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Causes of Estrangement and How to Overcome It

When I began to speak about the abuse that happened in our family, I wrote to the House of Justice about how much contact I should have with them and they suggested:

Such an attitude (forgiveness and insight into their actions) does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist.  (Universal House of Justice to me, 9 September, 1992)

Based on this, I wrote letters to my parents, asking them to take responsibility for their actions by paying for my therapy and assuring me that my son would never be subjected to the same thing.  They tried to have me declared crazy and have my son taken away.  When that didn’t work, I was shunned by my parents and siblings, and no matter what efforts I made to overcome it, my parents passed away still estranged and my brothers have shown no desire to heal the rift between us.

For more information, you might want to look at:

Should I Send a Confrontation Letter?

As someone working to bring unity to the world, the fact that I could not have unity within my own family has been a considerable source of pain for most of my adult life.

As I look around though, I realize that there has always been estrangement in families.  I’m not as unique as I once believed.  It seems we were created that way:

Souls are inclined toward estrangement. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)

‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us:

The love of family is limited; the tie of blood relationship is not the strongest bond. Frequently members of the same family disagree, and even hate each other.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)

How often it happens that in a family, love and agreement are changed into enmity and antagonism.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 79-80)

In Ruhi Book 1 we spent much time discussing the 5 things that inflict the greatest harm on the Cause, estrangement being one of the five:

Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God. Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)

The Baha’i standard would have us love each other so much we’d spend our money and give up our own desires for each other:

Cause them to love one another so as to sacrifice their spirits, expend their money and give up their desires for each other’s sake!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)

That’s a hard standard to live up to!

What are the Causes?

Misunderstandings:

This hatred and enmity, this bigotry and intolerance are outcomes of misunderstandings . . . This is the real cause of enmity, hatred and bloodshed in the world; the reason of alienation and estrangement among mankind.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96)

Selfish purposes:

Everything which conduces to separation and estrangement is satanic because it emanates from the purposes of self. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)

Effects of Estrangement:

Stress:

This “Most Great Separation”, as Bahá’u’lláh referred to the severing of the relationship [between Himself and Mírzá Yahyá], perplexed and confused believers who were unfamiliar with Mírzá Yahyá’s conduct … The anguish it brought upon Bahá’u’lláh is reflected in the term He used to refer to this period – Ayyám-i-Shidád, the “Days of Stress”.  (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)

Death and Dissolution:

Consider how clearly it is shown in creation that the cause of existence is unity and cohesion and the cause of nonexistence is separation and dissension. By a divine power of creation the elements assemble together in affinity, and the result is a composite being. Certain of these elements have united, and man has come into existence . . . But when these elements separate, when their affinity and cohesion are overcome, death and dissolution of the body they have built inevitably follow. Therefore, affinity and unity among even these material elements mean life in the body of man, and their discord and disagreement mean death. Throughout all creation, in all the kingdoms, this law is written: that love and affinity are the cause of life, and discord and separation are the cause of death.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)

‘Abdu’l-Baha becomes overwhelmed by grief:

I swear this by the beauty of the Lord: whensoever I hear good of the friends, my heart filleth up with joy; but whensoever I find even a hint that they are on bad terms one with another, I am overwhelmed by grief. Such is the condition of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Then judge from this where your duty lieth.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 231)

How to Prevent Estrangement:

Through love, respect and courtesy:

Where love, respect and courtesy are genuinely and mutually expressed, estrangement finds no accommodation and problems become soluble challenges.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)

Through consultation:

You have asked, however, for specific rules of conduct to govern the relationships of husbands and wives … If, God forbid, they fail to agree, and their disagreement leads to estrangement, they should seek counsel from those they trust and in whose sincerity and sound judgement they have confidence, in order to preserve and strengthen their ties as a united family.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456)

How to Live with Estrangement:

You may have to sever your ties:

Although Bahá’u’lláh tried to conceal Mírzá Yahyá’s attempt on his life from His companions, further acts of treachery and betrayal forced Him to sever all ties with His younger half brother.  (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)

Show kindness:

Steps should first be taken to do away with this estrangement, for only then will the Word take effect. If a believer showeth kindness to one of the neglectful, and, with great love, gradually leadeth him to an understanding of the validity of the Holy Cause, so that he may come to know the fundamentals of God’s Faith and the implications thereof—such a one will certainly be transformed. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)

Ways to Overcome Estrangement:

Through the powers of the Holy Spirit:

It is clear that limited material ties are insufficient to adequately express the universal love … No worldly power can accomplish the universal love … the Holy Spirit will give to man greater powers than these, if only he will strive after the things of the spirit and endeavour to attune his heart to the Divine infinite love.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)

Prayer:

Bring them together again, O Lord, by the Power of Thy Covenant, and gather their dispersion by the Might of Thy Promise, and unite their hearts by the dominion of Thy Love! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)

Make every effort to remove any feelings of estrangement:

The people of the world are carefully watching the Bahá’ís today, and minutely observing them. The believers must make every effort, and take the utmost care to ward off and remove any feelings of estrangement.  (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 207)

Fix your gaze on unity:

Shut your eyes to estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 67)

Love each other in God and for God:

