Nonexistent Lines

“We operate under the illusion that we are separate – individuals proudly defined by flesh and values and our differences from one another. And I think that’s how we got to this point.” Her words – her reaction to the collection of words I had shared with her the day before – suddenly injected new meaning into my own. What I had initially written as a direct expression of my physical surroundings at the time became, through her reframing, a larger commentary on the underlying essence of something at play in the turbulent social context in which we now find ourselves. It also reminded me of the beauty of art as something inherently relational, something that acquires endless variations of meaning in its capacity to be shared. Through this act of sharing, the creator in a way relinquishes ownership over the art and the meaning attached to it, whether or not intended, and therein creates the space for new dialogues to emerge not only between artist and audience but between artist and his or her own art.

I don’t write poetry. I am not a poet by any measure. But there are some experiences that feel only appropriate to express in an abstracted form. And as poets like Rilke have counseled to aspiring young writers, poetry should in fact be reserved for those things that you need to say, that you feel you would die if you were forbidden to say. If something “spread its roots into the very depth of your heart” and “commands you to write,” then you should write it. That is probably the best way to describe the sensation I felt when I had the privilege a few weeks ago to be standing in the most hauntingly beautiful landscape in Ireland. There was a point where I literally felt as though my own being was indistinguishable from my surroundings – a sense that I was seeing the reflection of my own soul in the things around me. The earth felt like a living being in every respect, one with a message that drew you in and made you listen with all of your faculties. It was a message I felt compelled to try to capture however feeble my attempt…

When I exhaled I felt the strong breeze let out its own breath
Melding with mine and carrying it across the soft copper horizon
Slanting the blades of green yellow purple red gold into a gentle curve
A suggestion of a question mark in their ever present slant.
The mist covers the horizon
Pleading with you to stop searching for edges and endings
Rendering everything into one endless expanse
Grass and boulders, heather and wildflowers, fern and moss, mountain and sky.
The sharpness of the individual parts fade into one soft blur of copper and grey strokes
Extending beyond the exterior
Denying you even those fleshy boundaries you take to be concrete
Blurring the lines between skin and air, the inhales of the earth from the exhale of your lungs.
The lines of the hills, the curve of the grass, the roughness of the stones
They define the contours of your soul.
The gurgling undercurrent of the streams that run beneath the ground
Invisible beneath the thick yellow cover but constantly carrying forth secrets
Working in unison with the wind
Leaving its trace in the tilt of the trees and the slant of the hills, the endless bow of the grass.
Concealing a desperate yearning to be heard
But reserving its utterance only for those who seek it
Letting out only whispers
Except
For those dark tangled roots that emerge between the soft brush
Unable to contain their desire to be seen
Jutting out sharpness, demanding your attention
Adding depth and contrast to the expanse of soft copper
But at their tips, nothing more
than pale pink buds.
The land is content in its solitude
But reverberates with a silent outcry all the same
The restless winds that call out for more,
The rough silence soothed by the echoing of birds’ songs
of origins untraceable
And by a conviction
In its own expansiveness
Not allowing high peaks or horizon lines to feign separation
That does not exist.

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While my poem (if it can be considered that) was more reactionary than intentional in its message, it is interesting to place it in the context of the confusion of emotion resonating throughout the world at the moment, as my friend had done in her interpretation after the elections. As I look at my own words now again with new eyes, I want to draw from them the essence of what I felt not only in the raw material of the physical earth but in the social material that surrounds me now: evidence of our interconnectedness with each other and the earth at the deepest of levels.

And, just as I felt in the Irish landscape, the interconnectedness I see evidenced by the cries of the global community now is not one of an abstract idealism but one of a concrete reality. It is a thing at once so brazenly visible and yet at the same time, persistently suppressed into a false obscurity. Paradoxically, many even use the evidence of its existence as proof of the contrary. For this interconnectedness is perhaps most visible in the pain itself — even in the seemingly conflicting forms of pain that manifest in clashes between those who perceive themselves as existing on opposite sides of socially constructed divides. Underneath it all, the responses by all sides speak to the reality of our oneness as human creatures with the same fears and concerns, irrationalities and inner contradictions. It is a truth that, when ignored, allows for ‘othering’ based upon these self-created distinctions. It allows us to forget the humanity in those we feel most different from.

