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Copy-edited by J.W., 2011.

The Application of Bahá'í Principles in a Business Context

by Kirsten Daly

published in 75 Years of the Bahá'í Faith in Australasia
Rosebery: Association for Bahá'í Studies Australia, 1996
The company I run in Sydney is called EQUALS, and was developed by Katina Jones, a Bahá'í in Adelaide. When she presented the concept of the company to a group in Sydney, I felt compelled to investigate, which led to the privilege of being part of a business that was based on the Bahá'í Principles. But back then I didn't realise that these principles would be so crucial in business.

As the business is a training company, I was initially immersed in what the 'competition' was doing and found that there were so many strategies, skills, techniques and 'steps' to business success - and it seemed like 'information overload'! We are all in a time and day of rapid change and ever advancing technology and there seem to be a great many 'supposed' solutions being generated. Where do we start!? Which way shall I head? I compare this 'chaotic' feeling to a tornado. The tornado spins around with chaos, confusion, bits of this and bits of that hurling through space but in the centre of the tornado, there is complete calm. To me, people can get stuck in the spinning chaos of the tornado - spinning chaos of strategies, skills, techniques and steps - and lose sight of the centre. To me the centre represents the spiritual base that we need to remain focused on, otherwise we can easily lose sight of what its all about. So what is it all about?

Abdu'l-Bahá said:

"Today all people are immersed in the world of nature. That is why thou dost see jealousy, greed, the struggle for survival, deception, hypocrisy, tyranny, oppression, disputes, strife, bloodshed, looting and pillaging, which all emanate from the world of nature. Few are those who have been freed from this darkness, who have ascended from the world of nature to the world of man, who have followed the divine teachings, have served the world of humanity, are resplendent, merciful, illumined and like unto a rose garden. Strive thine utmost to become godlike, characterised with His attributes, illumined and merciful, that thou mayest be freed from every bond and become attached at heart to the kingdom of the incomparable Lord. This is Bahá'í bounty, and this is heavenly light."

To "be freed from every bond and become attached at heart to the kingdom" - is the attachment to the still centre of the tornado. Although the centre looks so small compared to the mass of the tornado, it is all-encompassing and I'm sure, eternal. Today I would like to share 3 elements that I have discovered in the centre of the tornado.

One is power (as in personal power). I remember feeling so inadequate when I was first given the opportunity to start EQUALS. Where do I start, what do I do? But this inadequacy was overcome by knowing that I was able to contribute to something that would reflect the spiritual principles of the faith that I so lovingly cherished. This knowing gave me the Power to move forward and to detach myself from this earthly world and turn God. In an article from the book Equal Circles there is a paragraph: "For Bahá'ís and many others, the source of our power comes from our being in touch with our spirituality. 'The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love.' - Bahá'u'lláh." Jo Vellacot, a Quaker, writes, "The people whom I know who live a truly non violent life are in touch with the source of power, call it what you will: the Light, the seed, God, the holy spirit." This power gave me the strength to advance ahead much more quickly than I ever dreamed and to overcome the vast unknown of the business world that I at first let daunt me.

The second element is 'ethics'. This is a strong key to building a solid base. As a new business person, I could have sometimes been so influenced by what the experts say. After all, they've been in it for years and I'm just a spring chicken, new on the block! But by prayer and steadfastness - I thought "No, there have to be ways that have outlasted any living person - and they are the divine laws of ethics". Right from the beginning of time (if there ever was a beginning!) humanity had been given a prescription for living. Before we would have ever dreamed of computers, telephones and an electric light bulb, we were given the gift of ethical principles. An example from more than a thousand years ago was "Love thy neighbour" which alone can transform the world - if it was adhered to. So with the adamant belief that ethics were more potent than 100 experts put together, I decided to conduct my business by pausing and asking "Is this right? is this respectful? is this honest? is this conducted with integrity? is it compassionate?"

And through this strategy Katina Jones laid the foundations of the business that included a prescription to help me build the business here in Sydney. I also found that it gave me the keys to designing advertising material, letters to customers, ways of addressing the audience in public speaking, training material, requirements of trainers etc... Some people said that I had a gift in writing and relating, but I recognised the true source. So if we pause and think "Is this Ethical?" we can build a solid foundation for our business dealings. Now, I don't believe that I can end this matter here as I feel that the word 'ethics' in business is being misused. It is becoming such a well used common word, but 'words' are much easier said than done. I love the Bahá'í ethics as they are explicit in their meaning. An example from Bahá'u'lláh in the Hidden Words leaves me in awe: "He whose words exceeds his deeds, knows verily his death is better than his life". Wow! I dream of what it would be like if every business's deeds were a reflection of their words. By choosing to be a Bahá'í, I have committed to whole-heartedly follow the teachings as best I can.

