Growing all the more important within our Australian society is the need to respond to increasing diversity in race, culture and religion. Migration has shifted our social landscape impacting lives at the grassroots and institutional processes. The unfortunate suffering in the world caused by war, persecution, famine, environmental and economic crisis or the exponential advancements in science, technology and travel have created conditions for the largest movement of people known. Australians are experiencing an historical opportunity to learn about appreciating the diverse values, practices and beliefs, on a scale like never before, within already well-established Australian cultural norms. This growing consciousness of our interconnected planet could also be leading us to the most profound stage of this nation’s development.
Although we may all share a common goal and desire for a socially cohesive society, we may not all define it in the same way or agree on who makes up that society. It is necessary to acknowledge that these global impacts are very complex. Our governing institutions are understandably not economically equipped for the level of population growth we are experiencing and have had to make legislative decisions that feel restrictive. Recent arrivals try to navigate experiences of loneliness, isolation and prejudice whilst trying to find a job, adopt Australian values and fulfill citizenship requirements. Long-standing Australians are grappling with strains to employment opportunities and increased costs of living whilst learning to incorporate large communities of differing beliefs and practices.
At the same time, our country has always be known for giving everyone a “fair go”. Adjustments have been made to our infrastructure and corporate policies are now more explicit about ensuring greater diversity in the workplace. We have witnessed the inter-mingling of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds in our neighbourhoods, schools, shopping centres and workplaces. This has given rise to the widest array of cuisines, languages, celebrations, music, national dress, places of worship and traditional stories. We are considered one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world -is it possible for us to go further and reach greater heights? Could we view this as a transitional time in our country, where adjustments are being made and tried, however clunky, to give rise to one of the most socially cohesive nations?
This raises perennial questions for all Australian citizens to consider: How can a more peaceful and inclusive society be fostered? How can we commit to strengthening the ideals of a socially cohesive society? What values do we wish to carry forward? And how can we identify and gain agreement on what they are?
To explore these questions, the Australian Baha’i Community has, over the last year, held discussions with representatives of government, civil society, religious groups and the public in conversations, roundtables and forums. It became clear that all people share a common aspiration for a socially cohesive society, it is an issue of enduring importance and this is closely associated with, and perhaps dependent upon, feeling like they belong. These discussions have shed light on the need for a consultative framework, the role religion and youth play, the significance of our indigenous people, experiences of working together, identity, the evolution of Australian values, reconceptualising community, constructive media, transcending prejudices and recasting our narratives, in order to foster this sense of belonging. Some of these ideas will be explored in a series of contributions, which is aimed at stimulating an ongoing conversation amongst those who are also striving to strengthen social cohesion in Australia.
The Australian Bahá’í Community collaborates with a number of people to help develop contributions to thinking around issues of social concern. This article represents some of the thinking that is helping to inform the work of our community and its participation in Australian public discourses. This is not a position paper or official statement from the Bahá’í community, but rather a set of reflections on an event that draws insight from the Bahá’í teachings and the experience of the community as we seek to apply them to the betterment of society. Further thoughts or comments on this paper can be addressed to: firstname.lastname@example.org