Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 3

Yesterday, as you know, I wrote a little bit about the phrase "rectitude of conduct" which we found in paragraph 5 of the recent message from the Universal House of Justice, dated 1 March 2017.

Today I'm going to continue to look at paragraphs 5 - 8, which I think of as the heart of this letter.

So, moving on from "rectitude of conduct", we see the phrase "every choice... leaves a trace". This is something that many people in the world today have either forgotten about, or are so inoculated against it from their time spent on the internet that they no longer consider it relevant. But nevertheless, it's true. And while we may not always be able to determine the extent of that trace, or the impact of it, there are still certain parts of it that we can control.

What do I mean by that? Well, let's consider. In the past couple of articles I mentioned the idea of buying bananas and fair trade. I also mentioned the highly questionable practice of using prisoners incarcerated at privately owned prisons to make various things such as clothing. The more we look into it, the more we can see heinous practices in many different businesses all over the world, from child slave labour being forced to harvest the cocoa for some of the big chocolate companies to the blood-diamond trade, not to mention in the development of many other commodities all over the planet. When we consider environmental costs, the list becomes unmanageable for a blog such as this.

Still, we can continue to educate ourselves, and see what alternatives we have with our purchases.

Another aspect of this is the way in which we invest our money. When my wife and I began to look at investments, we discovered a few highly disturbing things. First, we learned that we get a much better tax break by investing our money in the stock market than we do by giving our money to charity. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. When we began to look into established portfolios, it was almost impossible to find one that didn't heavily invest in either cigarettes or oil. The more we looked into these portfolios, the less we wanted to invest. Of course, we could have just tossed our money there, hoping to cash in and make as much moola as we could, but we chose not to. We were not willing to sacrifice our ideals just to make a bit more cash. Now, we may be less well off financially for this decision, and having our own difficult time to see how I can open a retail store for my work, but it's worth it. We can hold our heads high, in satisfaction with how we are living our life, and we can sleep well at night. Well, we would, except that we have a cat who likes to come in our room and jump on our bed at 3 am, but that's another thing entirely.

Anyways, back to paragraph 5.

These are just a few of the ways that our personal life is affected by holding to a moral standard in our economic life.

In our community, though, it plays out a bit differently. At holy days, for example, we are trying to help educate our community to not use styrofoam cups, or other disposable items. And you know what? It has worked. It's been a few years since I've seen throw away items like that at a holy day celebration. You see how this could grow? As more and more of us become more aware of the implications of the teachings on the environment, these decisions will reflect it.

At a recent meeting for the celebration of Naw Ruz, it was decided to spend a bit more money on a better quality cake than to go the cheaper route for one that was less healthy and more filled with questionable ingredients. I love it. And really, this is only scratching the surface. "Such efforts", though, we are promised, "will add to a growing storehouse of knowledge in this regard."

Moving on to paragraph 6, we find that a "foundational concept to explore in this context is the spiritual reality of man". When thinking about this, we can remember all the myriad people who are involved in the various commodities that we purchase, from the cashier that sells it to us, all the way back through to the farmer or miner who started the whole process of production. Aside from generally being nice to the cashier and treating them with respect, just because we can see them right there in front of us, we should also remember the family of the farmer, or the miner and his health. We may never meet them, but they are still a real human being, spiritual in nature and worthy of respect. Many times over the years I have commented that I don't think the insertion of various attributes of God in the Writings is accidental, that they are actually there to call to mind those attributes within us. Here I think it is the same. The Universal House of Justice has invoked the names "the Compassionate, the Bestower, the Bountiful", and aren't these the same qualities that they are asking us to be aware of within ourselves as we prepare to deal with questions of economics? Aren't these what we should show forth every time we encounter someone? When we purchase something?

I could easily go on at length about this, and the further attributes they mention after this, such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, generosity, and so forth, but I'll let you meditate on them yourself. Otherwise this will become wearisome, I am sure.

The last point for today comes in paragraph 7. We are reminded to engage in an occupation, a trade or a craft. Baha'u'llah, here, does not give preference to any one over the other, except perhaps in the order in which He states them, so we, too, should not denigrate any of them. Over the years I have had many people tell me, explicitly or by implication, that since I am a self-employed artist, I must not be working. Or that since I am not overly concerned about making as much money as I can, since I don't buy tons of stuff, I must be on welfare of some sort. Oh, and of those who say or imply things like this, a number of them are Baha'i. So, I'm just curious, why do some of us feel that being an artist is somehow less than, say, being a garbage collector? And yes, I know this is not the norm, but it's happened often enough that I feel it important to raise the point. I am earning a living through my craft. I am not a burden to others. And I am able to give some to the poor, and help others, even though I may not have a lot myself.

It doesn't really make that much of a difference what you do for a living, as long as you are contributing to the advancement of society. Whether it is through your actual vocation, or in your voluntary time, we can all help others advance. Perhaps a scientist who makes a major discovery will be able to help advance more than the physio-therapist, or the gas station attendant, but all are able to lend their share.

Remember, there is no shame in being poor, especially if you are exerting yourself. And we are also told that there is no shame in wealth either, to cover the other extreme. Just as I've heard it said that one end of the spectrum is bad, so have I heard the same about the other end of that spectrum.

Wealth is fine, just as long as it doesn't come between us and God. We're even told that wealth earned by your own efforts, and the grace of God, is highly praiseworthy, but that comes with a caveat. It is only praiseworthy in the highest degree if it is expended for philanthropic purposes, and not at the expense of others. All should be made wealthy by our efforts.

But now we're getting into the section on the Right of God, and that will take up a lot more time and wordage. For now, I need to get out and walk a bit. More on this over the next couple of days.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting analysis Mead. I agree it's worth emphasizing that one can contribute to the betterment and advancement of humanity no matter what their occupation, even if that occupation is unconventional or not highly paid.

    Also, I wanted to ask what you mean by your comment on receiving a larger tax break for investing when compared with donating. Based on what I've read, it seems Canada has one of the most generous systems for donation tax credits in the world.

    Lastly, I wanted to point out that there are a few different investment funds that track an index of companies that meet some sort of criteria for social good, or at least cut out companies in unpalatable industries or those which have been shown publicly to have unethical practices.