Culture, Values and Progress

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model

 

Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development  (www.cbdus.org)

 

In the last few articles we talked about main features of the age of maturity and the approaching spiritual civilization. Here, we are going to look at ancient civilizations and the role of culture and social values in the development process.

 

Ancient Civilizations

 

History is a great teacher. We can learn a lot from the achievements and mistakes of our ancestors and predecessors. In the development process, obviously, we don’t want to “reinvent the wheel”. In fact, we are constantly improving and adding unto what has been handed down to us. We have evolved through stages of social development from creating the family unit and tribal affiliation to establishing city-states and nationhood. Our social and economic development process throughout history has been progressive in nature. Therefore, denying our roots, cultural heritage and social values in favor of transitory and superficial trends could be a fatal mistake that would put us in the unchartered waters of self-centered territory. This is particularly true with the young generation which fall in love with the glamour of materialism and forget about the time-honored ways and values of our ancestors and great visionaries of the past. The result of this trend has been the breakdown in social order and balance in our modern society. For the most part, we have withdrawn from building on the solid foundation of spiritual values of our past generations. Instead, we have been trying to build on soft grounds focusing on the façade.

 

Furthermore, when we look at the rise and fall of ancient cradles of civilization we see a pattern. Whether we are talking about the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Romans or the Persians, we see that the empire or the kingdom would rise out of very difficult times and through great struggle. This is followed by a period of growth and ascendency which the civilization makes great progress in governance, sciences and the arts. Subsequently, the high point of the development of the civilization and its summit of glory is followed by a gradual decline as the fragmentation and weakening of social structure as well as the disconnect between rulers and subjects causes the empire to collapse. Here, the period of rise is synonymous with unity, sacrifice, social harmony, justice and generosity. However, the fall and disintegration of great civilizations are about conflicts, self-interest, distrust and treachery.

 

The Cycles of Growth

 

The evolutionary cycles of ancient civilizations reminds us of how the organic world of nature operates. It also reminds us that we should anticipate the highs and the lows of the development process. However, we can avoid the extreme high points that are followed by extreme lows. In other words, the call for moderation is in place. Here, we are talking about individual initiative as well as social and collective action towards moderation and making adjustments. On one hand, we focus on the spiritual education of individuals. On the other hand, in managing our affairs and the economy, we take measures that would ensure the steady and balanced growth of the development cycles.

 

Modern Achievements and Challenges

 

When we look at the current state of the global economy, we see great progress in terms of the volume of trade, the number of treaties that have been created, the development of technology, communication, access to sources of information, transportation and the movement of human resources. However, these developments, for the most part, have evolved in a void of social values. We have not accounted for the effect of these ever-increasing levels of economic activities on society and the environment. Therefore, we have assisted the over-growth of a number of industries which are posing a threat to our well-being in the global community. Among these, we can mention the oil industry, the automobile industry, the manufacturing industry and just about every industry you can imagine. In this picture, moderation does not play a role.

 

In today’s world, there are opportunities for growth but it’s limited to certain geographical areas and to certain groups of people. A major portion of the world population does not have access to necessities of life such as food, shelter and safety. Poverty is rampant in the developed and developing countries. The fragmentation of the social structure and the existence of the class system is very much part of the global social landscape. Health issues are at epidemic levels in a number of countries and the danger of a global plague is lurking on the horizon. Global warming, pollution and waste have become difficult to manage while consumption is at an all time high. There is major dissatisfaction with the governance of the nations even where “democracy” is seemingly practiced and where the voices of masses are heard but ignored.  Wars and famine are threatening the lives of millions of people and extreme governments with access to nuclear devices pose a challenge to the existence of our civilization.    

 

Can We Change the World?

 

Based on observation of historical accounts, when a community becomes dysfunctional it’s on a path to disintegration as well as affecting the larger society and the environment. Today, when we observe the condition of the global community, we see signs that we are becoming more and more dysfunctional. Here, we are faced with choices. We could continue to move down the current path which would take us deeper into difficulties and despair or we could take steps as individuals and members of society to bring our lives into balance and inspire others to do the same. This means paying attention to our relations and developing a sense of compassion for our fellow human beings across the planet. It means reflecting on the research and development of products and services that help bring us closer together and create a cleaner environment. It means to focus on our health to be able to function better and live happier. It means to change the world little by little.

 

In the next series of articles we will further examine development issues and look at some industries that have been growing at an extremely fast pace posing a challenge to balanced development.

 

Ramses Rashidi  (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.