Tag Archives: Baha’i

Why Compete? Building on Strength as an Approach to Seek Truth

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I have had the amazing opportunity, in the last year or so, to both see and be a part of decision-making processes that were very different from what I had experienced previously.

Those processes were based on one person convincing the others that his or her opinion was the best. It felt more like a competition than anything else; the person who was able to talk the loudest, the longest, and in such a way as to break apart the logic of every single other person at the table, was the one who “won.” In this sort of environment, the skill to take apart and destroy someone else’s opinion was the best asset one could have.

This approach does not seem to take advantage of the fact that “the views of several individuals are assuredly preferable to one man.” By adopting such an approach, we are limiting our ability to seek the truth by following the opinion of one person.

What if instead, we had a decision-making process that builds on the unique views of each participant? It demands quite a change in perspective: instead of placing importance on the ability to destroy someone else’s argument, it requires that we place importance on the capacity to find the common point, build on opinions, put them together, and, ultimately, create a whole that is stronger than any of the parts.

I myself try to control my urges to over-instruct or to “win” a conversation, trying instead to find the common point between the people in my group. I remind myself constantly that “consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth.” It isn’t easy! But more often than not, it leads the participants, including myself, to realize that there are many ways of thinking about something that, if we give them a chance, shine of the truth as much as ours does. And another benefit of such an approach is that all those involved in the process feel a sense of ownership in the decisions that are taken.

I can’t help but wonder how a consultative approach would transform our justice system from a fight between two sides to a group effort towards achieving a just verdict. For example, in such a consultative environment, one side could look for signs of guilt, the other for signs of innocence; both sides would then sit together and consult about every piece of evidence, not resorting to twisting words and situations, but rather to seeing the entire picture.

For such a consultative approach to work, we have to turn away from our agendas, and turn instead towards such things as the common good, justice, etc. Of course the most powerful impetus is given when we realize our true purpose in life. It’s just like with Tuesday’s post, where I mentioned how “spouses should put each other first for the sake and in light of Holy Writings. Putting your spouse first is both a means to an end, as well as the result of a life centered on fulfilling one’s purpose of knowing and worshipping God.” Focusing on the betterment of the world as the object of our consultations definitely helps us turn away from ourselves and contribute to an environment conducive to consultation, in which we will be able to “weigh [our] opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure,” and we will be able to, “before expressing [our] own views [to] should carefully consider the views already advanced by others.” And imagine what a group of people consulting like this could achieve!

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child: One Way We Can Contribute

childrenWhile not a parent myself, the well-being of children is a heartfelt concern of mine, increasingly so as more and more of my friends are having babies. While the Baha’i Writings offer excellent guidance on how to raise children, there is still a wide breadth of options available within it. And so, it is not uncommon that Baha’i parents end up raising their children very differently one from the other. I have friends who yell at their kids, some who don’t; some chat with their children, some don’t; some who ignore their kids’ tantrums, and others that acknowledge them; etcetera, etcetera.

In all of the abovementioned cases, the children, without exception, are intelligent, caring, sociable, and well-mannered (tantrums aside.) It might have to do with the only thing these parents seem to have in common: consistency. It is not the rules in themselves that will help the children as much as the process of obeying the rules, eventually understanding them, and some day, consulting on how to change them to suit the increasing maturity of the child.

What does that tell me? That, as friend of the family, the most important contribution that I can make to the education of these children is to never, ever contradict the parent, but rather, to always defer to their authority. Because ultimately, learning to follow rules is what will make these children grow up into youth and adults who will strive to adhere to Baha’i laws and principles.

The same, of course, goes for my friends who are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheists; it also goes for parents who believe in different schools of thought when it comes to childrearing.

Image credit: Chad Mauger

Reaching Over the Anger: Building on a Common Desire

Questions:  Adelaide, Australia

As a blogger, I have gone through many phases. A recent one was defined by anger at the various and unfortunately numerous forms of injustice that exist. Long-time readers have commented on it before, and it has led to many an interesting, if not heated, discussion.

