I have often been asked by young people or their parents how they should plan to start their economic journey. It is a journey that has caused the ruin of many wise and spiritual individuals as they sink into the depths of the bottomless ocean of materialism.
There is nothing wrong with planning for a successful financial life and becoming wealthy, provided we realize that wealth can be a beautiful and a God-given tool to use to support our families and give service to humanity. The emphasis has to be that it is a tool and not the goal for our creation.
Abdu’l-Baha, one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, wrote that:
“Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes. Above all, if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this, and it would rank in the sight of God as the supreme achievement, for such a benefactor would supply the needs and insure the comfort and well-being of a great multitude. Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy.”
We can teach the next generation to plan for their future and not feel guilty about acquiring wealth, provided they include spirituality in their financial plans. A balanced financial plan consists of both material goals and spiritual aspirations. Such a plan has the potential of guiding young people to the full enjoyment of the fruit of their hard work through success financially and spiritually.
The pressure to plan for the future in our materialistic world is a great challenge even for mature adults, so it must be more challenging for the young. With so many crises going on in the world today, it is difficult for many young people to imagine themselves in the future and to see their place in it. I think about them and worry for their future — a future that seemingly does not look as bright as it did for me. Added to the age-old sentiment of not being taken seriously by the older generation, they face environmental challenges, fewer job opportunities, and a lack of job security. This pandemic also is a reminder that they may face more challenges of that kind in the future.
In many countries, parents plan for their kids to become doctors, engineers, or follow the family business. Here in the West, the trend is to plan to earn lots of money. In this way, parents have decided their child’s life’s plan for them, and this support system is outdated. My heart goes out to young people who, pressured by the old ways, are trying to chart their path to the future.
Parents may also fail to teach their children the concept of delayed gratification. Those who practice delayed gratification demonstrate a well-defined purpose in life and the need for accomplishing worthwhile goals. Delayed gratification means accepting the awareness of life’s journey as a long one and planning for it. As Canadian motivational speaker, Brian Tracy put it, “The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.” Speaking of children, Abdu’l-Baha, one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith advised parents to lovingly “accustom them to hardship.” He wrote:
“While the children are yet in their infancy feed them from the breast of heavenly grace, foster them in the cradle of all excellence, rear them in the embrace of bounty. Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind.”
But to protect their children, parents may avoid creating such conditions and seek to protect their children from any form of hardship. In addition, the education system, which should be preparing youth for the future, seems to be failing them. Many of my ex-students confessed that their years in school were wasted since they did not learn the basics of economic life and how to plan a practical economic path for their future.
Unfortunately, the education system has become a stepping stone for material success without considering other aspects of young people’s lives — the moral and spiritual aspects. Their schooling may lead them to material success but at the cost of their spiritual and human duties to themselves and humanity as a whole. They become one-sided individuals who have put all their energies into material achievements, forgetting to nurture their souls. Why? Because when they chart their future, they do not consider their spiritual goals.
I am reminded of this quotation from Abdu’l-Baha:
“For man two wings are necessary. One wing is physical power and material civilization; the other is spiritual power and divine civilization. With one wing only, flight is impossible. Two wings are essential. Therefore, no matter how much material civilization advances, it cannot attain to perfection except through the uplift of spiritual civilization.”
The most significant benefit of a balanced economic plan in life is that no matter who charts the financial goals, whether parents or the social trends, youth have the power to attach to it their spiritual and moral goals. In case their financial goals fail, spiritual goals can give them peace of mind that they did not waste God’s precious gift of life chasing only economic aims. Spiritual goals also help them avoid the world’s material traps.
We can offer our young generation the best gift by reminding them that they should not forget their spiritual goals, duties, and obligations and make sure that a spiritual plan is an integral part of their future economic planning.