The visceral quality of the collective emotional response – the fear, the pain, the hopelessness, the desperation, the anger, and for some, the elation or new hope – emotions not just felt within the U.S. but in every corner of the globe, particularly underscores the recognition of the deep and complex ties that define our current world order. They reveal a comprehension of the stakes at hand for everyone, whether positive or harmful; of the way the outcome of one country’s election implicates each individual in one way or another, whose ripple effect goes far beyond the sphere of politics and national borders.

The reality of this fact is both beautiful and terrifying: terrifying in the implications of just how much our own actions affect the lives of everyone else on this planet, but beautiful in the implication of how much our actions have the power to affect the lives of everyone else on this planet.

In drawing light to this positive aspect, even opportunity, granted by the current moment, I do not want to minimize the validity of the pain and fear felt by anyone. At the same time, I do want to shift the focus of the conversation. I want people to engage with their pain and fear in recognizing the roots of the same emotions felt by the ‘other side’. I do not want people to condone behavior or views that are objectively racist, bigoted, or full of hate, but I do want them to recognize the beauty and hideousness we are all capable of and the very different contexts and realities that shape the lens through which each person comes to see the world. I do not want people to resign themselves to tolerance for the sake of some kind of utilitarian existence amidst insurmountable differences, but to strive for empathy and its inevitable aftermath – love.

Ultimately, I hope that amidst the hatefulness and destructive divisiveness, people come to recognize the reality of the interconnectedness behind it, and to translate this comprehension into something fruitful. While the conversations all come back to the politics or words and actions of one political candidate, it is equally evident that so much of the fear and pain surrounding it is not merely linked to this one public figure but of what the support for him implies of the values of the society more broadly; of the potential normalizing effect his position might have on racist or violent attitudes. This is also in a way empowering because it points to the fact that our fears are directed at things in our power to change, regardless of who is in power. And, whilst obvious in one sense, I also think it is critical to remind ourselves that such feelings don’t emerge overnight. Sometimes, certain events help symptoms of much larger issues rise to the surface and force everyone to confront them head on. Much of the shock surrounding the prevalence of these attitudes as embodied by the election result may also be said to speak to the suppression of critical voices among us – the voices of those who were not at all surprised by the results, of those who have long been the targets of these aggressions, of the voices listened to but never really fully heard.

Hopefully now we will actually start to hear each other. And hopefully our politically-charged dialogues can give way to greater recognition of the reason we care about politics at all: to collectively create a community that we all want to live in. No doubt, the actions of one person in power can have very real and direct effects on the society at large; policies can change and the institutions they shape can render the achievement of equality that much more challenging. But in the end, the underlying cries for change and reform are at their core cries for reforms of the heart, for empathy and understanding. And I wish there was a way to express this that didn’t come across so idealistic and light-hearted, because I think it is something that we all too often cast aside as less weighty than real ‘political’ issues and that so many still struggle to envisage in the same concrete, practical terms, and so I am saying it anyways, as deceptively simplistic and reductive as it may sound. Because really, how can we possibly hope for a better future, for any different outcome than what we are seeing now, if we aren’t engaging with the emotions and spirits of the individual humans that shape the institutions that represent them? And how can we claim to embrace diversity as a progressive society if we don’t humble ourselves to the fact that maybe the so-called diversity we claim to embrace is still primarily confined to those who hold the same values and world-views as ourselves?

I myself am still grappling with the dimensions of my own initial reaction of shock, of what it implies of my own ignorance and of the voices I am yet to fully hear out. All I know is that the strong ties that hold us all together, while painful at times, are more visible now than ever.

“Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious.  Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world.” – prayer excerpt from the Bahá’í writings

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When Words Aren’t Enough

For the second time this year, my heart is breaking for someone I barely knew, for someone who passed through my life for just an instant and passed on to the next life too soon. And again, it is a pain I struggle to comprehend, and almost feel guilty to feel – for having only met someone once, what right do I have to feel this sadness for their absence, or to want to give my condolences to the family who I also barely know, or to share my praises of someone who barely knew me? Such words from a practical stranger would simply seem insincere. But this person clearly has made an impact on me – more than I even realized until now. And I really just want to express it somewhere, if not to them, than at least here.

For while I only really had a conversation with this woman on one occasion and witnessed her incredible faith and warmth in person on this one day, the beauty of her soul shines through so brightly through the words and deeds of her entire family – the brightness of which I’ve rarely come across. Never have I witnessed a family so selfless, so cohesive, so loving, so fully and completely devoted to constant service to mankind – so much of which is clearly due to the exemplary example of the parents. Just having the opportunity to be a part of the same Baha’i community as them this year and to see the love they have for their community has been a blessing to me – to see the effects of their children’s classes, junior youth groups, firesides, and devotionals on the spiritual growth of so many other souls. Or to see the amount of love and respect that children can show towards their parents – the kind of love that manifests itself in action, and is reflected in the love they so generously pass on to others. These small and indirect glimpses I’ve had into the huge effect that a few individuals can have on so many people and to be reminded of how much positive change can be achieved in the world through selfless service, trust in God, and ceaseless efforts to lead lives wholly devoted to the happiness of others is truly inspiring.

While a part of me is sad for the missed opportunity to have gotten to better know an admirable human being while in this world, and while my heart is sore in thinking of what the family is going through now – to whom all my thoughts and prayers go out to at this time, another part of me feels driven to make something more of these feelings – to strive more sincerely and deeply to re-align all the elements of my life to its ultimate purpose: serving mankind. What better way to express my appreciation and remembrance of a person whose life example has touched me than to work towards the achievement of everything that their life represented?

Beneath these confused mix of emotions, I also can’t help but feel reminded of my own mortality and of the shortness of life. I feel as though the cliche ‘life is short’ has never held so much weight in my mind as it does now. From the passing of another beautiful and inspiring person earlier this year – one who was even younger than me and who I had the incredible privilege of teaching some children’s classes with – the fleeting nature of life resonates even louder in my mind. And I don’t feel the weight of this reminder in a morbid, depressing sort of way, but more so as a call to action. It is a reminder that each and every day and each and every moment truly matters – that our every thought and action is an opportunity to progress or regress, to work towards something good or allow our situation to remain stagnant.

It has also awaken me to the mindset I have fallen into lately – having been in the ‘adult world’ for a year now and achieved more than I could have ever wished for in my career thus far, I had allowed myself to believe that it was enough; that working for an organization whose primary objective is to improve people’s lives somehow meant that I was achieving everything I needed to be achieving, and that as long as I continued to devote everything to staying in this career path, I was doing my part to help the world. It was a mindset that had largely dominated my thoughts and actions throughout college as well – a mindset which centred around the underlying concept of a ‘future,’ of some undefinable yet certain endpoint/life circumstance that I was continually working to attain. Under this delusion, I felt complacent as long as my actions were leading towards this ‘future’, knowing that it all was for the purpose of placing myself in the best position to do something good for the world.

But it was just that: a delusion. I’ve found that it is possible to be selfish even in a career centered around selfless motives, or to lose focus of what my ultimate spiritual purpose in life is by focusing too much on the self-defined goals and objectives for my material life that I deem as ‘good enough’ by way of serving others. It is in the shortness of life and the shining example of those who have ascended to the spiritual realm (as well as the countless living examples I see each day) that I am reminded of how necessary it is to make each day count – not simply by going to work each day at a place that helps to improve the material well being of others, but by striving to make sure that whatever work I am doing, it is done with a heart full of love, a joyful and prayerful spirit, and a mind always centered on the well-being of others. And to never allow myself to feel complacent in any single action, but to strive towards a life in which all my thoughts and actions become manifestations of love and selflessness. While I have an extremely long way to go, I think it is important to at least articulate, and remind myself that a career goal should never become a life goal in itself.