When you love a member of your family or a compatriot, let it be with a ray of the Infinite Love! Let it be in God, and for God! Wherever you find the attributes of God love that person, whether he be of your family or of another. Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)

Through truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness:

Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness; that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Bahá, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 445)

Through love, patience, resignation, forgiveness, friendship and reconciliation:

If the friends and relatives are keeping themselves at a distance from thee, be thou not sad, for God is near to thee. Associate thou, as much as thou canst, with the relatives and strangers; display thou loving kindness; show thou forth the utmost patience and resignation. The more they oppose thee, shower thou upon them the greater justice and equity; the more they show hatred and opposition toward thee, challenge thou them with great truthfulness, friendship and reconciliation.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 557-558)

Promote amity and concord and secure an active and whole-hearted cooperation:

They must endeavor to promote amity and concord amongst the friends, efface every lingering trace of distrust, coolness and estrangement from every heart, and secure in its stead an active and whole-hearted cooperation for the service of the Cause.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 38)

Benefits of Overcoming Estrangement:

Heaven will support you:

Heaven will support you while you work in this in-gathering of the scattered peoples of the world … You will be servants of God, who are dwelling near to Him, His divine helpers in the service, ministering to all Humanity. All Humanity! Every human being! Never forget this!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)

The Grace of the Holy Spirit will be given and we will become the centre of the Divine blessings:

In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness…. If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One…. Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88-89)

Here’s a book you might find helpful:

How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below.

Recovery From Low Self Esteem

Recently I was following a discussion on self-esteem on a Baha’i forum.  As someone who suffers from low self-esteem, I was particularly interested in the discussion, hoping to find a Baha’i-inspired way to overcome this problem.  I was disappointed to see the tone of the discussion, which was largely dismissive.

One contributor said:

The first thing that came to mind was ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s breakdown of the four different kinds of love:

  • God’s love for us
  • our love for God
  • God’s love towards Her Self
  • our love for our fellow human beings

At no time does The Master mention the spiritual validity or even the existence of a fifth kind of love, namely a human being’s love for oneself. Nonetheless, self-love has become an insanely successful commodity. Why?

This certainly made me think!

In the Secret of Divine Civilization (p.96-97), ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us both:

…self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man ….

The heart is a divine trust; cleanse it from the stain of self-love.

All of this made me start to meditate on this question: Is there a healthy form of “self-love” from a Baha’i perspective?

Contributor 2 suggested:

  • There’s wisdom in knowing ourselves. And not just the Eternal, the Perfect, but also our flaws and foibles.

It reminded me of this quote:

The first Taraz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon  of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.  (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 34)

Contributor 3 suggested:

  • One theory is that individuals who have been abused – particularly by someone in a position of authority – have a deep mistrust of this parent-like God who resides outside them. These abuses need not even be direct; simple exposure to the dysfunction of the crumbling Age may lead to the same kinds of fears. Arguably, in this Day of corrupt governments, sexually predatory clergy members and vile human rights abuses, it may be unrealistic to expect the majority of people not to be deeply suspicious of an authoritative God who expresses Her will via Institutions and Laws, no matter how lovingly She is characterised. Perhaps at this point in the process, self-esteem aids serve a vital purpose for those individuals who have been so damaged that their healing requires they learn how to love the God within before they can even conceive of obeying a God without.

This article elaborates on this theme a little more:

The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient

Contributor 4 suggested:

  • It would seem to me that the Baha’i Faith is encouraging us to focus on “God love” rather than “self-love”. The most effective and safest way to love ourselves is to love the image of God that is potentially reflected in the reality of our true identity which is the soul.

This reminded me of the Hidden Word which says:

All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words, 27)

Contributor 5 suggested:

  • The self-esteem industry consists of two broad streams: self-healing and self-improvement. Though it occasionally touches on notions of surrender and service, the latter tends to revolve around the cult of more; how to get more rich, more attractive, more employable, more…more. It’s the saddest kind of irony as studies upon studies have disproved the myth that acquiring more things equals acquiring more happiness – or as the ads imply, more ‘self-esteem.’ The first stream though, that of purchasable ‘healing,’ is the one that I believe offers the most insight to a Baha’i looking to assist a struggling brother or sister. What we need to ask ourselves is why. Why is this route so popular? Why do people feel more comfortable paying thousands of hard-earned dollars for guidance on how to commune with the Divine within, rather than acquiescing to a God found outside themselves (for example, in Holy Writings and Institutions), as well as within?

This got me thinking about our purpose of life, which is to know and worship God (not ourselves), and the best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.

Contributor 6 suggested:

  • We really are powerless! In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”.  This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.

Contributor 7 suggested:

  • My experience of America culture is that we are now living under a “self-esteem” regime where “feeling good” has become more important than “doing good”. The line between self-love and selfishness is not a bright and well-lit highway, but is more like a spider’s web in a dark attic.It reminded me of these quotes:

If man be imbued with all good qualities but be selfish, all the other virtues will fade or pass away and eventually he will grow worse.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 136)

But if he show the slightest taint of selfish desires and self-love, his efforts will lead to nothing and he will be destroyed and left hopeless at the last. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 71)

It may be helpful to understand the two ways that “self” or “ego” is understood in the Baha’i Writings as explained by Shoghi Effendi.

