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Sometimes when we come together as Bahá’ís to consult, we think that saying prayers and having love and unity as a watchword before us is enough.  But that’s where we get in trouble!

The House of Justice has told us that consultation is a skill that needs to be developed; and that doing so is not easy.

Consultation is no easy skill to learn . . .   (The Universal House of Justice, 1966 Jun 10, Youth in Every Land)

So let’s look at what true Bahá’í consultation looks like; so we know how to develop this important skill!

What is Consultation?

It’s a basic law of Baha’i Administration:

The principle of consultation, which constitutes one of the basic laws of the Administration.  (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 15)

It’s spiritual conference not the mere voicing of opinions:

In this Cause consultation is of vital importance, but spiritual conference and not the mere voicing of personal views is intended. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72)

It’s a collective search for truth:

Whether concerned with analysing a specific problem, attaining higher degrees of understanding on a given issue, or exploring possible courses of action, consultation may be seen as collective search for truth.  (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13)

What Do We Consult On?

We consult on all things:

Thus consultation is acceptable in the presence of the Almighty, and hath been enjoined upon the believers, so that they may confer upon ordinary and personal matters, as well as on affairs which are general in nature and universal. “For instance, when a man hath a project to accomplish, should he consult with some of his brethren, that which is agreeable will of course be investigated and unveiled to his eyes, and the truth will be disclosed. Likewise on a higher level, should the people of a village consult one another about their affairs, the right solution will certainly be revealed. In like manner, the members of each profession, such as in industry, should consult, and those in commerce should similarly consult on business affairs. In short, consultation is desirable and acceptable in all things and on all issues.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 176)

In all things it is necessary to consult. This matter should be forcibly stressed by thee, so that consultation may be observed by all. The intent of what hath been revealed from the Pen of the Most High is that consultation may be fully carried out among the friends.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Consultation, p. 93)

Why do we Consult?

The views of several are preferable to one:

The purpose of consultation is to show that the views of several individuals are assuredly preferable to one man, even as the power of a number of men is of course greater than the power of one man.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 176)

Good intentions and practical knowledge are usually not enough:

There are spiritual principles, or what some call human values, by which solutions can be found for every social problem. Any well-intentioned group can in a general sense devise practical solutions to its problems, but good intentions and practical knowledge are usually not enough.  (Universal House of Justice, in The Promise of World Peace, p. 28)

It facilitates the discovery and implementation of practical measures:

The essential merit of spiritual principle is that it not only presents a perspective which harmonizes with that which is immanent in human nature, it also induces an attitude, a dynamic, a will, an aspiration, which facilitate the discovery and implementation of practical measures.  (Universal House of Justice, in The Promise of World Peace, p. 28)

Individuals see reality from different points of view and as these are examined, clarity is achieved:

Participants in a consultative process see reality from different points of view, and as these views are examined and understood, clarity is achieved.  (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13)

What is the Goal of Consultation? 

  • to investigate truth
  • to arrive at a solution to a problem
  • to reach a joint decision

The purpose is to investigate truth:

The purpose is to emphasize the statement that consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth.   (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72)

The purpose of consultation is to arrive at a solution to a problem:

It should be borne in mind that all consultation is aimed at arriving at a solution to a problem and is quite different from the sort of group baring of the soul that is popular in some circles these days and which borders on the kind of confession that is forbidden in the Faith.   (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 23)

The aim is to reach a joint decision:

What should be noted in this connection is that, at times, consultation is undertaken between those regarded as equals with the aim of reaching a joint decision, as in the case of the deliberations of a Spiritual Assembly.  (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13-14)

What is the Process of Consultation? 

  • an open examination of fears and misconceptions
  • the gathering and presentation of facts
  • the identification of relevant spiritual principles
  • a collective exploration of ways to implement those principles so that unity is preserved and enhanced

Consultation allows an open examination of fears and misconceptions, the gathering and presentation of facts, the identification of relevant spiritual principles, and a collective exploration of ways to implement those principles so that unity is preserved and enhanced.  (Baha’i International Community, Report on Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Asia and the Pacific, Focusing on Activities for Disadvantaged Women)

When Do We Consult?