“Assist the world of humanity as much as possible. Be the source of consolation to every sad one, assist every weak one, be helpful to every indigent one, care for every sick one, be the cause of glorification to every lowly one, and shelter those who are overshadowed by fear.
In brief, let each one of you be as a lamp shining forth with the light of the virtues of the world of humanity. Be trustworthy, sincere, affectionate and replete with chastity. Be illumined, be spiritual, be divine, be glorious, be quickened of God, be a Bahá’í.”

And in working towards this ultimate goal, I hope that my actions can convey the gratitude that I feel towards those who have touched my lives so deeply through their radiant spirits, not so much through our minimal interactions, but simply through the beautiful examples of love they showed in the world.

March Travel Adventures. Part 1 – Uganda

This is one of those times where I force myself to blog against my will. Not because I have nothing to blog about but because there is just way too many things and I can’t even begin to decide which are the most worth mentioning. But, so I won’t hate myself for it later when I have no recollection of the things I’ve done this past month (since I’ve discovered that I don’t have that thing that most people have [a memory] and I only remember things that I write down..but like actually. it’s kind of a problem), I will attempt to record at least something – as haphazard and un-elegant as it may be (and it will be. so deal with it. it might also involve a lot of parentheses. you’ve been warned):

So March was an interesting month. It started with a 3-day, fully-paid-for (did I mention how much I love my fellowship programme) retreat to Jinja, Uganda which basically packed in like a year’s worth of deep conversations, good feels, and life reflections into the tiniest time-span possible. It was truly impressive. …like probably good enough to be ranked in my top 15 favorite moments in life.

And you know what, as one of my top 15 life moments (even though I completely just made up that number and I can’t actually think of 15 life moments just in general), I probably should at least mention some of the reasons. The first would of course be the other fellows. Each time I’m around any of them – which is not very often since we are all in different countries – I am just overcome with feelings of awe: Awe that there can be so many incredible yet humble people with so much passion for what they do. Awe that I can so easily relate to people who I barely know and constantly forget the fact that I barely know them. Awe that being around people who make me feel inferior can somehow simultaneously make me feel more confident in myself…like seriously, it is just so much awe that half the time I’ll be in the middle of talking to another fellow and realize I’m barely even listening to what they’re saying because I can’t stop thinking about how in awe I am (yeah, I should probably work on my listening skills).

The other reason I loved the retreat was in its ability to make the most-cheesy-seeming activities some of the most profound and memorable sources of insight. Take, for example, the skit. Probably the cheesiest form of lesson-conveying known to man. And yet, the skits we did on the ‘challenges of international development’ were some of the most scarily accurate representations of troublesome aspects of development that you could imagine. And since then, I’ve several times found myself in situations unable to control the laughter in my head as I realized how much my actual real-life situation resembled those skits. I guess it’s just helped me become more aware of the ridiculousness of a lot of things, some of which you can’t easily control or change, and maybe even come to find the humour in some of it (where appropriate of course)…if nothing else, so that you don’t go crazy from trying to work in a field where you will inevitably be faced with plenty of absurdities and frustrations as a result of the way most of the world still views things like aid and development.

Every conversation I had that weekend yielded some interesting new insight from the really diverse work and living experiences of the other fellows. Most were conversations that could have (and should have) gone on for many more hours…or days…but I am so grateful that our programme understood the value in that kind of meet-up and made it happen.

…and that they made it happen in this place:

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Then.

Kampala for a day.