Regarding the questions you asked: self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá’í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as “he hath known God who hath known himself”, etc. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.

Contributor 8 suggested:

  • I’ve also noticed that having an ongoing negative mental conversation about one’s flaws, faults, and failings doesn’t seem to be conducive towards joy, kindness, appreciation, and treating others with love and serving humanity. Consequently, I’m starting to let go of excessive criticism of my own failures. And that seems to be leading towards an improvement in my overall ability to “live the life”.

It reminds me of this quote:

He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to Me.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 457)

Contributor 9 suggested:

  • I find it helpful to think of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha was. For Baha’is He is the perfect Exemplar of how we should be and live. His whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.

Summary

According to the Bahá’í Writings, self-love is kneaded into the very clay of our beings and we need to cleanse our hearts from its stain.  In order to do it we need to know ourselves well enough to recognize what leads us to loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.  The easiest way to do this is to make the love of God so strong in our hearts, that there is no room for anything else.

The negative mental conversations we have about our flaws, faults, and failings leads to our abasement.  If we want to be happy and joyful servants and teachers of the Faith, we need to treat ourselves with as much kindness, appreciation, and love as we would treat other people.  We need to turn our back on our failings and our face to God.

How do we do it?

  1. We remember that our purpose of life is to know and worship God (not ourselves). The best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.
  1. Our parents have a role in educating us spiritually, but if we’ve been abused, it may be more difficult. Nevertheless, we remember we are all powerless.  In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”.  This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.
  1. We follow the example of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, whose whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.

If we aren’t able to do this, our efforts will lead to nothing and we will be destroyed and left hopeless.

How has this helped you in your understanding of raising your self-esteem?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please post below.

Understanding Low Self Esteem

Someone with low self-esteem frequently feels unworthy, incapable, and incompetent. This can lead to:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety and emotional turmoil
  • Lack of social skills and self-confidence.
  • Depression and/or bouts of sadness
  • Eating disorders
  • Inability to accept compliments
  • An Inability to be fair to yourself
  • Accentuating the negative
  • Exaggerated concern over what you imagine other people think
  • Self-neglect or treating yourself badly
  • Worrying whether you have treated others badly
  • Reluctance to take on challenges
  • Reluctance to trust your own opinion
  • Expecting little out of life for yourself.

As Baha’is, we can’t afford to let this get in the way of teaching and participating in the core activities.  The world needs us too much!  So what causes low self-esteem, and how can we overcome it?  Let’s look at what the Baha’i Writings have to share.

Uninvolved, Negligent or Abusive Parents:  When we’re children, our feelings about ourselves are formed by how we’re treated by our parents. If they have mental health problems, substance abuse issues or other challenges, they may not be able to provide their children with the care, guidance and attention they need and deserve.  If they are abusive, children may feel that they did something to deserve the abuse, or that they were not worthy of the respect, love and care they deserved. All of these can cause significant self-esteem problems.

These might help:

The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient

The Responsibilities of Parenthood

Should Bahá’í Mothers Stay at Home? 

The Role of Fathers in a Bahá’í Family

When Parents Fail

Honoring an Abusive Spouse or Parent

Newsletter – On How we Treat our Parents

Body Image:  Body image is a huge factor in young people’s self-esteem. From the moment we’re born, we’re surrounded by unrealistic images of what women and men should look like, what the “ideal” body type is. Women’s bodies are constantly objectified in the media, making it seem as though their bodies exist for others to look at, touch, use, etc. When puberty comes around and our bodies start to change, they don’t change into what we see on magazine covers or in music videos. This can lead to feeling unattractive and inadequate.  While men’s bodies are not treated as an object for others to the same extent, the images portrayed are a sign of masculinity. Young men may feel pressured to develop large muscles as a show of strength and manliness; they may also feel self-conscious about their height.

The best way to understand and overcome these messages is through participation in the junior youth empowerment program.

These quotes might also help:

It matters not what the exterior may be if the heart be pure and white within. God . . . looks at the hearts. He whose morals and virtues are praiseworthy is preferred in the presence of God; he who is devoted to the Kingdom is most beloved.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 267)

For the body of man is accidental; it is of no importance. The time of its disintegration will inevitably come. But the spirit of man is essential and therefore eternal. It is a divine bounty. It is the effulgence of the Sun of Reality and therefore of greater importance than the physical body.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 262)

Human beauty and perfection require the existence of the ear, the eye, the brain and even that of the nails and hair; if man were all brain, eyes or ears, it would be equivalent to imperfection. So the absence of hair, eyelashes, teeth and nails would be an absolute defect . . . but their absence in the body of man is necessarily faulty and displeasing.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 129)

Negative Peers:  Just as the way we’re treated by parents or guardians can greatly influence our self-esteem, so can the way we’re treated by peers. Being part of a social group that brings you down – by not respecting you, by pressuring you to do things you’re not comfortable with, by not valuing your thoughts and feelings, etc. – can cause you to feel like something is wrong with you, or that the only way for you to be liked is to do what others want and not listen to your own heart and mind. This is very damaging to how you see yourself.

