Since at least the early 1990’s the House of Justice has been encouraging us to encourage, and I hear this concept mentioned over and over again, but what exactly does it mean, and how do we do it? Let’s look at what the Bahá’í Writings have to teach us!
Whose Responsibility is Encouragement?
Individuals must support each other in a strong effort to suppress every critical thought and every harsh word, in order to let the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh flow into the entire community:
When we see the condition the world is in today, we must surely forget these utterly insignificant internal disturbances, and rush, unitedly, to the rescue of humanity. You should urge your fellow- Bahá’ís to take this point of view, and to support you in a strong effort to suppress every critical thought and every harsh word, in order to let the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh flow into the entire community, and unite it in His love and in His service. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 91)
Assemblies must master the art of making use of the talents of individuals and rousing the mass of the friends to action:
Although Spiritual Assemblies are good at specifying goals, they have not yet mastered the art of making use of the talents of individuals and rousing the mass of the friends to action in fulfilment of such goals. Removing this deficiency would be a mark of the maturation of these institutions. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
The community as a whole should be involved in efforts to encourage:
The community as a whole should be involved in efforts to resolve such issues. A single answer would, of course, be inadequate, there being so many diverse elements and interests in the community. These matters require not only your own independent consultation but consultation with the Counsellors as well. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
Who Needs Particular Encouragement?
We all need encouragement!
The friends everywhere need encouragement. (Universal House of Justice, 1998 Apr, Training Institutes)
Assemblies must give unlimited encouragement to women:
The members of the House of Spirituality must give unlimited encouragement to women. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 336)
Special encouragement should be given to believers of unusual capacity:
Special encouragement should therefore be given to believers of unusual capacity to consecrate their abilities to the service of the Cause through the unique contribution they can make to this rapidly developing field of Bahá’í endeavour. (Universal House of Justice, Scholarship, p. 13)
Inactive and unresponsive believers especially need encouragement, love and assistance:
It is very discouraging to find inactive and unresponsive believers; on the other hand we must always realize that some souls are weak and immature and not capable of carrying on an active administrative burden. They need encouragement, the love of their fellow Bahá’ís and assistance. To blame them for not doing more for the Cause is useless, and they may actually have a very firm belief in Bahá’u’lláh which with care could be fanned into flame. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 84)
Those who are attracted to the Cause are in need of encouragement while they strive toward recognizing and accepting Bahá’u’lláh:
As the teaching intensifies, all believes can anticipate being surrounded by an increasing number of people who are attracted to the Cause but in need of encouragement while they strive toward the recognition and acceptance of Bahá’u’lláh. (International Teaching Centre, 1992 May 09, Inviting Seekers to Embrace the Cause)
Why do We Encourage?
Because our teachings call on us to encourage each other:
Related to this is the tendency of the friends to criticize each other at the slightest provocation, whereas the Teachings call upon them to encourage each other. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
So that we can win victories for the Faith in our own spheres of life:
At this exact time in history when the peoples of the world are weighed down with soul-crushing difficulties and the shadow of despair threatens to eclipse the light of hope, there must be revived among the individual believers a sense of mission, a feeling of empowerment to minister to the urgent need of humanity for guidance and thus to win victories for the Faith in their own sphere of life. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
So we don’t stunt the growth and development of the community:
But human beings are not perfect. The Local Assemblies and the friends must be helped through your example and through loving counsel to refrain from such a pattern of criticism, which stunts the growth and development of the community. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
Because more beneficial results are achieved by encouragement than by threats or the imposition of sanctions:
At the present stage . . . far more beneficial results are likely to be achieved by encouragement of the believers and by their education in the principles and significance of Bahá’í administration than by the threat or imposition of sanctions. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
In order to nourish a culture of growth:
Training alone, of course, does not necessarily lead to an upsurge in teaching activity. In every avenue of service, the friends need sustained encouragement. Our expectation is that the Auxiliary Board members, together with their assistants, will give special thought to how individual initiative can be cultivated, particularly as it relates to teaching. When training and encouragement are effective, a culture of growth is nourished in which the believers see their duty to teach as a natural consequence of having accepted Bahá’u’lláh. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 158, 2001 01 09, to the Conference of the Continental Counsellors)
Encouragement is the secret of universal participation:
The real secret of universal participation lies in the Master’s oft expressed wish that the friends should love each other, constantly encourage each other, work together, be as one soul in one body, and in so doing become a true, organic, healthy body animated and illumined by the spirit. (Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 43)
An upsurge in teaching activity depends on “sustained encouragement”:
In the same message, the House of Justice also stated that an upsurge in teaching activity depends on “sustained encouragement.” (ITC, 2003 Apr 23, Building Momentum, p. 13)
Without encouragement, families cannot prosper nor women advance:
Parents have responsibility toward their children, and children toward their parents, but beyond responsibility, the emphasis is on love, respect, courtesy, kindness and encouragement, without which families cannot prosper nor women advance. (Baha’i International Community, 1990 Sept 06, Women Development in Pacific)
What prevents us from being encouraging?