For every decision we need to make:

Settle all things, both great and small, by consultation. Without prior consultation, take no important step in your own personal affairs.   (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from a Tablet – translated from the Persian)

For all Baha’i activities:

The principle of consultation . . . should be applied to all Bahá’í activities which affect the collective interests of the Faith.  (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 15)

Whenever we have problems which require a decision:

When a believer has a problem concerning which he must make a decision, he has several courses open to him. If it is a matter that affects the interests of the Faith he should consult with the appropriate Assembly or committee, but individuals have many problems which are purely personal and there is no obligation upon them to take such problems to the institutions of the Faith; indeed, when the needs of the teaching work are of such urgency it is better if the friends will not burden their assemblies with personal problems that they can solve by themselves. “A Bahá’í who has a problem may wish to make his own decision upon it after prayer and after weighing all the aspects of it in his own mind; he may prefer to seek the council of individual friends or of professional counsellors such as his doctor or lawyer so that he can consider such advice when making his decision; or in a case where several people are involved, such as a family situation, he may want to gather together those who are affected so that they may arrive at a collective decision. There is also no objection whatever to a Bahá’í asking a group of people to consult together on a problem facing him.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)

During the 19 Day Feast:

There is a time set aside at the Nineteen Day Feasts for the community to express its views and make suggestions to its assembly; the assembly and the believers should look forward to this happy period of discussion, and neither fear it nor suppress it.  (Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)

There is a time set aside at the Nineteen Day Feasts for the Community to express its views and make suggestions to its Assembly; the Assembly and the believers should look forward to this happy period of discussion, and neither fear it nor suppress it.   (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 83)

At Assembly Meetings:

Likewise the Assembly members should fully consult, and in their decisions put the interests of the Cause first and not personalities, the will of the majority prevailing.   (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 83)

Who Do We Consult With?

With God, through prayer:

A Bahá’í who has a problem may wish to make his own decision upon it after prayer and after weighing all the aspects of it in his own mind.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)

With family members:

In a case where several people are involved, such as a family situation, he may want to gather together those who are affected so that they may arrive at a collective decision.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)

Effective efforts to create violence-free families require a partnership between men and women and the active participation of all social sectors. Strategies for redress and remedies must be designed to include the whole family, because the dynamics of family violence directly affect all its members.  (Bahá’í International Community, Creating Violence-Free Families, Summary Report of United Nations Symposium, May 1994)

With Extended family members:

For marriage to become a haven of contentment it requires the cooperation of the marriage partners themselves, and the assistance of their families. You mention your concern over your eldest daughter. It is suggested that you include her and perhaps your younger children in family consultations. As Bahá’ís we understand the importance of the consultative process and we should not feel it is to be used only by the Spiritual Assemblies.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)

With the Institutions:

When a believer has a problem concerning which he must make a decision, he has several courses open to him. If it is a matter that affects the interests of the Faith he should consult with the appropriate Assembly or committee.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)

When a Bahá’í wife finds herself in such a situation [of domestic violence] and feels it cannot be resolved through consultation with her husband, she could well turn to the Local Spiritual Assembly for advice and guidance…  (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia, dated April 12, 1990)

In domestic violence situations, where consultation between abuser and victim is often inherently impossible, the principle of consultation is likely to be most useful when applied between each party and the institutions, civil and/or Bahá’í, which provide protection, guidance, necessary assistance, and corrective measures.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 101)

With Others (friends, professionals):

There is also no objection whatever to a Bahá’í asking a group of people to consult together on a problem facing him.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)

When a believer has a problem concerning which he must make a decision . . .  and there is no obligation upon them to take such problems to the institutions of the Faith; indeed, when the needs of the teaching work are of such urgency it is better if the friends will not burden their assemblies with personal problems that they can solve by themselves.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)

A Bahá’í who has a problem may wish to . . . seek the council of individual friends or of professional counsellors such as his doctor or lawyer so that he can consider such advice when making his decision.   (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)

With Organizations:

In the context of social action, the principle of consultation is expressed in a variety of forms, each appropriate to the space within which it occurs. Often, when a small group is engaged in an endeavour, every matter of concern is the subject of consultation.  (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13-14)

Under other circumstances, it takes the form of a discussion, as may be necessary, to draw out thoughts and information towards the enrichment of common understanding, but with the decision being made by those with authority. It is this latter form that would distinguish the operations of a Bahá’í-inspired organization, where a degree of individual or group authority is given to those on whom responsibility has been conferred.  (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13-14)

Clearly, then, not every person within an organization will participate equally in making every decision. Responsibility needs to be appropriately structured and defined. For example, there will be many spaces in which individuals involved in a particular component of the work will have the opportunity to share insights, reach higher levels of understanding, and make certain decisions pertaining to their area of functioning.  (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 14)

In the case of an organization with a board and an executive director, they will often take decisions without the need to consult with every member of the organization. But theirs is also the responsibility to create an atmosphere in which relevant information and knowledge flow openly and in which the results of consultation in all the spaces of the organization are conveyed in ways that promote understanding and consensus among its members. (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 14)

With those engaged in social action:

Beyond such considerations, a consultative spirit pervades the interactions of those engaged in social action, of whatever size and complexity, and the population they serve. This does not imply that formal mechanisms are necessarily in place for this purpose. It suggests, rather, that the aspirations of the people, their observations and ideas, are ever present and are consciously incorporated into plans and programmes.  (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 14)

What has happened in the world, to make consultation possible?