While anger might light a fire in someone’s heart and inspire them to divest themselves of the apathy society encourages in us to get up and act, it also deprives us of such things as patience, wisdom, and tact. Quite unfortunately (and kind of ironically), these are the very sentiments we need to discuss how to deal with important issues. Action inspired by anger, therefore, can only do so much.

I have been reflecting a lot recently about the nature of the contribution of a blog such as mine to the processes of community-building happening in so many neighborhoods and villages around the world, especially since the House of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad, a Holy Place precious to the millions of Baha’is in the world, and a beautiful historic Building precious to Iraqis, was razed to the ground earlier this year. Such an act could inspire anger, and no one would be faulted for feeling that way.

But what good would it have served?

When I received the news about the House in Baghdad, I couldn’t help but think about the Baha’i Holy Place in Montreal: what would I do if it was razed? While I would definitely feel angry, I know that screaming and shouting about it would not help. To be able to effectively resort to the means available to me, such as calling someone in City Hall to file a grievance, would require calm composure, something anger does not contribute to.

How does this sentiment translate in such situations as this letter from Mrs. Hall? I must say that the first time I read it, I was angry at a letter that deemed itself contributing to the betterment of society in such a judgmental way that contributed to the very problem it was meant to counter. Then I read it again, and again. And I realised that poor Mrs. Hall does not deserve my anger. She seems to have a kind heart, and is concerned for the well-being of her sons. How can I hold that against her?

As my anger dissipated, I was surprised to find in its place, something much more powerful: an indomitable determination to build on something great, to make it even better. In this case, to understand how Mrs. Hall’s letter is good, and then engage her (and all those who loved the letter unconditionally) in a conversation that will help iron out certain parts of her letter that are contradictory.

Because ultimately, we are all imperfect, and our contributions to the betterment of society, however well inspired, are imperfect. Instead of attacking each other out of anger, perhaps it is time to build on our common desire to contribute to the betterment of society by consulting on how to refine our contributions.

Image credit: Chad Mauger

The Many Ways of Channelling Beauty

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One of the most beautiful things about humanity is the diversity of the ways we have come up with for doing the same thing. One easy example: cooking. Various parts of the world do completely different things with the same ingredients, and all have the potential to taste excellent.

I for one love having access to all the foods of the world. And most people, while having their own preferences, will not begrudge me for wanting to go to my favourite restaurant. And most amazing is that a majority of people do not seem to begrudge an individual from one ethnic background loving food from another ethnic background. The success of fusion cuisine, which brings together the best from various ethnic cooking techniques, is another sign of people not only accepting differences in cooking, but also learning to build on these differences to make food better. My waistline sometimes suffers from the consequences of this, but that is another story altogether.

It is clear therefore that we have the skills to experiment and learn to create something better out of our differences. How can we apply these skills in arenas of life other than cooking? Perhaps we can move from trying to convince each other of who is right and wrong, to learning to live together in a way that goes beyond tolerance. For example, we could learn to allow divergent lifestyles to cohabit while respecting the differences. Maybe we could even learn to celebrate them, and perhaps one day, learn to build on their respective strengths to create a “fusion lifestyle”.

By focusing on the positive aspects of various lifestyles, we are also cultivate a way of looking at things that filters out the negative and focuses on the positive. As everyone knows, learning to appreciate beauty makes us so much more aware of it, which brings great joy. What effects on a community would learning to appreciate the beauty in all lifestyles be?

One example that comes to mind are weddings. Guests are usually filled with the same sense of joy and reverence when attending a Hindu wedding, a Buddhist wedding, a Bahá’í wedding, or a Christian wedding. They look very different one from the other, but equal in beauty, joy, and happiness. To learn to see all differences in this way would no doubt be quite conducive to creating communities that are filled with joy. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing to see.