Our deep love for the Faith means we want to see it free of any flaw:
Such tendencies are of course motivated by a deep love for the Faith, a desire to see it free of any flaw. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
What actions are not encouraging?
An accumulated impression of institutional disapproval and a fear of criticism inhibits our initiative:
Even if you are doing nothing deliberately to discourage such freedom, their accumulated impression of institutional disapproval, however derived, and their fear of criticism are, to a considerable extent, inhibiting their exercise of initiative. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
When we lay down too many rules and regulations:
You should also be fearful of laying down too many rules and regulations. The Cause is not so fragile that a degree of mistakes cannot be tolerated. When you feel that certain actions may become trends with harmful consequences, you may, instead of making a new rule, discuss the matter with the Counsellors, enlisting their support in educating the friends in a manner that will improve their understanding and their conduct. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
Criticism prevents any decision from being enforced:
It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 88)
What Actions are Encouraging?
We ignore the bad qualities and search for the good ones:
If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 83)
We put the past behind and refrain from mentioning subjects which have led to misunderstanding and inharmony:
When criticism and harsh words arise within a Bahá’í community there is no remedy except to put the past behind one and persuade all concerned to turn over a new leaf, and, for the sake of God and His Faith, refrain from mentioning the subjects which have led to misunderstanding and inharmony. (Shoghi Effendi, Directives of the Guardian, pp. 17-18)
We help each other overcome our problems, deepen in the Faith, and increase their unity and love for each other, our work will go ahead speedily:
The friends should be helped to overcome their problems, deepen in the Faith, and increase their unity and their love for each other. In this way you will find that your work goes ahead speedily, and that the National Body is like the beating of a healthy heart in the midst of the Community, pumping spiritual love, energy and encouragement out to all the members. (Shoghi Effendi, Unlocking the Power of Action)
We appreciate the nature of the power of action which they possess:
As to your worry about over-controlling the friends: by appreciating the nature of the power of action which they possess, you will be able to gauge how best to guide and direct them. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
We give people a wide latitude for action and a large margin for mistakes:
A wide latitude for action must be allowed them, which means that a large margin for mistakes must also be allowed. Your National Assembly and the Local Assemblies must not react automatically to every mistake, but distinguish between those that are self-correcting with the passage of time and do no particular harm to the community and those which require Assembly intervention. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
We help people feel a greater sense of freedom to engage in a wide range of activities originating with themselves:
A new burst of energy would accrue to the operation of the Three Year Plan if the friends, both individually and collectively, could feel a greater sense of freedom to engage in a wide range of activities originating with themselves. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
We recognize that each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing:
A unity in diversity of actions is called for, a condition in which different individuals will concentrate on different activities, appreciating the salutary effect of the aggregate on the growth and development of the Faith, because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing. This understanding is important to the maturity which, by the many demands being made upon it, the community is being forced to attain. (The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 80)
In every interaction, we ask: Would ‘Abdu’l-Bahá behave like this?
The people of the world today, whether Bahá’ís or non-Bahá’ís — no matter how desperately they need everything in the Bahá’í administration — are not going to benefit by being banged on the head by rules and regulations; they need love and encouragement. They need the spirit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showered upon all men, the reason He is our Exemplar. A good question for every one of us to ask our own selves is ‘Would the Master behave like this? (Ruhiyyih Khanum, A Manual for Pioneers, p. 19)
From this we see the following actions are helpful:
ignore the bad qualities and search for the good ones
put the past behind and refrain from mentioning subjects which have led to misunderstanding and inharmony
help each other overcome our problems
help each other deepen in the Faith
appreciating the nature of the power of action which they possess
give people a wide latitude for action and a large margin for mistakes
give people a greater sense of freedom to initiate a wide range of activities
recognize that each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing
in every interaction, ask: Would ‘Abdu’l-Bahá behave like this?