I figured since I was already going to be in that part of the continent, I might as well take a few extra leave days and do some traveling. It was the kind of traveling where almost nothing was planned out beforehand (believe me, I tried to plan things. but there’s only so much that google can tell you about about where to stay and how to get around a lot of these places. unless you’re rich and fancy), so I took it as an opportunity to embrace my ‘adventurous’ side. Luckily, it was also one of those trips where everything just seemed to fall perfectly into place…so much so that even when things went wrong, they ended up being kind of perfect in their own way. For instance, in Kampala, one of the things at the top of my to-do list was to see the Baha’i House of Worship (there’s one on each continent and the one for Africa is in Kampala). Fortunately, two other fellows decided to join me. Which was awesome. Because it turns out that it’s extremely hard to find…despite being all the way on top of a hill and clearly visible from a distance. We decided to take moto taxis and, being only my second time to ever be on a moto, I was still in that phase of clutching and clenching everything as tightly as possible, not yet having realized that sitting like a normal person actually doesn’t cause you to fall off the bike. Of course, our bikes first took us to a mosque. Not exactly the Baha’i temple. On the second attempt, they decided to to go off the main route and drive through a neighbourhood with no real roads, using uphill as their only real directional indicator to get to the temple. Didn’t work so much.

With a sore butt from the long, bumpy [but albeit, kind of scenic and lovely] drive and some minor leg scratches (from our slow-motion fall backwards off the bike when our driver had a little too much confidence in his moto to make it up the steep slope near the top), we did finally make it to the temple. And it was so completely worth it. I’ve been a Baha’i all my life and I just happened to go to school right next to the temple for North America – which is in Wilmette, Illinois – and I’d seen pictures of this temple before, which made seeing it in person just such a wonderfully strange feeling. It felt so familiar and foreign all at the same time, which is kind of also one of my favorite feelings at the Baha’i Faith in general. As a religion which promotes the oneness of humanity, there is always this sense of familiarity with the new Baha’is I meet or activities I see, regardless of where I am in the world – that knowledge in talking to the other person that there is a strong bond of unity in your vision of the world but also so much uniqueness in your backgrounds and the ways you see the world. Or that sense of recognition in the common purpose and spirit behind any devotional gatherings, fireside, or children’s class you see in any part of the world but the very different cultural traditions incorporated into each activity depending on where you are and who you’re with, highlighting the beautiful diversity of the religion.

In any case, not as good in picture-form, but just to give a little taste (and you didn’t even have to struggle your way up a hill to see it. you’re welcome):

 

After Kampala, another fellow and I were off to Kigali – for the even less-planned-out part of our trip. This, again, was mainly because googling things to do in Rwanda yields the saddest, most boring results ever…unless you want to pay $750 to hang out with gorillas. And Rwanda is not a boring place (..it could also be that I’m just really bad at googling). So, I once again decided to embrace the spirit of ‘adventure’ in my Rwanda travels (really just a euphemism for I don’t have a f*** what I’m doing but whatever).

Either way, as we neared the end of our surprisingly fast 9-hour overnight journey to the land of a thousand hills, I knew from the moment I was jolted awake at the border and groggily stumbled off our absurd country-music-playing bus into the cool, misty morning air, my eyes greeted with the most refreshing backdrop of vibrant green hills (behind the not-so-scenic border control office), that I had made the right choice of vacation destination. It was love at first sight. Not even the fact that I hadn’t peed in 10 hours and couldn’t use the one available bathroom at the border because it cost a fee, or the fact that the baggage inspectors confiscated the majority of my beloved plastic bags (plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda…kind of really cool from an environmental perspective. but also kind of annoying if you were using plastic bags to organize the contents of your bags while traveling), could diminish the instant love I felt for this beautiful country.

To be continued….

(just decided to split this post into multiple parts. because I’m tired of writing. and because there’s a lot to say.)