Image credit: Chad Mauger

World Peace: It Just Might be Even Simpler that We Thought…

I previously blogged about how stifling it can be, having too many ideas, and how it has led to periods during which I would not post much, if anything. I have entered such a period again. I blame my awesome friends for the amazing, eye-opening conversations we have been having! One recent conversation in particular struck me. We were talking about the prerequisites to peace: should we eliminate religion? Should we condemn materialism/consumerism/Lady Gaga? Do we need to have everyone agreeing on everything to have peace?

At first, we had a very, very long list; someone then suggested that we distil it into its core values, and we were left wondering if perhaps, there are only two things that we all really need to achieve peace, two things that feed into each other and create the environment in which all the other prerequisites we had initially listed would naturally emerge.

The first is the unshakeable conviction that we are all noble human beings. We did not feel that everyone has to believe in God to believe in the nobility of man. Rather, everyone has to believe that man has the capacity to create heaven on earth because of its inherent nobility.

The second is the ability to communicate, to be able to listen to radically different ideas without feeling threatened, to be able to accept that a person we disagree with makes sense within the framework they are operating in. For example, the views of an atheist, a Buddhist and a Bahá’í about life after death are different; do we need to convince each other of who is right? Imagine if instead, we would accept that we are different, and focus on understanding the truth of each person’s opinion within the atheist/Buddhist/Bahá’í framework.

Accepting that everyone is a noble human being leads to the belief that differences between different people do not imply a hierarchy of who is right and who is wrong. Rather, it makes us understand that differences are related to just that: differences. When we realize that we can each have our own opinions, we open ourselves to understanding them, and accepting them, even if we disagree. Through conversations meant to understanding one another, we can then learn to create a world within which people with different ‘life prescriptions’ can live together, without anyone imposing anything on the other.

And then we would start working our way steadily towards world peace.

Small Things Lead to Big Changes: Counting to a Million Begins by One

We are living in a very interesting time in history. On the one hand, humanity has come very far in a matter of years; we are achieving things we could not even dream of, and have the tools and instruments to create a harmonious world. And yet on the other hand, we cling to old patterns of thought and behavior that continue to dictate the way our planet is ruled, however badly. In short, humanity is like an adult that refuses to stop acting like a child.

The tendency is to think that big problems require big solutions. Thankfully, that is not the case, and the root cause of many problems requires a relatively simple treatment. The challenge is that this treatment has to be applied regularly. Unfortunately, as healthcare professionals know, humans have quite the unhealthy relationship with compliance!

Thankfully, there seems to be an increasing number of people willing to apply the treatment consistently over a period of time. In the last couple of years, hundreds of neighborhoods and villages around the world have begun working on building a new, healthy community life centered on the Word of God. And after many years of applying the same treatment, they are noticing “how the act of reaching out to touch individual hearts, acquainting souls with the Word of God, and inviting them to contribute to the betterment of society can, in time, tend to the advancement of a people,” as mentioned in the same letter that inspired last week’s post.

So it really is about giving the treatment enough time to work. We have to persevere, as repeating the same act again and again brings us closer to our goal. We need to work on a small, manageable scale to learn the skills and build instruments that will work on a larger scale. And we have to remain hopeful and optimistic, remembering that while it might look like an impossibly big job, counting to one million begins with one.

How Religion Does Not Restrict Freedom, or How Nasty Would it be to Drive without Traffic Lights in Manhattan?

Rigidity and narrow mindedness are not good, but moral laxity isn’t, either. While religious fanaticism is wrong, it doesn’t mean that religion in itself deserves to be demonized. The current demonization of religion is often an excuse people use to allow themselves, in the name of freedom, to do things that run completely counter to their higher, noble nature. I am very intrigued when I hear that religion stifles freedom. I use the Baha’i Faith as a solid framework with boundaries outside of which I accept not to go, and within which I have more than enough space to do things that suit me as well as the community in which I live. While this can seem as constraining my freedom to some, I find that the discipline acquired through respect of the boundaries allows me to do so much more than I would have been able to without said discipline.

