In the summer I attended a 12-day postgraduate seminar in Sydney run by the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity (ISGP), a not-for-profit organisation which was founded in 1999 and works in close collaboration with the Bahá’í International Community. I came across this seminar through my sister who is a Baha’i. The seminar was focussed around social action and enhancing the capacity of individuals and communities to participate in the prevalent discourses of society. The seminar gave particular attention to developing a coherent conceptual framework. It would be presumptuous to think that I could effectively summarise the material explored within the seminar. So, as a humble attempt to give some insight into the whirl of interrelated and interconnected content I received, I am going to focus on a salient thread, a new idea exposed to me in the seminar. This was the concept of latency.
Here are some analogies that introduce this concept, as it was used in the seminar:
A fruit seed is planted. When this seed is planted we can say that the fruit seed holds the latent potential (or latency) to become a fruit tree and yield fruit. Though the exact size, qualities and quantities of the fruit to be borne are unknown, it is known that the seed needs to be watered and nurtured in order for its latent capacity to be realised. Similarly, latency is a characteristic of biological bodies within which growth and development advance in part through differentiation of specialized cells and organs. At this level, the wellbeing of the human body relies on the body’s ability to draw out the latent capacities of every cell within a nurturing milieu that fosters healthy development.
In our daily lives, the only way to gain confidence in our assumptions is to commit to them and see what fruit they eventually bear. We are able to make choices about the potential avenues and paths we pursue. The pursuit of these allows us to not only be shaped by our experiences and education but by our own accord through our conscious efforts and choices. At the seminar we explored the need for social spaces and cultures that are conducive to allowing people to develop their own latent capacities. Learning as a mode of operation would be a core feature of such a culture, giving human potential the space to flourish together with the united action needed to nurture fledgling efforts. On an individual level I believe this requires both self-knowledge and self-responsibility, which extend to an understanding of the unique talents and capacities latent with each of us. If properly investigated and developed, we can be allowed to contribute to our fullest to the betterment of the world.
Bahá’ís offer a nuanced and holistic conception of the essential reality of the human being that is contingent on recognition of both a material and spiritual dimension of reality and their mutual coherence. They also see the need for a mutual coherence between the individual and society; an individual cannot be understood, let alone develop, in isolation from our society.
A related theme that was reflected on in the seminar was a conception of society as an organically interdependent social body, in which the wellbeing of individual members depends on the wellbeing of the body as a whole. Just as latent potential is a characteristic of organic bodies, so too is it a characteristic of the social body of humanity. Through the seminar material we reflected on the relationship between the individual and their social environment by considering the Bahá’í perspective on life’s purpose: that every individual has a twofold moral purpose to develop their own latent potential and simultaneously contribute to the betterment of society. Indeed, taking this perspective, it is onlythrough service to others and society that an individual is able to develop to their fullest potential.
While I am still reflecting on these concepts and developing my ability to articulate and systematically explore them, I remind myself that the development of these capacities is itself a process whose endpoint is not yet known. The course provided an opportunity to critically engage and explore with others the concept of latency, one element amongst others that was discussed as part of a coherent yet evolving conceptual framework.
“We do not need to comprehend something to derive benefit from it; indeed the plant cannot comprehend the sun but still orients itself toward it.”
Carmel Skeaff is a graduate of the BFA (Honours) programme at the University of Auckland’s Elam School Of Fine Arts. She has been active and involved in various community art projects and shown both nationally and internationally. She is currently completing the Rumaki Reo programme at Te Wananga Takiura o Nga Kura Kaupapa Maori o Aotearoa, in Auckland (NZ).