The Bahá’í teachings describe the period of youth as “the choicest time of life,” characterized by preparation for a future of active service to humanity. During this period, young people actively search for truth and for values that will guide their future behaviour. The qualities that characterize this period, such as adaptability, vitality, and enthusiasm, equip youth to act for the betterment of society. Indeed, the extent to which youth are prepared to work for the common good bears directly on future social progress. This view of youth contrasts with a more prevalent perspective that they are a static demographic that requires entertainment and pacification. Youth is not simply a social category; it is a phase of life through which everyone passes, presenting unique opportunities for the individual to contribute to social transformation.
We view the process of social transformation as associated with the interrelated efforts of three protagonists: the individual, the community, and the institutions of society. The advancement of each is connected with the others. Youth are frequently viewed as opposed to the society in which they are raised and to the institutions that serve them. Describing youth simply in terms of their material habits as consumers of goods and services, or as a frivolous population in search of the latest source of entertainment, reflects more directly on the character of the society around them than on their true nature. Youth are subjected to powerful social forces that threaten to rob them of their potential to contribute to the advancement of their communities. Indeed, the low expectations set for youth frequently become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Our experience suggests that when young people experience the joy of friendship, collective learning, and service to others, their commitment to processes of social change is strengthened.
In our experience, however, young people are also motivated by deeper interests. They often long to play a meaningful role in society, and to contribute to the world around them. They have a thirst for knowledge, a desire for true friendship, and an attraction to beauty. These sources of motivation are untapped by youth-serving agencies that appeal to more transitory motivations. Our experience suggests that when young people experience the joy of friendship, collective learning, and service to others, their commitment to processes of social change is strengthened. Youth are not “problems” that need to be solved. They are trustees of the community and its institutions; in the future, they will assume responsibility for the affairs of society and should, therefore, be regarded as a group that deserves special care and attention.
Our efforts to contribute to the empowerment of young people are guided by an evolving conceptual framework that views youth not as mere recipients of services, but as protagonists of change in their own right — with the capacity to make a vital contribution to the fortunes of humanity. Our understanding of human nature and human purpose is central to our conceptual framework and propel our actions to promote youth empowerment.
Spiritual development requires action, for it is only through striving to express qualities such as patience, trustworthiness, honour, and love that we are able to truly understand them.
According to the Bahá’í Writings, human beings are created noble, with the latent capacity to reflect spiritual qualities and attributes. As social beings, this capacity is developed through interactions with other people. This perspective leads us to articulate a two-fold human purpose: (1) to nurture one’s own spiritual and intellectual growth, and (2) to contribute to the progress of society. Service to others unites these two dimensions of human purpose. We develop qualities, attitudes, and skills through active, selfless service to others. Indeed, spiritual development requires action, for it is only through striving to express qualities such as patience, trustworthiness, honour, and love that we are able to truly understand them.
We understand empowerment to be related to a process of learning about oneself and one’s ability to contribute to society. It relates to developing a sense of moral purpose.
This understanding of human nature and human purpose informs our efforts to contribute to the empowerment of young people. When we speak of empowerment, we mean something more than individual initiative or leadership. We understand empowerment to be related to a process of learning about oneself and one’s ability to contribute to society. It relates to developing a sense of moral purpose. Gaining knowledge of one’s true nature and innate capacities leads to the empowerment of the individual. We have found through experience that nurturing these capacities empowers youth to develop as individuals and to contribute to the advancement of their communities.
- Thought Piece: “Youth Participation in Decision Making”
- Thought Piece: “Youth, Religion, and Social Change”
- Thought Piece: “Youth Engagement”
- Thought Piece: “The Purpose of Youth Empowerment”
- Submission to the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services on a Resource for Youth Development, 2012
- Submission to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights study on Cyberbullying, 2012
Other areas of focus
The Bahá’í community’s efforts to contribute to social progress include participation in the discourses of society in a range of spaces and venues. Whether as individuals, or in official capacities, Bahá’ís work with others to transform society and further the cause of unity, promote human welfare, and promote greater solidarity. Below are found short perspectives and other resources that reflect the contributions of the Bahá’í community to issues of enduring importance to Canadian society.