My wife and I recently started a junior youth group, which for those who don’t know is just a group of young kids (in our case ages 13-15) studying and discussing spiritual and moral principles based on the Baha’i teachings, with an aim towards putting those principles to work in the form of service. There are a handful of text books from the Ruhi Foundation that junior youth group leaders commonly use, and the one we’re using right now is called Drawing on the Power of the Word, which mostly contains hypothetical stories of ordinary people interacting in different scenarios, followed by snippets from the Baha’i Writings and questions for discussi0n.
The last story we read struck me as pretty remarkable. In it, several individuals are talking about spiritual progress vs material progress and how these related to one another. Let me share with you the dialogue between the characters first before anything:
Antonio: I don’t believe that to be happy you have to be rich. I know many poor people who are happy.
Carlota: My brother is on vacation from the university, and he says that the rich invented the idea of “the happy poor” to keep us content working for them.
Ana Maria: That may be true, but I know that happiness comes from the inside and does not depend on how many things a person owns.
Diego: But still, it sure isn’t much fun to be poor. We should do our best to improve our lives.
Antonio: But we should be happy while we are trying to do this. I want to work hard for myself and for my community, but I also want to feel happy doing it. I used to enjoy spending time with Carlota’s brother, but ever since he started talking about the rich and the poor I don’t like to listen to him. He’s so full of anger.
Roberto: I know that real happiness comes from being close to God and from obedience to His laws.
Diego: That’s true, but we can’t forget that to love God we should love our fellow human beings and help them.
Carlota: And we should remember that obeying the laws of God also means working together to build a better world where people will not be poor anymore.
It is amazing to me how succinctly this simple dialogue explains something so profound: That the purpose of life is nearness to God, but in order to gain that nearness here on earth one must help others to avoid material misery. In one breath Baha’u’llah tells us that the “world is but a show, vain and empty, bearing the semblance of reality”, and in another tells us that the “beginning of magnanimity is when man expendeth his wealth on himself, on his family and on the poor among his brethren in his Faith”.
The other amazing thing is how quickly our kids got it. There was no phony intellectualism, just an honest conversation that had more depth than most university classroom discussions I have been a part of. It’s funny how rarely we ask questions like “Does being poor or rich make a difference in one’s happiness?”, “Is it sinful to be rich?”, or “Is it commendable to be poor?”, even as adults. Young people are ready, perhaps even more so than fully formed adults, to think openly about these ideas. Let’s get cracking.