Participation in children’s classes and the junior youth spiritual empowerment program can give our youth exposure to a healthy peer group.

These quotes might also help:

Beware! Walk not with the ungodly and seek not fellowship with him, for such companionship turneth the radiance of the heart into infernal fire.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 57)

The company of the ungodly increaseth sorrow, whilst fellowship with the righteous cleanseth the rust from off the heart.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 56)

Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 3)

Do not associate with the wicked, because the company of the wicked changeth the light of life into the fire of remorse. If thou asketh for the bounties of the Holy Spirit, associate with the pure ones, because they have quaffed the eternal chalice from the hands of the Cupbearer of eternity.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 434)

[E]stablish ties of friendship, on the basis of shared understanding, with those previously regarded as strangers.  (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2010)

Now associate with good people. You must try to associate with those who will do you good and who will be the cause of your being more awakened, and not with those who will make you negligent of God. For example, if one goes into a garden and associates with flowers, one will surely inhale the beautiful fragrance, but if one goes to a place where there are bad-scented plants, it is sure he will inhale an unpleasant odour. In short, I mean that you will try to be with those who are purified and sanctified souls. Man must always associate with those from whom he can get light, or be with those to whom he can give light. He must either receive or give instructions. Otherwise, being with people without these two intentions, he is spending his time for nothing, and, by so doing, he is neither gaining nor causing others to gain.  (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

Unrealistic Goals:  Whether the pressure comes from themselves, authority figures or peers, some young people expect way too much of themselves in terms of school achievement, extracurricular involvement and/or social status. Those who struggle academically may think they should be getting straight A’s all the time; those who perform well academically may try to take on too many other activities and expect to be “the best” at all of them. Young people who crave popularity may expect everyone to like them, not believing they can’t please everyone. This failure to meet unrealistic goals may lead to the feeling that you are a failure in general.

These quotes might help:

Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power. The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)

At the heart of every development endeavour is consistent, systematic action. Action,
however, needs to be accompanied by constant reflection to ensure that it continues to serve the aims of the endeavour. (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 14)

It is only through continued action, reflection and consultation on their part that they will learn to read their own reality, to see their own possibilities, make their own resources . . . (Universal House of Justice, to the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)

To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others is wholly alien to Bahá’í thought.  (Universal House of Justice, to the Bahá’ís of the World, 1 March 2017)

Previous Bad Choices:  Sometimes we get locked into a certain pattern of decision-making and acting. Perhaps you haven’t been a very good friend in the past. Maybe you didn’t apply yourself in school. Maybe you participated in risky behaviors like drug use or unprotected sex. You might think you’re just “the kind of person” who behaves in those ways. You may even dislike yourself significantly because of past choices, but don’t think you can change courses now. Therefore, you won’t try. You’ll continue making choices that reinforce your own negative self-view.

Forgiveness of self and understanding God’s forgiveness will help.

There are lots of articles on this topic or you can read them in my book Learning How to Forgive

Negative Thought Patterns When we get used to feeling, thinking and talking about ourselves in a particular way, it becomes a habit. If you have often felt that you’re worthless or inferior, if you constantly think negative thoughts and say negative things about yourself, then you’re likely to go on feeling and thinking the same way unless you break the cycle by challenging your negative thoughts and feelings about yourself.

We have many stories of the Hands of the Cause who were shocked by their appointment, because they knew how unworthy they were.  When John Robarts received the telegraph appointing him as a Hand of the Cause, he thought it was for his wife!  When William Sears was appointed, he wrote back to the Guardian saying, “Not worthy.” The Guardian replied, “Get worthy“.

Howard Colby Ives had this to say:

I one day asked Άbdu’l-Bahá how it could ever be possible for me, deep in the mass of weak and selfish humanity, ever to hope to attain when the goal was so high and great. He said that it is to be accomplished little by little; little by little. And I thought to myself, I have all eternity for this journey from self to God. The thing to do is to get started.  (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 63)

These quotes might help:

When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.          (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 30)

The heart must needs therefore be cleansed from the idle sayings of men, and sanctified from every earthly affection, so that it may discover the hidden meaning of divine inspiration, and become the treasury of the mysteries of divine knowledge. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 68)

Peace of mind is gained by the centering of the spiritual consciousness on the Prophet of God; therefore you should study the spiritual Teachings, and receive the Water of Life from the Holy Utterances. Then by translating these high ideals into action, your entire character will be changed, and your mind will not only find peace, but your entire being will find joy and enthusiasm. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 112)

You know well that the habits of mind and spirit that you are nurturing in yourselves and others will endure, influencing decisions of consequence that relate to marriage, family, study, work, even where to live. Consciousness of this broad context helps to shatter the distorting looking glass in which everyday tests, difficulties, setbacks, and misunderstandings can seem insurmountable. And in the struggles that are common to each individual’s spiritual growth, the will required to make progress is more easily summoned when one’s energies are being channelled towards a higher goal—the more so when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal. (Universal House of Justice to the 114 Youth Conferences, 1 July 2013)

You might find these articles helpful:

A New Way of Looking at Myself

We Are Not Our Thoughts

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Change is Difficult and Takes a Long Time

Is your Mind Killing You?

