Detachment vs Personal Benefit

Recently listening to a radio program about the work and the ‘ups and downs’ of Thomas Edison, I was struck by the idea that progress in the world relies upon a dogged attachment to a vision, and efforts to work toward its fulfillment. It calls for a certain obsession with the task at hand. Yet, and this I learnt from the story of Edison, it also calls for a detachment from the outcome of that work.

Perfecting this balance within individual humans and then broadly as a cultural attitude, must surely be one of the most valuable, exciting and marvellous transformations that humanity will achieve over time. This skill-of-the-mind will be the key to the next stage of evolution for homo sapien sapiens.

If we look at what has been created and destroyed through the materialist approach over recent decades we note that, while a number of material advances have been made, so to, great losses have been sustained. Not only are the losses of a material nature, but also of a social nature.

The materialist or the economic rationalist approach to live is to estimate the most likely best personal benefit from a course of action, and to use this as the vision upon which dogged persistence is attached. Yet these ‘personal benefit’ strategies, are rarely the strategies that create the innovations that help raise human society to a new level of ability. And as we have seen over the past year, and in previous economic downturns, whole nations of people actually loose capacity to develop, when the ‘personal benefit’ strategy fails.

To understand why the detached approach will be so impactful of future society, we have to look at the attitudinal and skill changes that the global society must develop.

Abdu’l-Baha outlined the idea of detachment clearly.

The vision for a detached approach is “that all humanity shall be united, the stormy sea thereof calmed, and all rough waves disappear from off the surface of life’s ocean henceforth unruffled and peaceful.” In “the court of detachment.. he seeth all differences return to a single word and all allusions culminate in a single point.”

Firstly, we must look at the world (including our own physical and mental talents) with thankfulness and gratitude as a divine bestowal, for else we become ingrates, depressed, callous. We must spend our time in appreciation of all things.

Secondly, we must serve humanity, regardless of the trade we are involved or the degree of our wealth.

Thirdly, suffering is not to be entirely avoided. “suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him.”

Fourthly, education, spiritual, moral, intellectual, and skills, must be universal and lifelong.

Fifthly, striving for excellence in a field of endeavour in life is a spiritual act and must be universally encouraged.

I think it can be seen that a culture driven by these five attitudes, is a culture that is more determined to produce beneficial gains, in both social and technical terms, for everyone, than for a particularly personal benefit.

It is certain that, without this attitude becoming widespread in society, the lack of trust in our fellow humans will dissuade even visionaries from any too swift actions in this direction. Rather, we can strive to find what balance we can between our ‘personal benefit’ and a ‘detached approach’ so that we can live to strive another day. We can encourage each other to each find a path towards the detached approach. We can be grateful for people who go out on a limb of detachment, even when they seem to fail, for they are illuminating both the sacrificial and the safer path.

Afterall, we only have one life. What else is it good for?


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