What is Prosperity?

River flowing over rocks
Photo by Moyan_Brenn

On April 24, a group of us got together to dive deeper into what it takes to build a vision for the prosperity of all humankind. This time we explored the whole concept of prosperity itself, using several different approaches.


Stories of Prosperity

First, we shared insights and stories about prosperity from our own experiences and traditions we admire:

  • When I had means, all the bells and whistles, I was not motivated to be grateful for any of it until I lost it all. Losing money (which represents security) can either make a person bitter, resentful, etc. or force one to become clever and allow for spirit to trust that all will be ok. I am grateful I did the latter and I am amazed at how money (an energy) comes just when I need it—Great Mystery is good!

  • In Belize, people were very poor. That’s not unique—there are thousands of stories of people who are poor and who are willing to share. But these people were happy. I asked if they wanted to go to the United States. They said, “No. That would be a terrible idea. We wouldn’t want to leave here.”

  • In Bali, we worked with the owner of a small batik factory. The workers lived there on the factory compound. The factory owner actually helped the head worker to buy his own home. This was a Christian family who owned the factory and they had Hindu and Muslim workers. They would close the factory on Friday afternoons for the Muslims to go to prayer. They would honor Hindu observances. And they were family. We asked about going to the United States and just got a blank look: “Why would we leave here?” We were so welcomed, welcomed into the family.

  • The way I experience prosperity is by trying to recognize confirmations in my life. I started developing this desire of really wanting to serve. I realized that would take me away from my family. They are still pretty new in this country—two years here. But I have this friend who comes and visits my parents in their home. They are most of the time at home and depression is a very common thing, especially at their age. They came to this country at a late stage in their lives and had to deal with the language barrier and social pressures. I, as a youth, coming to this country from Iran, it was so much easier for me to adapt. I don’t know how to thank these people who have helped me, except to be more motivated to serve more. It brings so much hope and joy to the heart to recognize the confirmations and be grateful. That’s how I experience prosperity.

  • At our local grade school, one of the secretaries had a birthday. She was turning 50. The students found out about it and wanted to surprise her. She was the playground teacher that day, so at recess, the students organized themselves and got all the kids over to one spot on the playground. Then they sent someone over to get Mrs. K. “Hurry, there’s an emergency, a kid is hurt!” She came running over and the kids all sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

  • There’s an old Algonquin tale called The Rough-Face Girl, about a family who lived in a village on the shores of Lake Ontario. The two older sisters were proud and beautiful. The younger sister had to tend the fire and the sparks fell on her and scarred her skin and charred her hair. She was laughed at because she was so ugly and they called her the Rough-Face Girl. In that village there lived an Invisible Being who was supposedly handsome and rich. The two older sisters decided they wanted marry him, so dressed in their finest clothes and went to the teepee of the Invisible Being. There they met his sister who could see into people’s hearts, and who tested them to see if they had seen him. They failed to answer her questions correctly and were sent home. The Rough-Faced Girl decided to to meet the Invisible Being, because everywhere she looked she saw his face. So she went, dressed in a bark dress and old shoes to the teepee he shared with his sister. When the sister asked what was his bow made of, she replied, “The beautiful arc of the rainbow.” She asked, “What is the runner of his sled made of?” The Rough-Face Girl replied, “The Milky Way of stars in the sky.” And so she was seated in the wife’s place, next to the entrance. That night when the Invisible Being came home, he said to his sister, “We have been found out. And oh, is she beautiful!” The sister led the Rough-Face Girl to the lake to bathe in the water and the scars healed and her hair grew in glossy and black. Then everyone could see she was indeed beautiful. But the Invisible Being and his sister had seen that from the start. They married and they lived happily ever after. This one of my favorite stories—that sense of prosperity being our spiritual awareness and our spiritual understanding and our spiritual being. That connection with the divine is our wealth.

  • On NPR, there was a story about a white guy from California who had gone to Ethiopia. He was beaten up in an alley and his computer was stolen. A very frightening experience. Sometime later, this guy whom he assumed was the thief, started emailing him, wanting to be friends. He ignored him for awhile, but finally responded and the Ethiopian guy gives him a fake name, but wants to be friends. NPR talked to both people, so they are both telling the story at the same time. The white American guy was still pretty nervous about talking to the Ethiopian guy. And the Ethiopian guy really wants to be friends. Finally the American decides to stop writing – this is ridiculous and dangerous. The American got a fellowship to teach at M.I.T. The Ethiopian asked “Why did you stop writing to me? We’re friends now.” “No you’re not, you stole the computer.” The Ethiopian explains that in his country it’s impossible to go to school without a computer. He bought this computer. He knew they’d stolen it, but he had no choice because he’d been in the same situation and his own computer had been stolen. They tell the whole story so you don’t know if this man was the thief or not. But he knew he could still get in trouble, which is why he gave the fake name. But he wasn’t interested in money, which was what the American professor was fearful of. But what he really wanted was an education. He was writing to ask him to help him get his education. So the American sends the questions for his class to the Ethiopian and he answers all of them. Actually he’s the only student who did. The Ethiopian is his best student and he ends up helping him come to the United States to study. The Ethiopian said, “We never had any money. But we had the stars.” He wanted to study the stars, become an astronomer. Listen to the whole story on NPR: Across Continents: A Stolen Laptop, An Ominous Email, And a Big Risk.