And the third element enkindles a burning flame of determination in my heart as I aim for not only an outcome today, but see that my 'deeds' are contributing to an all-glorious future. The purpose of the coming of the new prophet Bahá'u'lláh is to take humanity to the most important stage of ... World Peace. In my dealings with many individuals, I have come to a belief that every human being needs to have purpose, needs to feel self-worth and that their life is something of value. By being given the opportunity to contribute to such an almighty task, I am enkindled with a drive that overcomes any feelings of inadequacy. But the value of this is not for this purpose alone as each principle that will ensure world peace, has a potency that gives life to business. EQUALS has incorporated their fundamental principles (Bahá'í Principles) as follows:

  • Education must be made available to all. Seeing it as a right not a privilege
  • Equal opportunities, rights and privileges for men and women
  • All prejudices of colour, nation, creed and class, which now divide people, to be systematically eliminated
  • Oneness of Humanity. Unity in Diversity
  • Independent search for truth, free from prejudices born of custom and tradition
  • Extremes of wealth and poverty must be eliminated

Some people, when they find that these are our fundamental principles, think that we are a bit idealistic, but why not aim for the stars - even if we only reach the moon.

There is a pendulum that, when balanced perfectly, I'm sure, grants true success. And that is the pendulum balance of 'Detachment' and 'Worldly Growth'. What I love mostly about the Bahá'í principles is that we must balance the two. We are not 'airy fairy, wishy washy' people that talk only about love and peace - but we also strive to learn 'Worldly Growth' (I'm sure that this could be so that we can then talk about Love and Peace in 'layman's terms'!). Abdu'l-Bahá said "There are certain pillars which have been established as the unshakeable supports of the Faith of God. The mightiest of these is learning and the use of the mind, the expansion of consciousness, and insight into the realities of the universe and the hidden mysteries of Almighty God. To promote knowledge is thus an inescapable duty imposed on every one of the friends of God." So we must not only look to the centre of the tornado, we must use that as a base to explore the tornado and discover the realities of this world. If this balance was not made clear, I could see how it would be so easy to lose sight of one and be lost in the other. We can witness the imbalance of 'Detachment' and 'Worldly Growth' in the world and also witness it quite vividly in the business world. An example is that, despite the steady growth of technology, individuals are still in such disunity in the workforce. I cannot say that I have attained the perfect balance, but better to busy myself with this task than to swing the pendulum too far in one direction.

By striving to increase our knowledge of "Worldly Growth", I believe that we are more able to convey spiritual principles, evolution of the soul etc. in layman's terms. I at first found it quite difficult, in the business world, to talk about spiritual principles. Close associates who were like-minded, said "Never mention the word 'Spirituality'!" But as Katina Jones so strongly believed when founding EQUALS, this was what people and business were lacking. So I had to take the journey of finding a way to relate it in 'layman's terms'. One very interesting discovery in my search was a Value Model that was formulated by a Psychologist - Clare Graves. In summary it was a model that showed the progression of a human through different stages of core values. It is the perfect 'layman's term' for the evolution of a soul in its journey towards spirituality! I would like to share it with you as a tool and to also help you understand why some people don't understand you if you talk of love, saving the world, peace on earth etc. - the ones that look at you either dumbfounded, in confusion or even sometimes in disapproval!

According to Clare Graves there are 8 'Stations':

1. "Reactives" (their Value is 'Survival'). The only people currently in this category are babies, as the sole Value is to be fed and looked after in order to Survive.

2. "Tribalistic" (their Value is "Safety"). This station is also uncommon in western society as it has a foundation similar to a 'tribe' where all of the members follow a law that has been set by their ancestors. This could sometimes be superstitious and full of dogma. The members of the group do not question any law and rely upon survival by adhering to every thing that is ordered by a chief. The chief has absolute power over all of the members.

3. The third station is the beginning of what we can experience in western society. At this station individuals are "Egocentric" and their Value is 'Power'. This is a station where an individual has found their own identity and has a higher drive of survival of self. This core purpose gives the individual the Value of "Power" as they are solely interested in their own well being. In a business context, this individual may be in a position of 'Power' and exercises it over others, in like manner. To converse or relate to this individual is to come from 'Power' as this is their core Value and they have respect for it. If I was to be submissive to this individual, they wouldn't have any time or respect for me. The key here is that we don't have to address this person with a 'power over others' basis (as they may practice) - but rather a strong 'personal power' basis.

4. "Absolutistic" (their Value is 'Security'). This station has individuals who, as like the "Tribalistic" station, attain security in numbers. Their interest is in their safety so they will be influenced by opportunities to increase it. The dislike of this group is Change - and as witnessed in the business world, these people will resist and be horrified by the thought of new ways as this may jeopardise their security. In sales, benefits are presented on how the product or service will ensure 'Security'.

In teaching the faith, Abdu'l-Bahá said to strive to get to know the ways, traditions and customs of others. If their Value is Security we may need to learn to speak about how something can lead to security as long as it is Truthful.

