations need to consider the larger picture up to the global level. Solidarity means considering and including everyone, both within the community and those who might be impacted by what the community does. Conversations are the start of community-building, beginning with questions about what is most important locally, inviting everyone to contribute their perspectives, and agreeing on what led to the issue and how it can be addressed. Accounting is a tool to help tell the story by measuring the different dimensions of an issue, determining its present state and the direction it is going in, and then monitoring how it is changing as a result of agreed actions. This can then lead to more conversations.
Starting with values
In contrast with our materialistic society that assumes that we are naturally selfish and aggressive and that encourages greed, dishonesty, lust, indolence, pride and even violence, we can put humans at the centre in our reflection on our higher human purpose to refine our character and to serve society by increasing well-being for all. This includes protecting the human rights of all, as well as the global commons or common property that we all depend on, the air and climate, the oceans and natural resources, and the millions of species that make our planet liveable.
At the social level, we can start with justice, including the right of everyone to human dignity, and to equitable treatment leaving no one behind, with special attention to women, children, the disabled and those otherwise marginalised. This reflects the fundamental truth that we are one human family and citizens of this planet in all our diversity, above any other more limited identity. It follows that everyone has the right to the necessities of life such as food, water, shelter and some source of energy, and to the possibility to develop their capacity to contribute to human well-being and social advancement, without any limitation such as nationality, ethnicity, religion or place of birth.
Beyond our physical needs is our intellectual capacity for science, art, culture and spirituality, the intangible dimensions of life and civilisation. Science reveals the realities of our physical world, and its tools of reason and investigation can be accessible to every community. It teaches respect for truth, which is also the foundation for trust and trustworthiness that build social cohesion. It is often at the community level that this heritage of learning and knowledge is enriched, preserved and transmitted from generation to generation through education. Accounting for solidarity at the community level can be a tool to raise the right questions and to provide ways to measure progress towards the community’s own goals.
Community accounts and values
The framework for global solidarity accounting includes nine dimensions that together identify how a community can look at its global responsibilities in a local perspective (think globally and act locally). For the environment, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are central concerns. We all are causing global heating, consuming things that impact nature, and release pollutants, and the actions doing this can be measured at the local level. By asking the right questions, you may discover how you can make a difference. What are the sources of greenhouse gases in your community? What services are provided by nature locally? Is there nature to protect, or can you do things to restore it? What do you throw away, and do you use chemicals that become pollutants?
The physical well-being of each resident in your community is another concern. Are there poor that lack the necessities of life, such as adequate shelter, clean water, and a source of energy. Is there extreme inequality in wealth? The community can work out its food accounts: where does food come from, does everyone have enough nutritious food to eat, and is food wasted? You can also look at community health to identify particular health problems and the adequacy of health care.
Three dimensions of social accounting can also say a lot about the foundations of solidarity in your community. Since everyone has some capacity to contribute to society, does everyone have work, whether paid employment or some other form of service not considered employment such as subsistence agriculture, informal trade, keeping a home and raising children? Unemployment is depriving the community of some members’ capacity to create wealth or well-being. The community can also inventory the knowledge it holds in libraries and research centres, and virtually accessible, as well as its cultural assets and indigenous and local knowledge and crafts. It can then ask how well these assets are preserved and transmitted through education, to maintain them from generation to generation. The young generation may be captivated by new technologies and developing new capacities, but might they be losing something essential to the community? Finally, what really maintains community solidarity is its values or what can be called spiritual capital. These are the qualities that enrich community life, and include unity, cooperation, love, justice, humility, altruism, selflessness, trustworthiness, forbearance, and a desire to be of service to others and the community as a whole. It is not easy to measure these, but they will be reflected in the behaviour of community members such as volunteering and civic engagement. There are also the values underlying community institutions for culture, faith and governance.
Such community accounting does not have to be complicated. It can start with conversations asking very simple questions and applying some common sense. What is good or bad for the community, and where is the capacity to make things better? Where risks are identified, what can be done locally to build community resilience? Just consulting on these will already be an important step forward in community solidarity, responsibility and well-being. The first account can just be the story about that issue locally, where it came from and how it might get better. Then the story might be illustrated with some simple measures of the present state, how it is changing, and what might be the goal of an action to address it. Over time, accounts of different dimensions will reinforce each other.
This is new and we are all just learning. We need case studies of communities willing to try this out. What are the best ways to explain the concept to your community for them to take it up? How do they value each of the nine dimensions? Will this motivate them to social action? What are the results? Some tools for this are being developed, and the initial versions are shared here.
Links to Community Conversations for Global Solidarity:
Introduction for Baha'i-inspired Public Discourse and Social Action
Part 1: Assessment of Reality - Questions for Local Community Assessment
Part 2: Consulting and Deciding about Actions
Download Introduction, Parts 1 and 2 as pdf
Our Prosperous World is also developing beautiful materials for local use inspired by this approach, including a Community Wealth Inventory for Local Action (also now in French), a module on Food Wealth, and another on Building Thriving Communities, with others planned.
Last updated 3 January 2023