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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?

Conclusion:

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)

For more information, you might want to read:

The Theory of the Big Toenail  

Encouraging Universal Participation  

Why Do People Resign? 

 How has this helped your understanding of encouragement?  What’s been your experiences good and bad?  Post your comments below!