5. "Achievist (Materialist)" (their Value is 'Reward'). After being in a system that ensured security, an individual may discover that their efforts may not be acknowledged by others, as security can be dependent on following what everyone else is doing, so they may often break this core Value and move on to 'Reward'. At this station the individual becomes an 'individual'. They no longer need to be part of a group as reward may not come as often. An example of these people in a business environment are sales people and entrepreneurs. I heard a corporate trainer relaying his experience of how he motivated an organisation's sales team to achieve phenomenal profit targets. He set an incentive for them that if they made a certain target (much higher than ever before reached) the company would pay for them and a partner to go to a holiday resort for a week. This excited them to no end as it met their core Value of 'Reward'. Some might question why a target close to a million dollars only required an incentive of something that would have cost the company maximum $5,000.

6. The next station may relate well to the 'spiritually' minded. These individuals are "Sociocentric (Save the World)" and their value is 'Community'. After receiving Reward after Reward, the "Materialist" may find that 'stuff' doesn't give long lasting happiness and they are having to exert a lot of energy to maintain it. They may go on a journey in finding what gives a longer lasting feeling of happiness and reach a station that enkindles the sense of 'Community'. This station has individuals who are no longer only interested about their own well being but are starting to see the effects that they as an individual have on the wider community. They begin learning of the injustices that need to be addressed and find satisfaction in helping the 'Community'. Good examples are environmentalists, religious people and/or spiritual people. But one aspect to be aware of is that some 'environmentalists' can actually be "Absolutistic" (Value of Security) as they may find security in following the majority. The 'Save the World' is a station that a lot of well intentioned individuals are at, but a lot of time they do not relate to the individuals that are at stations below them. An example is the mortified reaction of such a person at seeing someone in a BMW while people are dying in Ethiopia of starvation! The sad thing about not being aware of the stations that people are journeying through is that the higher you go the less tolerant you can be of those below.

Now at this point here, I would like to talk about "how is it, that we make someone laugh or make someone smile?" By RELATING to a person they warm to us, they trust us, and naturally put aside any barriers that may come between us. On the other hand, by challenging, accusing and/or judging others. what tends to happen is that their barrier goes straight up and sometimes it is as thick as concrete - there is no way that they'll have a bar of any thing that we say. That's why the principle in the Bahá'í Faith of 'Non Judgement' is so critical as many well intentioned individuals can fall short here.

7. Wanting to save the world is one thing, but how do we do it? The previous station, "Saving the world" doesn't see more than individual efforts as a means to this goal. When an individual moves beyond this to the next level, he or she may start to think "What is a SYSTEM that will create solid long lasting development and support for the community". No longer are they interested in survival of self, no longer are they interested in security, no longer are they influenced by reward and they no longer have time for short spurts of energy towards 'saving the world'. They are interested in a better more long lasting way of 'saving the world'. These individuals can sometimes be quite introverted and their work may be more influential than them as an individual.

When I heard of this station, though, it moved me. We as Bahá'ís have been given the gift of a SYSTEM for living. A SYSTEM for helping to 'Save the world'... It profoundly affected me, when I got to this level of the (what seemed at first 'mildly interesting') model.... as it made me see (even more), the absolute potency and hidden mysteries that the Bahá'í Revelation holds. And that this person, Clare Graves, had hit the nail and had opened the doors of sharing (in 'layman's terms') the potency of principles of 'spirituality'. But not only 'spirituality', because we could all sit and meditate on mountains for years and be very far away from 'saving the world' or in a business context 'achieving success'. The Bahá'í Principles have a SYSTEM that has been delivered to help humanity, and in this case, to help the Business World advance.

After some time in excited thought, I began to become curious of what the next station held? What could be a higher purpose than this?

8. This station was for those individuals who "Die to save the world." Those individuals who gave up their lives for the sake of humanity. The Babis came rushing into my mind. The thousands of pure innocent souls who "Died to save the World". And the core Value of this station is 'Salvation'!

The person who revealed the Clare Graves Model to our group then went on to give examples. He gave the names of "Ghandi", "Jesus Christ", "Martin Luther King" and the like, who sometimes unintentionally took their movements to another level when their lives were taken. Ghandi initiated what seemed an unachievable feat for his people, but he also experienced a 'plateauing' of a previously upward moving movement - and before the decline set in, lost his life... The effects of this enkindled in his people, a drive to then take this movement of freedom for a people to heavenly heights.

It touched my heart to know that I also knew of great heroes. Great people who pioneered the way for a movement that will also create freedom for a people - freedom for humanity, to ascend to heavenly heights. I give thanks to the thousands of Babis who were massacred and tortured... for us.

As I looked back on the journey of the stations of the Clare Graves Model, I saw a way to reach hearts of souls of those travellers that are all on the same path, but just at different levels, to help them on their way to what business would call 'success' but a Bahá'í may call 'A closer presence of God'.

May we all be victorious in our dealings in business, in family, in play, and in life so that we share with our brothers and sisters of humanity - the gift of, some may call, 'Success' and others may call 'A closer presence of God'.

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