Sunday, October 12, 2008

Paragraph One: back to that old time family

The Particular Reform of Families.

By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 12, 15 Mashiyyat 165 BE

Jan Amos Comenius, Panorthosia, or Universal Reform, translated by A.M.O. Dobbie, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England, 1995 p. 29

Today let us launch into chapter Twenty-One of Jan Amos Comenius's Panorthosia. Previous chapters in this work have dealt at length with what Comenius rightly considers the first step to all reform, its Sine Qua Non, the reform of self. Now Comenius takes the next step, reformation of the first circle of unity outside the individual, the family.

By family Comenius intends a large (by our standards) working household run by an extended family, including everybody under one roof, relatives close and distant, live-in servants, children, pets, guests and lodgers. Such households more often than not ran a family business, including until about a century ago virtually all farms. As such, the family unit was by far the largest employer. Not only was a family expected to provide economic sustenance, it also made the clothing, managed the land, grew food, prepared and served meals, and handled many recycling, reusing, composting, and welfare provisions, including "pensions" for the aged, that long ago were offloaded to the state.

Such large households have been around far longer than our present nuclear family and for that reason are probably more natural to the human emotional makeup. Many mental and physical illnesses, drug dependencies and other afflictions would be cured or alleviated if a greater proportion of the population lived in the sort of active, well ordered household that Comenius is aiming for here. In addition, such high-density housing arrangements are easier on the environment (they eliminate urban sprawl and take advantage of economies of scale in infrastructure). For these and other reasons, planners should encourage such housing arrangements in both urban and rural settings.

As we shall see, the measures Comenius suggests in this chapter would enable larger homes not only to become an attractive choice for a larger proportion of the population but also they could help attain that Holy Grail of modern governance, full employment. He begins by saying,

"The next stage will be for each of us to proceed from his own individual reform according to God's pleasure and reform those who are in his immediate family circle, firstly because virtue begins by exerting its influence on its immediate neighbourhood, and secondly because this is a step towards the reform of the state and the church, which are composed of families."

As Comenius points out, both religion and politics are nothing more than aggregations and extensions of the family unit. To weaken the family is to banish faith to irrelevance and doom the state to over-centralization and eventually some form of tyranny. So long has the family been suppressed, divided and neutralized that this is often forgotten today.

Also overlooked is the fact that a well run household is the first training ground for leaders. An exceptionally efficient head of a family is in a perfect position to extend his or her management skills to service on a broader scale. As such, it is a winnower of democratic choice. A voter who knows the best heads of households in a community has no need of nomination or political parties to artificially narrow her choices, she need only pick from members of the most unified, efficient families.

Comenius goes on to make the point that managers ought to take advantage of family as a laboratory for their ideas and plans for change. If a change does not catch on in your own household, what are the chances of success in a wider arena?

"It is especially necessary for every one of those who have been honoured with a call to leading positions in politics or the church (regardless of their denomination) to look in the first instance at his own family which is a miniature form of state and church combined, and to think how to bring it up to an ideal standard, as he will find it easier and safer to advance from the smaller to the larger."

For Baha'is, the core of the family as "church" is the twice daily gathering together in order to pray and read from Holy Writ. Since the family is already together at these times, it is natural to consult about plans and divvy up service to the household, i.e., the "state" function of family. Since Baha'u'llah stipulated that this meeting occur at morning and evening, the every day is bracketed by attention to these two central functions of family, according to Comenius, church and state, spiritual and physical.

This morning I started this experiment suggested by Comenius with our family, which has been in the doldrums lately. It was painful at times but we made good progress. Tomorrow we will go on to the second paragraph of Panorthosia applied at the household level.


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