Arthur Dahl is an ecologist whose latest book offers a powerful message: you can make a difference, contributing to change within your own life, the lives of those around you, and the planet as a whole. In Pursuit of Hope: A Guide for the Seeker shares a metaphorical journey to find a more purposeful life amidst the environmental, social, economic and spiritual challenges of the 21st century.
I reached out to Arthur and was delighted when he agreed to tell us about his new book, what motivated him to write it, and what you’ll find between its pages. Here’s our conversation:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
As a Baha’i, I chose to study science because of the harmony of science and religion, and picked ecology as my specialty to understand how unity in diversity worked in nature, with coral reef ecosystems as my major focus. Originally from California, I always wanted to be a Baha’i pioneer, and have now lived and worked in the Pacific Islands (New Caledonia), Africa (Kenya) and Europe (France and Switzerland) while travelling and teaching in many other countries. Professionally, I have been a research scientist and an environmental advisor to governments and international organizations, including as a senior official of the United Nations Environment Programme. I founded the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, helped to write Agenda 21, the action plan from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and coordinated the UN System-wide Earthwatch. I have collaborated closely with the Baha’i International Community, and helped to found a Baha’i-inspired organization for environment and sustainability, the International Environment Forum (iefworld.org), now with over 400 members in 76 countries. Other books I have written include Unless and Until: A Baha’i Focus on the Environment, and The Eco Principle: Ecology and Economics in Symbiosis. My most recent project is working with other Baha’is on proposals to reform global governance, with another book in press: Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century.
With Oars and Compass is a book I wish I had read many years ago. Written by Hamed Javaheri, it frames an exploration of the meaning and purpose of life in a narrative that is philosophical, romantic, and mysterious. We meet Jane Luwi Flynn and get to eavesdrop on the meaningful conversations she has with her friends, her growing friendship and attraction to Xavier, and her recurring dreams. The story pulls the reader along and the conversations among its characters make you pause and think. Compelling, informative, engaging, light-hearted, humorous and thought-provoking, With Oars and Compass would have been a book that I read cover to cover as a teenager and young adult when I was asking myself the same questions Jane asks. But really, it’s a novel for anyone and anytime.
Hamed graciously agreed to share what inspired him to write the novel. Here is our conversation:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Zambia, Southern Africa, and have lived here for most of my life, with the exception of a brief period in Montreal, Canada, where I pursued my university education. My wife and I married when we were young, and we have three children—the first of which is about to venture off for his year of service before he enters university.
As a Baha’i, I am privileged to witness the impact of the Teachings on the human mind—and on youth in particular—as they come to recognize the potential they have to contribute to the wellbeing of their communities, and to the betterment of the world.
As the activities of the Baha’i community have grown and developed in complexity, a pattern of action has emerged. Baha’is all around the world are engaged in cycles of activity that are guided by reflection, planning and action. This creates a collective rhythm and unifies a diversity of activities, such as devotional meetings, children’s classes and study circles.
I learned from the fifth book in Ruhi Institute sequence of courses, Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth, that living an integrated life means placing service at the centre and integrating other facets around it. To me, this means that we can benefit from using these three capacities and can add the rhythm of reflection-planning-action to our personal lives. In addition to service, we can also focus on other things we wish to include and develop in our daily lives. Continue reading
We all look both ways before crossing the road. We try to save, instead of wasting our money. When someone we love dies, we mourn. Life is very real. We don’t treat it like a game at all. One false move and it’s all over. But should we take life this seriously?
According to Abdu’l-Baha,
this present life is even as a swelling wave, or a mirage, or drifting shadows.
The wind blows. Clouds move across the sky. Winter leeches colours from the leaves. Life is movement and change! Or in the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”
When I wandered the lonely and confusing plain between atheism and theism as a spiritual seeker, I reached a stage where I felt bewildered with the transitory nature of the world. I stopped and questioned the very nature of life: change. “Why?” I asked myself, “is there movement and change at all?” It seems like a silly question but when you think about it, God could have created any type of universe, so why did He create one that was ever-changing and impermanent?
Only some years later did I receive my answer: change is progress. Abdu’l-Baha explains that “Change is a necessary quality and essential attribute of this world, of time and place.” The reason that change is necessary, He explains, is that “the world of existence is progressive”. Continue reading