More of this to come in the next post:

Youth Can Move the World (but like, actually)

Two weeks ago I spent three inspiring, exhausting, chilly Spring days in dust-filled tents cozily squeezed in beside  over 1,000 other youth between the ages of 15 and 30 who came from all over parts of South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Seychelles for no other purpose than to discuss how to make the world a better place. Daunted by how to even describe the full power of such an event in a blog post afterwards (and further postponed by getting sick after the conference and having little desire to do anything but sit in my bed and watch Friends for a week), I’ve finally decided to at least attempt to convey a tiny glimpse into the amazingness that was the Johannesburg Baha’i Youth Conference. To keep it simple, I’ve decided to present the reasons for its amazingness in list form:

Reason #1: Unity

This one is probably the single most incredible underlying factor in everything we did at the conference, including the existence of the conference itself. As I think I mentioned in my previous post, this conference was one of 114 youth conferences that have happened/are happening all over the word all for the same exact purpose of figuring out how as youth we can best render service to mankind and learn how to better support each other in our community-building activities. It was a historic event in many ways, as it is the first time the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Baha’is that provides guidance to Baha’i communities globally, has called for such conferences to take place around the world specifically focusing on youth. Likewise, the immensely positive response to the Universal House of Justice, in which tens of thousands of youth, Baha’i and otherwise, have gathered together in their respective parts of the globe reveals the vast scope of the occasion. From big, well-known cities like Chicago and Paris to far-off, less well-known ones like Port Moresby,Papua New Guinea and Antananarivo, Madagascar, it is incredible to fathom that the youth in every single one of these places came together as a result of the same set of guidance from the Universal House of Justice in Israel, inspired by one common vision of service to humanity, all to discuss similar themes and help each other in going on to transform their words into actions. Sitting among the diverse group of youth at the Johannesburg conference, I couldn’t help but feel inspired not only by the energetic group of people around me, but also by the ever-present thought in the back of my mind of the even wider family of youth I knew were joining us in every other corner of the globe.

Reason #2: Diversity

obligatory spontaneous jam sesh

the [stereotypical but necessary] spontaneous jam sesh

I know I just kind of implied this one with the unity stuff, but I don’t just mean diversity in a geographical or cultural sense (although, making new friends from Saudi Arabia, Australia, Italy, South Africa, and Swaziland all in one weekend was pretty awesome), but also in terms of people’s lifestyles and even economic background.  People always talk about the evident segregation that often exists between racial groups whether in the U.S. or here in South Africa, but I feel like an equally common form of segregation that is less often discussed are those based on different economic circumstances. Especially in Joburg, where crime is a huge issue and the most dangerous areas also tend to be the least economically well-off ones, the divide becomes even deeper when people remain confined to their nice, gated communities. The thing I liked about the conference was that some youth had a lot of money, some had barely any, and none of this seemed to matter in any way. It was just another opportunity to learn from people’s experiences and gain a better awareness of the different kinds of struggles people have had to face in their lives.

Reason #3: Hope

This is a big one. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even describe the number of times I’ve had people say to me, “Why bother trying to make the world a better place. No matter how much you try to fix things, in the end, people just suck and nothing will really change. There will always be war. There will always be hatred. You can never have world peace and a unified world. All you can do is make the most of your own life and do what’s best for you.” (okay, this is a compilation of what people have said. No one has said all of this at once, but you get the point.) Not to mention the interesting reaction I often encounter when describing the Baha’i Faith to people and its central purpose of unifying mankind: “Is it a hippy religion?” ….What is it about the prospect of a unified world in the future that is so unimaginable to people? Okay, I mean I guess looking at the current state of things, I could understand people’s pessimism, but I think if people actually took a second to look at the seeds of unity and change that have taken root all over the world, and particularly in the mindsets and actions of today’s youth, it would be impossible to ignore the vast potential there. That is why an event like this conference is so important. I wish that every single person with an ounce of pessimism in their hearts and vision of doubt about the good in the world in their minds could have witnessed this incredible gathering of youth. I wish they could have seen all of the high-school aged youth, even the ones in their beanies and skinny jeans and ‘yeah, I’m cool cuz I rap and wear sunglasses at night’-facades (I particularly enjoyed the rapper kid who came up to me to complement me on my American accent and inquire into how he can get one), voluntarily spending their weekend studying passages about service and making plans to teach children and start groups for younger youth in their communities. These same youth, who much of our society still glances at and brushes off as materialistic, apathetic, and self-centered beings, are capable of initiating so much change in the world when simply given a bit of direction and encouragement.