Finally, we’re not alone! Rúhiyyih Khánum tells us how Shoghi Effendi’s hardest task, from the very beginning, was to accept himself.

Every time one goes into the details of any particular period in the Guardian’s life one is tempted to say “this was the worst period”, so fraught with strain, problems, unbearable pressures was his entire ministry. But there is a pattern, there are themes, higher and lower points were reached.

The pattern of 1922, 1923 and 1924 reveals itself, insofar as his personal life is concerned, as an heroic attempt to come to grips with this leviathan – the Cause of God – he had been commanded to bestride. Again and again he was thrown. Torn by agonies of doubt as to his own worthiness to be the successor of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, struggling with himself as had so many Prophets and Chosen Ones before him, he argued in the depths of his soul with his destiny, remonstrated with his fate, appealed to his God for relief – but it availed him naught. He was firmly caught in the meshes of the Master’s mighty Will and Testament.

He hints at this many times in his letters: “the storm and stress that have agitated my life since ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing…” “I, for my part, as I look back…to the unfortunate circumstances of ill-health and physical exhaustion that have attended the opening years of my career of service to the Cause, feel hardly gratified, and would be truly despondent but for the sustaining memory and inspiring example of the diligent and ceaseless efforts which my fellow-workers the world over have displayed during these two trying years in the service of the Cause.” In another letter he wrote: “…looking back upon those sullen days of my retirement, bitter with feelings of anxiety and gloom…I can well imagine the degree of uneasiness, nay of affliction, that must have agitate the mind and soul of every loving and loyal servant of the Beloved during these long months of suspense and distressing silence…”

That his own condition, and what he considered his failure to rise to the situation the Master’s passing had placed him in, distressed him more than anything else for a number of years is reflected in excerpts from this letters. As late as September 1924 he wrote: “I deplore the disturbing effect of my forced and repeated withdrawals from the field of service…my prolonged absence, my utter inaction, should not, however, be solely attributed to certain external manifestations of in harmony, of discontent and disloyalty – however paralyzing their effect has been upon the continuance of my work – but also to my own unworthiness and to my imperfections and frailties.”

His hardest task, form the very beginning, was to accept himself.  (Rúhiyyih Khánum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 71-72)

I’d like to finish with this beautiful song.  The lyrics were written, sung, filmed and edited by Amelia Mahony, the 15-year-old daughter of Elika Mahoney, a well-loved Bahá’í musician herself.  It’s a wonderful mantra to sing, whenever you’re feeling attacked by low self-esteem.

 

How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below.

Overcoming Backbiting – Changing our Behaviour

 

How do we overcome this cultural past-time?

Just stop!

As with many things, deeds not words are what is required:

However, deprivation of voting rights is usually of little help in such circumstances and should be resorted to only after other remedies have been tried and failed . . . Rash action can dampen the zeal of the community, and this must be avoided at all costs.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60)

We’re asked to refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causes sadness in men:

Verily I say, the tongue is for mentioning what is good, defile it not with unseemly talk. God hath forgiven what is past. Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men. Lofty is the station of man!  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 219-220)

A silent tongue is the safest:

A silent tongue is the safest. Even good may be harmful, if spoken at the wrong time, or to the wrong person.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 125)

If the situation is not serious, we should ignore it:

Sometimes, however, the matter does not seem grave enough to warrant reporting to the Spiritual Assembly, in which case it may be best to ignore it altogether. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

 ‘Abdu’l-Baha longed to see us use our lips in praise of others instead:

I hope that the believers of God will shun completely backbiting, each one praising the other cordially.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting were shut eternally and each one of the believers unsealed his lips in praise of others. (’Abdu’l-Baha, Star of West, Vol. IV. p. 192)

We must overlook people’s shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues:

The friends must overlook their shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues and not their defects.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

We must think of our own imperfections and try to remove them:

On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more emphatic than on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding and backbiting while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)

In ‘Star of the West’, Volume 8, No. 10, on page 138, there is a record of a reply given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in a private interview in Paris in 1913. He was asked ‘How shall I overcome seeing the faults of others — recognizing the wrong in others?’, and He replied: ‘I will tell you. Whenever you recognize the fault of another, think of yourself! What are my imperfections? — and try to remove them. Do this whenever you are tried through the words or deeds of others. Thus you will grow, become more perfect. You will overcome self, you will not even have time to think of the faults of others.’  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

The task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will-power and energy:

Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being ‘perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect’ and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will- power and energy.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)

I love this analogy – If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, our own furrow will assuredly become crooked:

If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)

Here’s a story of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha helped someone overcome the things she’d said about her worst enemy:

A woman went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, received His teachings and blessings, and asked for a special work.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘Spread the law of love.  Live in accord with love, reciprocity and cooperation.’  She answered, ‘I want something special.  All Baha’is are asked to do this.’ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered, ‘Very well.  Come tomorrow morning, when you are about to leave, and I will give you the special work.’  She was very happy all that day and night, in anticipation. The next day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said to her, ‘I am going to give you my son that you may educate him physically, mentally and spiritually.’  She was surprised, and was made happy at this.  But her surprise gave way to wonder when she reflected that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had no son.  What could He mean? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asked, ‘Do you know this son of mine?’  Then He told her:  In her city there had lived a man, her worst enemy.  He had died leaving a son, who no one to take care of him:  this was now her task.  When she heard this she was overwhelmed.  She was spiritually reborn.  She wept and said, ‘My Master, I now know what the Baha’i Cause means.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 106)

When We Hear Others Gossiping

Justice requires we do our own investigation; seeing with our own eyes and knowing through our own knowledge, instead of relying on others:

The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)

We should ignore it:

Ignoring gossip and slander is a positive, constructive and healing action helpful to the community, the gossiper and to the persons slandered.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

We should close our ears to it:

You must not listen to anyone speaking about another, because no sooner do you listen than you must listen to someone else and thus the circle will be enlarged endlessly.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Ramleh, Egypt, 29 October 1913, Star of the West – 4, p. 104)

We should tactfully but firmly prevent others from making accusations or complaints against others in our presence:

We should therefore, as tactfully as possible, but yet firmly, do our utmost to prevent others from making accusations or complaints against others in our presence. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)

When we hear gossip and backbiting, we can stop the discussion in a friendly manner, with questions such as:

  • Would this detraction serve any useful purpose?
  • Would it please the Blessed Beauty?
  • Would it contribute to the lasting honour of the friends?
  • Would it promote the holy Faith?
  • Would it support the covenant?
  • Would it be of any possible benefit to any soul?

If any individual should speak ill of one who is absent, it is incumbent on his hearers, in a spiritual and friendly manner, to stop him, and say in effect:  would this detraction serve any useful purpose? Would it please the Blessed Beauty, contribute to the lasting honour of the friends, promote the holy Faith, support the covenant, or be of any possible benefit to any soul? No, never! On the contrary, it would make the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more, and the eyes would not longer behold the light of truth.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)

We could tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings on the subject:

Or perhaps the relationship is such that he can tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings on the subject — but here he must be very careful not to give the impression of prying into a fellow-believer’s private affairs or of telling him what he must do, which would not only be wrong in itself but might well produce the reverse of the desired reaction.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

We could tactfully draw the offender into Bahá’í activities hoping that as his knowledge of the teachings and awareness of the Faith deepens, he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct:

There are also other things that can be done by the Bahá’í to whose notice such things come. For example he could foster friendly relations with the individual concerned, tactfully drawing him into Bahá’í activities in the hope that, as his knowledge of the teachings and awareness of the Faith deepens, he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

 We can always consult our LSA or Auxiliary Board member for advice:

If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’ís conduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course, always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant.  Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offense.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

 Here are 3 stories of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha showed us how to handle discussions that involve backbiting:

When once someone complained of Lua to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, He turned to the person who had made the criticism and with a benign smile, said, ‘But she loves her Lord.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 164)

Under a grove of trees near Lake Michigan, while in Chicago in 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave intimate and loving counsel to His friends:  ‘Some of you may have observed that I have not called attention to any of your individual shortcomings.  I would suggest to you, that if you shall be similarly considerate in your treatment of each other, it will be greatly conducive to the harmony of your association with each other.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88)

It is related that His Holiness Christ — May my life be a sacrifice to Him! — one day, accompanied by His apostles, passed by the corpse of a dead animal. One of them said: ‘How putrid has this animal become!’ The other exclaimed: ‘How it is deformed!’ A third cried out: ‘What a stench! How cadaverous looking!’ but His Holiness Christ said: “Look at its teeth! how white they are!’ Consider, that He did not look at all at the defects of that animal; nay, rather, He searched well until He found the beautiful white teeth. He observed only the whiteness of the teeth and overlooked entirely the deformity of the body, the dissolution of its organs and the bad odour.  This is the attribute of the children of the Kingdom. This is the conduct and the manner of the real Bahá’ís. I hope that all the believers will attain to this lofty station.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 91)

He stopped the fault-finding by focusing on something positive instead.

‘Abdu’l-Baha also understood those who gossiped, and showered them with love and forgiveness, as these stories illustrate:

That very afternoon, in my room with two of the believers, I spoke against a brother in the truth, finding fault with him, and giving vent to the evil in my own heart by my words . . . A little later we all went to supper, and my hard heart was unconscious of its error, until, as my eyes sought the beloved face of my Master, I met His gaze, so full of gentleness and compassion that I was smitten to the heart.  For in some marvellous way His eyes spoke to me; in that pure and perfect mirror I saw my wretched self and burst into tears.  He took no notice of me for a while and everyone kindly continued with the supper while I sat in His dear Presence washing away some of my sins in tears.  After a few moments He turned and smiled on me and spoke my name several times as though He were calling me to Him.  In an instant such sweet happiness pervaded my soul, my heart was comforted with such infinite hope, that I knew He would cleanse me of all of my sins.’  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 63)

We began to argue about the New York Assembly: as to whether or not it was united!  Mr Kinney declared that it was. I said it was not. I even went so far as to mention the breeder of the discord, to condemn her destructive work!  But when X and I crept off to the room we were temporarily occupying — crept through the black, vaulted halls and rooms, over the old stone floors, to the rear wing of the house — a feeling of guilt such as I could hardly bear consumed me.  Next morning when I met our Lord outside the dining room door, in the sunny little court I so love because it is associated with His footsteps, with the benediction of His Presence, looking with eyes that … forgave? … no, that understood … deep, deep into my eyes, He put out His hand and took mine in a clasp of love.  (Diary of Juliet Thompson)

Who Can Help?

