Three Protagonists Generating the Future: Individual, Community and Institutions

individual, community and institutions

The title to this article draws on a concept described in letters of the Universal House of Justice to the Baha’i community – that there are three protagonists (three actors): individual, community and institutions; from whose interactions the future emerges. In the previous three articles we have examined Bahá’u’lláh’s reforms to religious institutions, the kind of community life the Baha’i community is working to foster and the role of the individual.

Working towards a new relationship between these three actors is connected with Bahá’u’lláh’s vision both of the time in which we live (the era of human maturity) and his vision of the oneness of humanity.

The increasing difficulty in the relationship between these three actors is implicated in the problems of the world. We can see this in how prejudice, hatred and exclusion can divide communities and feed violence and war; how abuse of institutional power undermines confidence, drives oppression and human suffering and fosters political conflict; how the individual, without a sufficient consciousness of the common good and well-being of others, can become a source of harm to their fellow human beings. The problems are so deep that many feel little hope for the future.

The problems of the world will not find solution without the reform of all three of these actors – as well as the emergence of new patterns in their mutual interaction.

In one sense, members of the Baha’i community can be described as a body of people striving to translate Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings into reality and action. Learning to generate a mature relationship between these three actors is one of the areas of learning which Baha’is are engaged.

It is striking that Bahá’u’lláh proposes the same goal for individual and institutions: fostering collective human well-being. Such a common goal would seem essential for bringing human beings together.

In 2012, the Universal House of Justice described the emerging pattern in the Baha’i community:

… relations among the three corresponding actors in the world at large—the citizen, the body politic, and the institutions of society—reflect the discord that characterizes humanity’s turbulent stage of transition. Unwilling to act as interdependent parts of an organic whole, they are locked in a struggle for power which ultimately proves futile. How very different the society which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in unnumbered Tablets and talks, depicts—where everyday interactions, as much as the relations of states, are shaped by consciousness of the oneness of humankind. Relationships imbued with this consciousness are being cultivated by Bahá’ís and their friends in villages and neighbourhoods across the world; from them can be detected the pure fragrances of reciprocity and cooperation, of concord and love. Within such unassuming settings, a visible alternative to society’s familiar strife is emerging. So it becomes apparent that the individual who wishes to exercise self-expression responsibly participates thoughtfully in consultation devoted to the common good and spurns the temptation to insist on personal opinion; a Bahá’í institution, appreciating the need for coordinated action channelled toward fruitful ends, aims not to control but to nurture and encourage; the community that is to take charge of its own development recognizes an invaluable asset in the unity afforded through whole-hearted engagement in the plans devised by the institutions. Under the influence of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, the relationships among these three are being endowed with new warmth, new life; in aggregate, they constitute a matrix within which a world spiritual civilization, bearing the imprint of divine inspiration, gradually matures.

The light of the Revelation is destined to illumine every sphere of endeavour; in each, the relationships that sustain society are to be recast; in each, the world seeks examples of how human beings should be to one another. … Humanity is weary for want of a pattern of life to which to aspire; we look to you to foster communities whose ways will give hope to the world.[1]

This is the challenge facing all who share this vision.


(This article is the 68th in a series of what I hope will be 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017, The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.)

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