To say that religion restricts freedom is akin to saying that traffic lights restrict freedom. Traffic signals create within their boundaries an environment in which we can go freely from point A to point B. This is similar to religion. By creating boundaries that allow us to control our lower nature, which can only roam the material world, we give space for our higher nature, which can roam both the material and spiritual world, to do what it wants. By allowing our lower, more limited nature to control our lives, are we truly as free as when our higher nature takes over?

Redefining our World, one (or two!) Word(s) at a time: Success and Winning

The concept of success is a curious one indeed. I recently ran into someone who asked me how my book was doing. I shared stories about a nine year old girl who found solace in my book because it reflected things she and her friends were going through; about a friend of mine who, after reading my book, picked up a pen after years of not writing; about a mother who remembered, through the stories of the ten year olds in my book, that their lives are a lot more complex that we realize, which helped her reconnect with her ten year old; etc.

This someone interrupted me and said: “So basically, your book is not successful and you are taking comfort in that it has helped a couple of people?”

Let me get one thing straight: this someone is a kind, gentle, loving person who, having read a pre-published version of this piece, agreed to have it posted in the hopes of generating thoughtful reflection on the topic – that is the kind of person this someone is. But what this person did not realize is that their perception of success is a deeply flawed one that narrows its definition to an almost unattainable reality. In this case, success was narrowed down to the number of books sold.

This distorted understanding of success inevitably affects the disproportionate importance we place on an even narrower definition of winning. As an article a friend of mine recently sent me (which you can find here) put it, “there’s something about the relentless focus on winning — and more specifically, our shared reverence for “winners” — that leaves me feeling deeply uneasy.” Referring to athletes who fell short of winning a medal by a few inches or a few seconds, the writer wonders: “does falling a tiny bit short make these athlete losers unworthy of our admiration? Are the winners of these competitions different from them in any meaningful way? Is winning all it’s cracked up to be?”

I guess it depends on how one defines one’s purpose in life. As a religious person – more specifically, as a Bahá’í – I believe that life is about knowing and worshipping God. So, ultimately, winning is about getting closer to Him. Success, then, implies getting closer and closer to God. When it comes to athletes, while the ones who win medals are the best in their sport, it is the discipline that all athletes develop on the road to, say, the Olympics, that is most important. After all, this discipline will come in quite handy when said athletes are to make day to day choices between right and wrong.

As for me, the sales of my book are exceeding expectations, but they are very far from the definition of success currently prevailing in the book market. But writing the book took discipline, which I can apply to my spiritual life. Writing a spiritually based coming of age book made me reflect long and hard on my own spirituality, and adjustments have been made accordingly. Having said book published made me think a lot about the definition of winning and success, and I have what I feel is a healthier outlook on these two. So while I am millions of copies away from being a best-seller, I have, at the very least, refines my character a little bit, which in my view, makes me a winner.

Some Completely Shameless Self Promotion

Yesterday’s post does not imply that I have not been writing at all. Interestingly enough, I have been writing a lot, in the context of small projects with deadlines and specific content (which of course makes me think of Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant’s fantastic post). So here are links to the six articles I wrote for The Journey West.

Enjoy!

The Light of Truth and The Fire of Denial

I just wrote a post about prayer for The Journey West, which should be posted sometime today.  In it, I reflected about how our understanding of prayer evolves with time.  And it really is incredible how the same prayer, which you have perhaps said a thousand times, suddenly looks completely different – that’s when you know your understanding has been furthered, even if just by a tiny smidgen.

I was reciting one of the many Praise and Gratitude prayers in my prayer book and fixated on this line: “I entreat Thee, O my Lord, by Thy Most Great Name whereby Thou didst separate light from fire, and truth from denial, to send down upon me and upon such of my loved ones as are in my company the good of this world and of the next.” And it hit me: the light of the truth is only a breadth away from the fire of denial.

Perhaps this is the reason why science and religion need to go hand in hand. For if the truth that science uncovers isn’t examined in the light of religion, the fire of denial will consume us.