As with everything in the Faith, we need all 3 protagonists – the individual, the community and the Institutions.

First, as individuals, we need to really study the Writings and become peacemakers:

What the believers need is not only … to really study the teachings, but also to have more peace-makers circulating among them. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

The the older and the more mature Bahá’ís can help the weaker ones to function and live like true believers:

It is one of the functions of the older and the more mature Bahá’ís, to help the weaker ones to iron out their difficulties and learn to really function and live like true believers!  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

The NSA could provide for the proper deepening of the friends to instill in them a respect for Bahá’í laws:

We think it would be much better for the National Assembly to provide for the proper deepening of the friends and in a loving and patient manner attempt to instill in them a respect for Bahá’í laws.   (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60)

How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below!

You are Enough

This is one of my favorite videos by Janna!  It’s an important message for everyone even if you aren’t a mother.  Have a listen and post your comments below.

 

Janna Denton-Howes is a Marriage Coach whose passion is to help couples get unstuck and move powerfully towards the vision of true Baha’i marriage.  If you liked this video, you can visit her site; read her blog and watch her other videos.

Is Criticism Allowed In The Baha’i Faith?

 

I was playing a game at summer school last year, in which we were asked this question and of course, I answered “no”.  Bahá’ís have to be positive, loving, forgiving, creating unity, building communities, don’t we?

How can we do that if we allow criticism to come in?

I was shocked that the answer I gave was wrong!  I set out to prove the speaker wrong (thereby criticizing them in my own mind!  O God, forgive me, please!).  I was surprised by what I found.  Have a look with me.

The answer is both yes (with conditions) and no, as we’ll see below.

We all have a right to set forth our views:

Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 63)

The root cause of criticism is lack of faith in the system of Baha’u’llah:

Vicious criticism is indeed a calamity. But its root is lack of faith in the system of Bahá’u’lláh, i.e., the Administrative Order — and lack of obedience to Him — for He has forbidden it! If the Bahá’ís would follow the Bahá’í laws in voting, in electing, in serving and in abiding by Assembly decisions, all this waste of strength through criticizing others could be diverted into cooperation and achieving the Plan. (Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

We have been protected against the misuse of criticism through the Covenant and by an administration which draws out the constructive ideas of individuals and uses them for the benefit of the entire system:

If Bahá’í individuals deliberately ignore the principles imbedded in the Order which Bahá’u’lláh Himself has established to remedy divisiveness in the human family, the Cause for which so much has been sacrificed will surely be set back in its mission to rescue world society from complete disintegration. May not the existence of the Covenant be invoked again and again, so that such repetition may preserve the needed perspective? For, in this age, the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh has been protected against the baneful effects of the misuse of the process of criticism; this has been done by the institution of the Covenant and by the provision of a universal administrative system which incorporates within itself the mechanisms for drawing out the constructive ideas of individuals and using them for the benefit of the entire system. Admonishing the people to uphold the unifying purpose of the Cause, Bahá’u’lláh, in the Book of His Covenant, addresses these poignant words to them: “Let not the means of order be made the cause of confusion and the instrument of union an occasion for discord.” Such assertions emphasize a crucial point; it is this: In terms of the Covenant, dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating the Bahá’í community, namely, the establishment of the unity of mankind. (Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 15-16)

Yes, with conditions

We are fully entitled to address criticisms but then we must whole-heartedly accept the advice or decision of the assembly:

The Bahá’ís are fully entitled to address criticisms to their assemblies; they can freely air their views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the assembly, local or national, but then they must whole-heartedly accept the advice or decision of the assembly, according to the principles already laid down for such matters in Bahá’í administration. (Shoghi Effendi, Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand, p. 55)

It is our vital responsibility to offer fully and frankly, but with due respect and consideration to the authority of the Assembly, any suggestion, recommendation or criticism he conscientiously feels he should in order to improve and remedy certain existing conditions or trends in his local community:

You had asked whether the believers have the right to openly express their criticism of any Assembly action or policy; it is not only the right, but the vital responsibility of every loyal and intelligent member of the Community to offer fully and frankly, but with due respect and consideration to the authority of the Assembly, any suggestion, recommendation or criticism he conscientiously feels he should in order to improve and remedy certain existing conditions or trends in his local community, and it is the duty of the Assembly also to give careful consideration to any such views submitted to them by any one of the believers.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Meetings/The Nineteen Day Feasts, pp. 27-28)

Criticism should be addressed to the institutions of the Faith and not aired in the community where it might foment division and misunderstandings:

It is clear then that criticism is allowed, but it should be addressed to the institutions of the Faith and not aired in the community where it might foment division and misunderstandings.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

The best time to do it is at the Feast:

