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A spiritual study group
within the World Bank
sounds highly fanciful.
But, says Adrian Glamorgan,
hope for change lies within.
There’s a s tory that the saint
c a lled Valentine was a soldier
or priest who came up against
Roman Emperor Claudius II.
Any ordinary mortal would have been in a
state of fea r to b e persona lly interrog ated by
a n emperor who, the story went, had once
punched the teeth out of a horse. But there
wa s something about this spiritua l man that
held ba ck the bruta l emperor. Claudius II
of fered to save his life if Valentine gave up
his strange b eliefs , stopped con secrating
Christian weddings for soldiers, and became
a pagan. But Valentine could not turn away
from what lay true in his he art. So, Valentine
was made a martyr and this troublesome
sect, at that time committed to peace and
love, drew strength from his sacrifice.
Did Saint Valentine really cut the shape
of hearts out of parchment to send to and
encourage soldiers of the rightness of
marrying? It’s hard to separate hagiography,
a nd what might be just a modern day,
a dvertising bow tied around our February
spending, a s struggling retailers look for a
reason – any half reason – to close a sale.
But somewhere beside sentiment is the
more sound seeking of a s oul determined
to live the truth. L egends aside, Valentine
reminds us how important the heart is to our
life; that the best changes of heart don’t come
through violence or coercion; that a true , good
and beautiful message will often prevail.
Cut to the strange a nd exciting times we
Since 1945, the World Bank has been
respon sible for applying abstract economic
reason to its fina ncing of troubled c ountries,
a rguably leading to a string of environmenta l
disasters. Its detractors say the World Bank’s
advice, of fer of loa ns, a nd tendency to play
hardball has also led to agricultural ruin
in poorer c ountries, mea ning misery to
hundreds of millions – with the salve that
rich nations have been supplied with a high
volume of che ap food.
Yet surprising things can happen.
Towards the end of 1992, Richard Barrett,
an as sistant to a World Bank Vice President,
was finishing a book that drew on science,
religion and psycholog y to “cre ate a practical
approach to spirituality”. He invited a dozen
of his more spiritually minded World Bank
col leag ue s to a series of si x brown bag lunche s.
Within a short time, he was invited to set
up an ongoing spiritual study group. “The
Spiritual Unfoldment Society” in the World
Bank began weekly meetings in March
1993, promoting “personal transformation
through self knowledge , understanding, and
awa kening higher consciou sne s s.” It sought “to
create within the World Bank a con sciousne ss
of love and understanding that contributes
toward tran sforming the way we interact with
one another (and the way the organisation
interacts with the world).”
I understand if people react with
c ynicism to such initiatives, be cau se we
are speaking of the sa me organisation that,
from Moz ambique to C ambodia , from one
giant dam to the ne xt c offee monoculture,
has caused mayhem to million s by imposing
“ free market” s olutions that have con sistently
benefited the rich over the poor.
But this spiritual gathering wasn’t a
group that a sked permission of its employer.
The members, soon 40 to 50 at a time, met
because they wanted, a nd needed to. By 1995,
the World Ba nk itself agreed to a conference
entitled “Ethical and Spiritua l Values
a nd the Promotion of Environmentally
Susta inable De velopment”.
Australian-born Jim Wolfen sohn became
World Bank president, a nd promoted a
va lues-ba sed approach. By 1998, he wa s
facilitating a dialogue between the Bank
a nd the world’s religion s, enlisting leaders
from nine world faiths, including Bahai,
Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jains, Je wish,
Muslim, Sikh, a nd Taoist. Wolfensohn
announced, “This is not Hollywood. It
is not a PR exercise.” He admitted errors,
and the need to link physical, spiritual and
cu ltural de velopment.
This is not a simple story of progress.
Change of Heart
© noVa FEbruary 2013
‘This may not seem much, but
it shows that there can be a
change of heart even in the
belly of the beast.’
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