And I wish everyone could have witnessed those beautiful moments in the tents when, filled to capacity with youth of all ages and colors, they would fill with the sound of a thousand voices in any number of accents proclaiming their joy for life through a Zulu or Portuguese or English song about the oneness of mankind against the backdrop of pounding drums and clapping hands, accompanied by swaying hips and a contagious energy that manifested itself in vibrant dancing.  If anyone with doubts about the possibility of a future global civilization characterized by love and unity felt the spirit in those tents at such moments and gazed upon the sea of youthful faces  expressing such joy, I guarantee, at least for that moment, that their doubts would be dispelled. And, in their place, a new sentiment would take hold – one powerful enough to inspire them to think beyond their own limitations and feel compelled to join in the efforts towards the creation of such a world civilization: hope.

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Reason #4: The Power of Youth

And of course, as a final amazingness reason, I cannot fail to mention the one that was kind of the central theme of the entire conference: youth. So many people talk about how important “the youth” are and how they are “our future” and how it is so important to educate them and guide them on the right path and all that other good stuff, which is all completely good and true, but how often does society actually look to the youth themselves for guidance? (and I apologize for my use of the word ‘society’ btw…I realize it’s an awful vague and cliché term that doesn’t really mean anything in itself but I can’t think of a better one at the moment). Like really, think of all the obnoxious jokes that go around about the “millennials” for instance and how lazy and privileged they are. I know that most people don’t actually subscribe to such ridiculous generalizations that attempt to characterize and pass judgement on an entire generation of people, but nonetheless, such stereotypes about today’s youth still seem to influence a lot of the way we’re treated (in school, in the workplace, in general). One thing that is so inspiring to me as a Baha’i is the absolutely vital and central role that youth play in the progress of the Faith, and really, in the progress of mankind. One of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, the Báb (who foretold the coming of the founder, Baha’u’llah) was in fact only twenty five when He delivered his message to the world. Countless other youth became some of the first Baha’is and even sacrificed their lives alongside the Báb all to spread His teachings. They were the ones who enabled the Baha’i Faith to become the amazing and ever-growing world religion that it is today, and it is their example of courage and certitude and sacrifice that lends inspiration to the role of youth in the Faith today.

a game that symbolized something about mutual support

a game that symbolized something about mutual support

A lot of the conference was spent talking about the fact that as youth, we have a special capacity to serve that we may not have at other points in life: we’re at a period where we aren’t necessarily tied down by family or work obligations and don’t have a specific path ahead of us, which in many ways gives us a lot of freedom to devote our thoughts and time towards serving mankind. Another point of discussion, though, was the caution we must take in not having a fragmented approach to life in which we create false choices between things like serving and studying or serving and working — rather, by viewing everything we do in life as an opportunity to provide service to someone, all of our actions naturally become part of our overall efforts towards building a better world. We also have great potential to influence younger youth simply by nature of being older youth. As such, it is imperative that we take hold of this opportunity to work with junior youth and children in our communities to prepare them for lives of service and assist them in their moral and spiritual development.

So, not to go on and on about everything we discussed at the conference, but basically, youth are powerful. Not just powerful in the sense that we can do good things in the world, but powerful in the sense that we are absolutely vital to its transformation. In a sense, it is absolutely terrifying how much power we have — for it implies a huge responsibility and sense of urgency to take action and make the most of this fleeting period of our lives. But, bearing in mind the collective action and unified vision that such a task requires, and realizing the mutual support that comes from the global community of youth working towards the same goals, it is mostly just inspiring.