The author, dreaming of world unity and artful sublimity. Photo by Diana Souza




When I ask my college students if they believe that world peace is possible, they look at me as if I am naïve and idealistic. It will never happen, they say. Jaded and part of a generation that has seen much conflict with seemingly no resolution in sight, they reflect the truth they know.

Yet, I tell them, “Look for signs of progress. Surely as a human species we are maturing and will grow through this stormy adolescence into a collective adulthood, where consultation and respect will replace physical warfare.”

They are still dubious. I give them examples of individual actions and groups that work to bridge the gaps between races, religions, ethnicities; they come back with examples of recent atrocities.

I share one story of a woman whose photograph was on the cover of Time magazine in the 60s during the struggle of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School. The woman — a Caucasian — held a rock in her hand she was just about to throw at one of the nine African-American students who was simply attempting to walk to school. Forty years later, when the Central High museum was dedicated, this woman publically apologized to the younger woman she almost hit. They embraced.

“But it took 40 years,” my students respond.

Yes, but it happened. Look for signs of progress.

They shrug — whatever.

Recently I was heartened when I received a message at the end of the semester from a quiet student in a large class. She wrote: “This world lit. class completely changed my life. It has freed my mind from racial constraints and helped me develop a huge respect for people from other countries. Not to say I was racist, I was just uninterested.” She went on to say: “I now love reading stories and watching films from other cultures and learning about things I could never even imagine. I used to be afraid to talk to people of other races, but now I find myself befriending people from around the world. I can finally see outside my ‘bubble’ and hope that many other people in the world develop a love for all cultures. We are all humans, anyway.”

After weeping for several minutes when I received this message, I responded: “Bravo! This life-changing awareness will serve you well in the years ahead. It can also be contagious. This is what will solve terrorism and bring about world peace.”

Committed to this stance, I realize that as an educator one of the best things I can impart is simply a sense of hope about the world these young people will inherit. And so I continue to look for — and find and pass on — signs of progress.

My “idealism” is not based on a vague and simplistic hope, but rather on the profound teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, of which I have been a member for 35 years. World peace is not only possible but inevitable, the Faith asserts. Impediments—prejudice, lack of equality, unbridled nationalism, poverty — will all diminish as the teachings of the Faith continue to transform the planet. And what will be the largest contribution to world peace? Women! Women, educated to understand our strength. Women, refusing to allow their men to go to war. Women, putting into practice the skills of consultation, nurturance, peace-building, international arbitration, compassion.

I do not believe that putting our energies into the current political system can bring forth real answers; we need to create a new system, based on a new blueprint of human awareness. This change will not come from marches or protests, but another kind of individual activism. We need to make the process of peace making rival the dynamic of war mongering. “Little by little, day by day. . . .”

Interested in knowing more about the socially progressive principles behind the Bahá’í Faith? Visit their official U.S.website here.

One of the ways I like to express my activism is through writing poetry (see sidebar). Another way is through writing fictional stories. I used to write thinly disguised autobiographical stories, but several years ago I started experimenting with writing from various perspectives and situations that were unlike my own. In one of my stories a young Hispanic woman has something to teach an older Anglo woman who has cancer. In another, a young male lifeguard has certain perceptions about the older women in a water aerobics class, but revises his ideas later in life.

In the case of the short story I will share here, “The e-Life of Beena Patel,” I became concerned about spam and how vulnerable some people are to it — the elderly, who may not have much experience with the Internet, immigrant populations, children, or simply the inexperienced or pure in heart. Since I had travelled to India and was teaching some students from India at UTA, I decided to create a protagonist from India, who was living in Arlington and recently widowed. I wanted to include an interfaith aspect to the story, so I made Beena Hindu and the story’s antagonist Moslem. But this could be interchangeable, of course, with any faith groups.

The story won first prize in a fiction contest sponsored by the DFW Writers’ Workshop, with outside judges. I was thrilled to read it at Barnes & Noble and am happy to offer it to you here (see sidebar).


Dr. Anne Gordon Perry has a PhD in Arts & Humanities from UTD, with a focus in Aesthetic, Performance, and Literary Studies. She teaches English, humanities, and creative writing at the Art Institute of Dallas, where she also sponsors the Drama Club.
Anne is a speaker on the arts, racial unity, gender equality, and comparative religion; the editor, co-designer, and producer of Orison, a yearly arts journal; and a creative artist in writing, performance, visual art, and mixed media. She also makes and sells jewelry and multimedia works under the auspices of Perry Productions (with her husband) and Anne-Made Creations. She lives in Duncanville, Texas with her husband, Tim Perry, and two dogs, Darby and Emma.

 



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The Baha'i journal,
edited by the author