The best occasion chosen for this purpose is the Nineteen Day Feast which, besides its social and spiritual aspects, fulfills various administrative needs and requirements of the Community, chief among them being the need for open and constructive criticism and deliberation regarding the state of affairs within the local Bahá’í Community.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Meetings/The Nineteen Day Feasts, pp. 27-28)

No

Criticism and discussions of a negative character which undermines the authority of the assembly should be strictly avoided:

It should be stressed that all criticism and discussions of a negative character which may result in undermining the authority of the assembly as a body should be strictly avoided. For otherwise the order of the Cause itself will be endangered, and confusion and discord will reign in the community. (Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Criticism is often the harbinger of conflict and contention:

The responsibility resting on the individual to conduct himself in such a way as to ensure the stability of society takes on elemental importance in this context. For vital as it is to the progress of society, criticism is a two-edged sword: It is all too often the harbinger of conflict and contention. The balanced processes of the Administrative Order are meant to prevent this essential activity from degenerating to any form of dissent that breeds opposition and its dreadful schismatic consequences. How incalculable have been the negative results of ill-directed criticism: in the catastrophic divergences it has created in religion, in the equally contentious factions it has spawned in political systems, which have dignified conflict by institutionalizing such concepts as the “loyal opposition” which attach to one or another of the various categories of political opinion — conservative, liberal, progressive, reactionary, and so on.  (Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 15-16)

If we continually criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, we prevent any real progress and repel outsiders:

The Guardian believes that a great deal of the difficulties from which the believers . . . feel themselves to be suffering are caused by their neither correctly understanding or putting into practice the administration. They seem — many of them — to be prone to continually challenging and criticizing the decisions of their assemblies. If the Bahá’ís undermine the very leaders which are, however immaturely, seeking to coordinate Bahá’í activities and administer Bahá’í affairs, if they continually criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, they not only prevent any real rapid progress in the Faith’s development from taking place, but they repel outsiders who quite rightly may ask how we ever expect to unite the whole world when we are so disunited among ourselves!  (Shoghi Effendi, The National Spiritual Assembly compilation, p. 35-36)

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-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88)

In this Cause, consultation is of vital importance; but spiritual conference and not the mere voicing of personal views is intended. In France I was present at a session of the senate but the experience was not impressive. Parliamentary procedure should have for its object the attainment of the light of truth upon questions presented and not furnish a battleground for opposition and self-opinion. Antagonism and contradiction are unfortunate and always destructive to truth. In the parliamentary meeting mentioned, altercation and useless quibbling were frequent; the result mostly confusion and turmoil; even in one instance a physical encounter took place between two members. It was not consultation but comedy.   . . Therefore true consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love. Members must love each other in the spirit of fellowship in order that good results may be forthcoming. Love and fellowship are the foundation.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72)

Contradiction and altercation will make it necessary for a judicial body to render decision upon the question:

Opposition and division are deplorable. It is better then to have the opinion of a wise, sagacious man; otherwise, contradiction and altercation, in which varied and divergent views are presented, will make it necessary for a judicial body to render decision upon the question.   (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72)

Conclusion:

So from this we learn that criticism is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand:

  • We have a right to set forth our views
  • We are fully entitled to address criticisms to our assemblies
  • We can freely air our views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the assembly
  • We must whole-heartedly accept the advice or decision of the assembly
  • It is our responsibility to offer suggestions, recommendations or criticism in order to improve and remedy conditions or trends in our local community
  • We do so fully and frankly, with due respect and consideration to the authority of the Assembly
  • It is the duty of the Assembly to give careful consideration to any such views
  • Criticism is allowed, but it should be addressed to the institutions of the Faith and not aired in the community
  • The best occasion chosen for this purpose is the Nineteen Day Feast which encourages open and constructive criticism and deliberation regarding the state of affairs within the local Bahá’í Community
  • We are protected against the effects of the misuse of the process of criticism through the institution of the Covenant
  • Our administrative system has the mechanisms for drawing out the constructive ideas of individuals and using them for the benefit of the entire system

And on the other hand:

  • Criticism which undermines the authority of the assembly should be strictly avoided
  • Criticism’s root is lack of faith in the system of Bahá’u’lláh
  • Criticism is a waste of strength that could be diverted into cooperation and achieving the Plan
  • Criticism is often the harbinger of conflict and contention
  • Criticism allows confusion and discord to reign
  • Criticism breeds opposition
  • Criticism leads to division and misunderstandings
  • Criticism has dreadful schismatic consequences
  • Criticism leads to negative results
  • Criticism has created catastrophic divergences in religion, in the equally
  • Criticism has spawned contentious factions in political systems
  • Criticism prevents any real rapid progress in the Faith’s development from taking place
  • Criticism furnishes a battleground for opposition and self-opinion
  • Criticism is destructive to truth
  • Criticism results in confusion and turmoil
  • Criticism can lead to physical violence
  • Criticism that creates dissidence prevents the establishment of the unity of mankind
  • Criticism repels outsiders who quite rightly may ask how we ever expect to unite the whole world when we are so disunited among ourselves

How has this helped you understand this issue better?  Post your comments below!