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Recently I had an email from someone in a country where paying bribes is the norm.  She wrote:

Parents in my country buy gifts and give money to their children’s teachers, so they will treat them favorably.  A lot of teachers have a bad attitude towards children whose parents do not bribe them in this way.  I really do not want to do this, but if I choose not to follow this tradition, there could be harm to my son.  As a Bahai, I know we need to build a new community based on spiritual principles, so what kind of attitude and actions shall I take to face this challenge?

I replied:

God has given you good intuition and you can trust it!

Your heart knows the right answer:

  • I really do not want to do this.

It’s your head overriding what you know to be your truth:

  • the teacher’s attitude towards my son will not be good.
  • a lot of teachers will have a bad attitude to the children whose parents do not buy gifts or send money to them.

Every decision has both a material and spiritual dimension and this is why your head and heart are at war with each other.

It’s true, your son might suffer as a result of your decision, but he might not too!  Your imagination can think up one scenario, so why not imagine a more positive outcome?  To pass this test, it will be important to make your faith in God’s plan bigger than your fear of what might happen in the future.

Here are some quotes to consider:

Forsake thine own desires, turn thy face unto thy Lord, and walk not in the footsteps of those who have taken their corrupt inclinations for their god, that perchance thou mayest find shelter in the heart of existence, beneath the redeeming shadow of Him Who traineth all names and attributes.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 48-49)

If you make a different decision, you will draw closer to God (by finding shelter under His redeeming shadow), thereby achieving your purpose in life.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us there are many factors to consider before these practices disappear:

If bribery and corruption, known today by the pleasant names of gifts and favors, were forever excluded, would this threaten the foundations of justice? . . . Should anyone object that the above-mentioned reforms have never yet been fully effected, he should consider the matter impartially and know that these deficiencies have resulted from the total absence of a unified public opinion, and the lack of zeal and resolve and devotion in the country’s leaders. It is obvious that not until the people are educated, not until public opinion is rightly focused, not until government officials, even minor ones, are free from even the least remnant of corruption, can the country be properly administered. Not until discipline, order and good government reach the degree where an individual, even if he should put forth his utmost efforts to do so, would still find himself unable to deviate by so much as a hair’s breadth from righteousness, can the desired reforms be regarded as fully established.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 15-16)

These deficiencies have resulted from

  • the total absence of a unified public opinion
  • the lack of zeal and resolve and devotion in the country’s leaders

To overcome it will require:

  • people to be educated
  • public opinion to be rightly focused
  • government officials are free from even the least remnant of corruption
  • discipline, order and good government
  • individuals unable to deviate by so much as a hair’s breadth from righteousness

So by taking a stand in this area, you are doing your part to educate and help change public opinion.

As I understand it, it’s spiritually damaging for the teacher to receive such gifts, so by not participating in this practice, you are helping protect her soul:

How foolish and ignorant must a man be, how base his nature, and how vile the clay of which he is fashioned, if he would defile himself with the contamination of bribery, corruption and perfidy towards the state! Truly, the vermin of the earth are to be preferred to such people!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 344)

If, however, he abuse his position through corrupt or mercenary behaviour, he will be held in detestation at the Threshold of Grandeur and incur the wrath of the Abhá Beauty—nay, he shall be forsaken by the one true God and all who adore Him.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 344)

Here’s a prayer you can say for your son’s teachers:

O Lord! Dispel the darkness of these corrupt desires, and illumine the hearts with the lamp of Thy love.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 58)

You can also ask God to give you some creative ways to approach the teacher, and let her know of the absolute importance of her role.  These quotes might help you give her a priceless gift of inestimable value and win the confidence, respect and genuine support of those affected by your decisions:

Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children… It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God’s abounding Grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All- Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. pp. 133-134)

Among the greatest of all great services is the education of children, and promotion of the various sciences, crafts and arts. Praised be God, ye are now exerting strenuous efforts toward this end. The more ye persevere in this most important task, the more will ye witness the confirmations of God, to such a degree that ye yourselves will be astonished.  This verily is a matter beyond all doubt, a pledge that shall certainly be redeemed.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 276)

Praise thou God that thou hast succeeded in becoming a teacher of young Bahá’ís, young trees of the Bahá Paradise, and at the same time art able to benefit the other children as well. According to the explicit divine Text, teaching the children is indispensable and obligatory. It followeth that teachers are servants of the Lord God, since they have arisen to perform this task, which is the same as worship. You must therefore offer praise with every breath, for you are educating your spiritual children.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 273-274)

O thou teacher of the children of the kingdom! Thou hast arisen to perform a service which would justly entitle thee to vaunt thyself over all the teachers on earth. For the teachers of this world make use of human education to develop the powers, whether spiritual or material, of humankind, whilst thou art training these young plants in the gardens of God according to the education of Heaven, and art giving them the lessons of the Kingdom. The result of this kind of teaching will be that it will attract the blessings of God, and make manifest the perfections of man.  Hold thou fast to this kind of teaching, for the fruits of it will be very great. (‘Abdul-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 274-275)

You can pray that your son is protected from the teacher’s bad attitude.  This is very important.  When he goes off to school (and every day of his life), you can say:

O Lord! Protect us from what lieth in front of us and behind us, above our heads, on our right, on our left, below our feet and every other side to which we are exposed. Verily, Thy protection over all things is unfailing.  (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 134)

At the same time, it’s possible that this prayer won’t be answered because God wants to strengthen both you and your son through this test.  Sometimes doing the right thing as Bahá’ís causes temporary problems, which, when directed towards our children, can be hard for mothers to bear!  It’s important, though, to remember that God’s plan is always better, and we WILL be rewarded for our “fortitude under His trials.”

You might also be interested in:

Religion and Ethical Attitudes toward Accepting a Bribe: A Comparative Study

Overcoming Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity in Public Institutions: A Baha’i Perspective (a statement p Prepared by the Baha’i­ International Community and presented at the intergovernmental Global Forum on Fighting Corruption II, in The Hague, Netherlands—28 May 2001):

What’s been your experience with bribery?  Post your comments below.