In spite of all the loving encouragement we may give, not all Bahá’ís will become active in the work of the community:
In spite of loving encouragement given by their Assemblies, not all Bahá’ís are active in the work of the community. This does not, of course, necessarily indicate withdrawal. An Assembly should carefully distinguish between those who are not active but still identify themselves with the Faith, and those whose inactivity indicates complete lack of interest and a wish to have nothing more to do with the Cause. (Universal House of Justice, Withdrawal from the Faith, 4 April 2001)
I’d like to start with a personal reflection on courage, written when I was on a travel teaching trip to Nunavut, in Canada’s arctic.
I had a dream about a cougar, which symbolizes courage. Richard Hastings, a Bahá’í who analyzes dreams suggested in part:
The cougar is a symbol of being courageous and independent. So you are trying to take back your courage and independence. You can bring the cougar inside of you as if you are a cougar. The exercise would be to bring the cougar inside as if you were a cougar and then feel and see and hear what that is like, then use it. The goal is be a cougar with pure intentions. When you can let go of physical concerns, bring the resources inside of you and use them, then amazing things will happen.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
Take courage! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 30)
I realized that I don’t know much about courage, though I think my life has been a courageous one in many ways, so I’m curious about what the Bahá’í Writings can shed on this concept and invite you along on my exploration.
The first quote that comes to mind is:
The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155)
I have this one memorized but I realize now, that there are 2 parts to the quote:
Promotion of the word of God
Steadfastness in His love
This trip has not been one of teaching, curiously enough, given that I’m on a travel teaching trip! Instead it’s been one of learning about love.
Before coming here, I was feeling unloved, unloveable and pretty sorry for myself! Single, alone and lonely! God had systematically removed every significant relationship from my life through estrangement and divorce (parents, siblings, spouse, significant others and son). Nothing I did to try to bring unity back into these relationships seemed to matter.
Since everything I read suggested we need relationships to heal, and I didn’t have any, I asked God to show me I was loved and loveable. And look what He did for me! He brought me to Rankin Inlet, in the middle of a polar desert, to show me how much I’m loved!
He’s used relationships with Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í friends and acquaintances around the globe, who follow my adventure on Facebook and on my blog, to prove my worth! Every day people call to pray with me; send words of encouragement through phone, email and Facebook; and send presents to meet my most basic of needs for warmth and vision – the physical mirroring the spiritual! It’s amazing, awe-inspiring, humbling and I am grateful!
Since coming here, there are many ways God shows me I’m loved every day; which helps me trust His love so I can stay steadfast in it, which is one source of courage I’m working on, and it’s unfolding easily and effortlessly and I am grateful!
The first part of the quote is much harder! Much, much harder!
Although on the one hand, there are many ways to teach the Faith, and I’m doing a lot, it never feels like it’s enough of the right kinds of teaching. I can be really quick to judge myself for not doing more direct teaching in my own neighborhoods, whether at home or here in this community.
Fortunately I’m in good company, as even the Bab didn’t think He was doing enough of the right things!
I beg Thee to forgive me, O my Lord, for every mention but the mention of Thee, and for every praise but the praise of Thee, and for every delight but delight in Thy nearness, and for every pleasure but the pleasure of communion with Thee, and for every joy but the joy of Thy love and of Thy good-pleasure, and for all things pertaining unto me which bear no relationship unto Thee. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 79)
My goal in coming here was threefold:
To maintain a Bahá’í presence in an Inuit community while the only Bahá’í leaves for 10 weeks
To have an adventure
To have a writer’s retreat
This is clear in my mind; and clear with the pioneer and those then are my marching orders.
So what then is courage in this situation, and what does being a cougar look like?
I keep coming back to the fact that I need more courage to promote the word of God; and that the only way I get it is to teach the Faith directly. Is that an accurate reading of this quote? Is that coming from my lower nature to “beat me up” or from my higher nature?
