Peter Khan (on idealism vs. lethargy)

“We, today, face…the test of overcoming apathy and lethargy, the test that those around us increasingly lack zeal and idealism and a passion for changing the world. Society around us has lost its vision….Heroes and heroines…have become discredited….They have been found to have feet of clay. There are no heroes. There are no heroines….It is a matter of making it through day by day, being concerned only for one’s self because no one else is interested in us. You survive or not. It is a hard, cruel world out there.

“That is not the Bahá’í way. We are people committed to the creation of a new society. We are summoned to heroism…to sacrifice…to idealism and to altruism….We are people who love and are concerned about generations yet unborn and we are prepared to dedicate our lives that those generations to come…may have a better life; may have a life of peace and unity and harmony and the possibility for the full development of their potential.

“This is the idealism to which we are summoned as Bahá’ís. We need to overcome the apathy and lethargy of society and stand apart as people dedicated to the creation of a new world.”

Peter Khan (1936-2011) was a professor of electrical engineering who became best known for his service to several sorts of Bahá’í community institutions in the U.S.A. and Australia, as well as membership on the worldwide community’s elected international council. This is an excerpt from a talk he gave in 1995 in Chicago. What a mind! His spoken delivery was very deliberate and dry, not dazzling at all unless you listened to what he was saying.

A Little Blubber With My Breakfast: MORTAL CITY

You know, you think that everything’s peaceful. Crazybird has caught his bus, Ladybird has madly pedalled her way into the professional distance, and there is bread in the toaster. A small hit of sports news so as not to feel left out of the loop of entirely imaginary conversations. (Will I speak to anyone today who cares that the World Series starts tonight?) A knife from the drawer, a practised flip from Tuner to CD and wherever it was that I paused last night’s silvered, tuneful progression of disks. Some even date from this century.

Where was I? Dar Williams, American folksinger, a 1996 album called Mortal City. I smile during my artful bread-spreading at the whimsical meanderings of “Southern California Wants To Be Western New York”. Smart fun. The title song is last. She recorded it in her bedroom. It has made my throat catch and my chest heave before this, but I’m not ready for that at 8:37 in the morning with honey dripping off my whole wheat. “Mortal City” has breathy, uncertain voicings, rueful humour, soaring loneliness, and good old-fashioned gentleness. Altruism lives. People find each other, at least for one night. There is crisis and self-doubt and tiny victories, and harmonies so longing that they hurt. This is a song that never would have made the radio even in the ‘good old days’, whenever that was, and not only because it’s seven minutes and fourteen seconds long and has only the most sombre and subtle of hooks. It doesn’t make me want to even think about dancing.

Dar Williams has done this to me before. She writes some of the most clever and feeling stuff there is. Good morning.