  • In the movie Tomorrowland, they tell the story of the two wolves. One represents darkness and despair and the other represents light and hope. These two wolves are always fighting, fighting. Which one wins? The one you feed.

  • There’s a Persian poem about the inner wolf. How each of us has a wolf inside us. It depends on what we feed it.

Quote on Prosperity

Then we studied a quote from The Prosperity of Humankind (1995, Baha’i International Community):

The turmoil now convulsing human affairs is unprecedented, and many of its consequences enormously destructive. Dangers unimagined in all history gather around a distracted humanity. The greatest error that the world’s leadership could make at this juncture, however, would be to allow the crisis to cast doubt on the ultimate outcome of the process that is occurring. A world is passing away and a new one is struggling to be born. The habits, attitudes, and institutions that have accumulated over the centuries are being subjected to tests that are as necessary to human development as they are inescapable. What is required of the peoples of the world is a measure of faith and resolve to match the enormous energies with which the Creator of all things has endowed this spiritual springtime of the race. “Be united in counsel,” is Bahá’u’lláh’s appeal, "be one in thought. May each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday. Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches. Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion. Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavors be spent in promoting your personal interest. Be generous in your days of plenty, and be patient in the hour of loss. Adversity is followed by success and rejoicings follow woe. Guard against idleness and sloth, and cling unto that which profiteth mankind, whether young or old, whether high or low. Beware lest ye sow tares of dissension among men or plant thorns of doubt in pure and radiant hearts.”

Images of Prosperity


White board with post-it notes and images about "What is Prosperity?"

Next, we played with some nonverbal means to explore the idea of prosperity further. We each chose a color that represents prosperity to us, chose a symbol of prosperity and drew a sketch of what prosperity looks like. Here’s what we came up with, and the insights that emerged as well.

  • Green = prosperity, ocean of wealth

  • Humanity = our greatest resource. When you want to solve a problem, call an expert. The more people you know, the more knowledge you have access to. We haven’t really tapped our greatest resource.

  • We haven’t learn to function as a planet yet. We sometimes function maybe as a community.

  • Bridges out of Poverty, by Ruby Kay Paine, a brilliant and troubling book. It explains how as we gain wealth, we are less likely to rely on other people because we don’t need to. For instance, when we travel, we stay at a hotel, rather than a friend’s house. The solutions it offers aren’t spiritually-based, but it has really useful insights. Maybe we could think of other solutions.

  • The more material wealth we have, the less we rely on people, so the more “people poverty” we have – we become poorer in human connection.

  • White and black = Wanted to represent light, but didn’t know how to. Light is not yellow. Also, prosperity is not always positive. Sometimes we are moving out of the darkness into light.

  • Fruitful tree = the seed has latent potential. Some seeds have potential, but not exposed to proper environment, so can’t become a fruitful tree. Need equal opportunity for all potential to grow. Even the tree, when it’s not a tree anymore, it’s still useful as wood.

  • Have a lot of friends who don’t have a religion, but they believe in love and humanity. Prosperity is living in a harmonized, united world.

  • “Be united in counsel…” Unity is a very deep concept.

  • Blue = prosperity because it’s like the ocean.

  • Ocean = abundant, covers most of the earth.

  • Unity = prosperity.

  • Green = growth, fertility, expanding

  • Tree (oak) = broad umbrella, roots go down, tree is big canopy

  • Unity, love and unity of humankind.

Words, Questions and Metaphors


At the beginning of the discussion, we each wrote down three words about prosperity, two questions we had and one metaphor for prosperity. At the end of the session, we did the same thing. Then we compared the lists.


Words

Before

After

Sharing, reciprocity, fulfillment

Fulfillment, participation, unity

Selfless service, joy, coherent life

Unity, love, gratitude

Abundance, fulfilling, freeing

Unity, hope, detachment / contentment

Human beings, financial wealth, health, the earth

Humanity, financial wealth, health (spiritual & physical)


Questions

Before

After

What are the obstacles to prosperity?

How will we interact when there’s prosperity for all?

How will the world look/operate when we have prosperity?

What will our physical environment look like?

How is prosperity defined in the Baha’i Writings?

How could prosperity be achieved? Or striven for?

What is prosperity?

How do we strive towards prosperity?

How do we achieve prosperity?

How do unity and prosperity help each other flourish?

​“Time is money”

What is “true” prosperity?

“Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.”

Would humanity become more prosperous if it learned to function cooperatively instead of in competition with itself?

A wise man knoweth the value of money.

“Make My love thy treasure and cherish it even as thy very sight and life.”

Metaphors

Before

After

Gold (in the rich and deep sense)

____ (Can’t imagine what it will be)

Heaven on earth

Healthy human body (material, intellectual, spiritual)

Ocean

Golden Age

Mine rich in inestimable gems

Nature = (example of prosperity) growing, yet never too much

“Ocean of My eternal wealth”

Concluding Insights

  • Now I know I don’t know, instead of thinking I have some vague image.

  • My perspective changed from how to achieve prosperity to how do we strive towards prosperity.

  • I know less now than I did before.

#unityindiversity #community #prosperity #wellbeing #vision #story #spirit

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