As a Bahá’í-inspired life coach I would ask a client which felt better, and I have to say that in my heart of hearts, I know that God is happy with what I am doing and is giving me exactly what I need; guiding me to what’s good for me and for this community and I can let go of any expectations to do more than what I’m doing right now. My biggest job on this trip is to learn about His love as the source of my courage.
It’s good that another thing my dream is teaching me is to be independent, because the relationship between steadfastness in God’s love as a source of courage is certainly not out there in the larger community!
Let’s look at another quote:
Whatever decreaseth fear increaseth courage. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 32)
I like this one too, because it brings me back to love. How you ask? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
It was the Love of God that . . . gave to Moses courage and patience. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 82)
But more importantly, as Bahá’u’lláh tells us in the Four Valleys, love and fear can’t exist in the same heart:
Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear. (Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 58)
So it seems to me that God is telling us that love, by decreasing fear, increases courage.
Feeling unloved by my parents, siblings, spouse, significant others and child has been the way God has used to teach me to turn to Him for love instead of seeking it in human beings:
I have detached myself from my kindred and have sought through Thee to become independent of all that dwell on earth and ever ready to receive that which is praiseworthy in Thy sight. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 21)
OK, I confess, I didn’t consciously detach myself from my kindred! I went kicking and screaming! But eventually I gave up and accepted what is, realizing:
We . . . turn nowhere for a haven but unto Thy safekeeping. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 22)
I came to realize that since the very purpose of our lives is nothing less than to know God and to worship Him, something had to happen so I could attain my purpose:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Short Obligatory Prayer, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
So to get back to the topic of courage, I can’t get courage without turning to God:
Strive as much as ye can to turn wholly toward the Kingdom, that ye may acquire innate courage and ideal power. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 206)
Once I learn to have love on the inside, and courage on the outside, I need to bring it inside myself, to calm the parts of me who aren’t feeling so courageous:
May you be a source of courage to the affrighted one. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 425)
Enough about me. Let’s take this quote to you, my readers.
As we’re learning, courage has 2 parts:
Promotion of the Word of God:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá gives us a clear link between courage and teaching and shows what we need to do:
Rest assured that the breathings of the Holy Spirit will loosen thy tongue. Speak, therefore; speak out with great courage at every meeting. When thou art about to begin thine address, turn first to Bahá’u’lláh, and ask for the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, then open thy lips and say whatever is suggested to thy heart; this, however, with the utmost courage, dignity and conviction. It is my hope that from day to day your gatherings will grow and flourish, and that those who are seeking after truth will hearken therein to reasoned arguments and conclusive proofs. I am with you heart and soul at every meeting; be sure of this. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 269)
A perfect story to illustrate this is:
Abdul-Bahá tested both the faith and courage of many of the Baha’is He met and Corinne True was one He really challenged. First, He had put her in charge of the Temple project, a woman dealing with many men. Then, as they stood at the train station before He left for Minneapolis, Abdul-Bahá told her, “Mrs. True, I want you to speak in public. I want you to tell the people about the faith.” This completely floored Corinne and she objected, saying, “But Master, I can’t do it; I have no training, no experience. I’m too frank.” “The faith”, she Thought, “had many gifted speakers, but she didn’t consider herself to be one of them.” Knowing what she was frantically thinking, Abdul-Bahá told her how to do it: “Forget what you can’t do. Stand up and turn your heart wholly toward Me. Look over the heads of the audience and I’ll never fail you.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 195)
And another good one:
To another He said: “Man is like a bird in a cage. A bird cannot attain freedom merely by knowing that in the free world there are pure breezes, spacious skies, beautiful gardens, pleasant parks and fountains; rather, the bird must find the power to break the cage and soar into the wide firmament.” (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 205)
I can really use stories like these to beat myself up. While valid for many people, at many times, I don’t think this is what God’s calling on me to do on this trip. This isn’t what God wants from me right now. That’s not what “steadfastness in His love” looks like for me.
Steadfastness in His Love
‘Abdu’l-Bahá lovingly reminds us of the relationship between tests, persecutions and calamities as a way to acquire courage.
