For society to function at a higher level than that of a mere assemblage of individuals, institutions are required to give structure to its collective endeavours, to promote unity of vision and action among its members, to allocate resources equitably, and in general to administer its affairs. Parliaments, courts, universities, artistic establishments, and non-governmental organizations are among the many institutions that play an important part in shaping the life of communities throughout the world.
As humanity approaches its collective maturity, the need for a new understanding of the relationships between the individual, the community, and the institutions of society becomes ever more pressing. The interdependence of these three protagonists in the advancement of civilization has to be recognized and old paradigms of conflict in which, for example, institutions demand submission while individuals clamour for freedom, need to be replaced with more profound conceptions of the complementary roles to be played by each in building a better world.
To accept that the individual, the community, and the institutions of society are the protagonists of civilization building, and to act accordingly, opens up great possibilities for human happiness. It allows for the creation of environments in which the exercise of power over others is replaced by endeavour to release the true powers of the human spirit—powers of love, of justice, of unified action.
The Bahá’í community is organized through local, national, continental, and international institutions whose purpose is to channel energies into patterns of action that promote the betterment of society. Service to the needs and wellbeing of the community is the principle that is to govern the functioning of all Bahá’í institutions; indeed, to a large extent, it defines their very identity. The relationship between the individual and institutions is a reciprocal one. Bahá’ís strive to carry out institutions’ plans with loyalty and enthusiasm. Institutions, in turn, come to view their function as one of channelling and directing the burgeoning talents, abilities, and collective energies within the community.