Consider thou the lives of the former sanctified souls; what tests have they not withstood and what persecutions have they not beheld; while they were surrounded with calamities they increased their firmness and while they were overwhelmed with tests they manifested more zeal and courage. Be thou also like unto them. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 302)
For years I’ve been trying to overcome a lifetime of tests, by learning to apply the “divine remedy” to my healing, and as Bahá’u’lláh reminds us, nothing short of a mystic transformation can turn agitation into peace; doubt into certitude and timidity into courage.
It is evident that nothing short of this mystic transformation could cause such spirit and behaviour, so utterly unlike their previous habits and manners, to be made manifest in the world of being. For their agitation was turned into peace, their doubt into certitude, their timidity into courage. Such is the potency of the Divine Elixir, which, swift as the twinkling of an eye, transmuteth the souls of men! (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 156-157)
It has and I am grateful!
By “following the instructions, I have been able to rid myself of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and as a result no longer have TMJ (grinding teeth at night). And I am grateful!
But having faith, patience and courage is only the beginning!
Only have faith, patience and courage — this is but the beginning, but surely you will succeed, for God is with you! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 101)
Surely you will succeed because God is with you! I love God’s promises!
Often when people start Bahá’í inspired life coaching, they lack confidence. Why is this a challenge?A lack of confidence can affect every area of your life, from your job performance to your personal relationships. In reality, how you perceive yourself has a powerful impact on how others treat you. Is there any reason to stay stuck, when the Bahá’í Writings teach us:
Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself.Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.(Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words Arabic 22)
Some factors in bolstering self-confidence may be beyond your control, but there are some very tangible things that you can do as well. Using these tips will help you reach your full potential as a successful and confident person.
1. Dress confidently. Dress like the person you want to be and you’ll feel yourself become that person. When you look good, you’ll feel good. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to go out and spend a fortune on clothes. It’s better to buy a few really nice pieces than a bunch of cheap ones.
2. Walk faster. People who walk confidently keep a brisk pace because they have things to do and places to be. Simply quickening your step will help you feel more confident.
3. Keep good posture. People can tell a lot about you by the way you carry yourself. If you have slumped shoulders and cannot look people in the eye, you’ll leave a negative impression on them. Keep your head up, make eye contact with others, and stand up straight and tall. You have nothing to hide.
4. Be grateful. Gratitude creates a state of peace in the body. A peaceful mind radiates confidence. Make a list of the things you appreciate about yourself and be grateful for your past successes. Tell those you love how much you appreciate them being in your life.
5. Compliment others. In addition to showing appreciation for what you have, it’s also important to show others your appreciation. If you think negatively about yourself, then you’ll have a tendency to criticize others. Break this habit by praising others on a daily basis. Seeing the best in others will bring out the best in you.How do we know?The Bahá’í Writings teach:
Never speak disparagingly of others, but praise without distinction.Pollute not your tongues by speaking evil of another.(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453)
6. Give back. Contributing to the success of others will not only help you feel better about yourself, but karma will reward you in the end. What goes around comes around, right? Volunteer your time to help those in need or make a monetary contribution to your favorite local charity.
By assisting in the success of another servant in the Cause does one in reality lay the foundation for one’s own success and aspirations.(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West. Vol. 6, No. 6, p. 44)
7. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Many people keep quiet for fear of saying something silly. Taking an active role in discussions will distinguish you as a leader amongst your peers. They will quickly recognize that you have confidence and plenty to offer.
8. Exercise regularly. If you work hard to create a better physical image, you’ll not only be healthier, but you’ll also have more energy. Both of these things will contribute to your self-confidence, as will the compliments you’ll receive.
9. Sit in the front row. Most of us have a tendency to try to blend into the back of the room somewhere. We don’t like being noticed. Confident people sit up front where they can take part in discussions without fear.
10. Take a chance and try something new. Learning a new hobby or activity will broaden your horizons and help you feel “alive.” Anytime you spend stretching your mind improves your overall self-confidence.
The more self-confidence you build in yourself, the more likely you’ll be to succeed. No matter what task you choose to conquer, you’ll do so with enthusiasm. Any setbacks you encounter won’t bother you because you’ll have the confidence necessary to continue.The Bahá’í Writings teach:
When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 64)
Those who are insecure often find life to be a struggle, but with self-confidence, you can find it to be a joy. Why suffer when you can soar!
How do you build your self-confidence? Post your comments here.