The spread of a new moral and psychological climate:

. . . a new moral and psychological climate is spreading, enabling new dynamics of problem-solving to emerge. (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Mar 15, Women Peace Process)

The inclusion of women and their fresh perspectives:

The inclusion of women thus directly affects the pace and success of the peace-building process.  (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Mar 15, Women Peace Process)

Thus as increasing numbers of women are admitted into centers of decision-making, consultation is being enlightened by fresh perspectives . . . (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Mar 15, Women Peace Process)

 Benefits of Effective Consultation

The public is watching!

The public is beginning to observe them, and they must therefore conduct themselves at all times as befits those who bear the glorious Name of Bahá. They must be forgetful of self, but ever mindful of the Cause of God! (Shoghi Effendi, Messages of Shoghi Effendi to the Indian Subcontinent, p. 264)

It is through cooperation and continued exchange of thoughts and views that the Cause can best safeguard and foster its interests:

The principle of consultation, which constitutes one of the basic laws of the Administration, should be applied to all Bahá’í activities which affect the collective interests of the Faith, for it is through cooperation and continued exchange of thoughts and views that the Cause can best safeguard and foster its interests. Individual initiative, personal ability and resourcefulness, though indispensable, are, unless supported and enriched by the collective experiences and wisdom of the group, utterly incapable of achieving such a tremendous task.  (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 15)

The results are light upon light:

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. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 6)

That Assembly is of God:

If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation. . . . (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 6)

It provides a forum to discuss fears and misconceptions:

Consultation allows an open examination of fears and misconceptions, the gathering and presentation of facts, the identification of relevant spiritual principles, and a collective exploration of ways to implement those principles so that unity is preserved and enhanced.  (Baha’i International Community, Report on Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Asia and the Pacific, Focusing on Activities for Disadvantaged Women)

It promotes personal growth and collective solidarity:

The consultative process itself promotes personal growth and collective solidarity, indispensable elements in true development. .  (Baha’i International Community, Report on Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Asia and the Pacific, Focusing on Activities for Disadvantaged Women)

Men and women learn many skills; and the process is as important as the achievements:

Through consultation, women and men together learn to gather facts, to identify relevant principles, to express their ideas clearly, to listen respectfully to the opinions of others, and to arrive at a decision that everyone can support. Because this approach to consultation is at the core of any Baha’i project, the process is as important as the achievements; the changes in attitudes as important as the development of skills; the intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth of the trainees as important as the economic growth of the community.  (Baha’i International Community, Report on Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Asia and the Pacific, Focusing on Activities for Disadvantaged Women)

Consultation infuses harmony into the change process:

Participation through consultation infuses harmony into the change process. Change is difficult and uncomfortable for everyone. That is why it is often so slow. However, by allowing those who will be affected plenty of time for full, frank, and open consultation, and by allowing them to control the direction and pace of change in their own lives, projects encounter much less resistance. When people direct change through consultation, it becomes substantially less frightening, and the changes are likely to last. (Baha’i International Community, Report on Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Asia and the Pacific, Focusing on Activities for Disadvantaged Women)

It will will lead the world to eternal happiness and will be an evidence of the favors of the Kingdom:

If a few souls gather together in a beloved meeting with the feelings of the Kingdom, with the divine attractions, with pure hearts and with absolute purity and holiness, to consort in spirit and fragrance, that gathering will have its effect upon all the world. The conditions, the words and the deeds of that gathering will lead the world to eternal happiness and will be an evidence of the favors of the Kingdom.   (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in Consultation: A Compilation, pp. 6-7)

The Holy Spirit will strengthen them and the hosts of the Supreme Concourse will render them victorious:

The Holy Spirit will strengthen them and the hosts of the Supreme Concourse will render them victorious and the angels of Abha will come in succession.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in Consultation: A Compilation, pp. 6-7)

That assembly will become the center of the Divine blessings:

Should they endeavor to fulfill these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the center of the Divine blessings, the host of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 6)

God’s glorious spirit will animate, sustain and guide us in our deliberations:

Bahá’u’lláh has given the promise that in every Assembly where unity and harmony prevail, there His glorious spirit will not only be present, but will animate, sustain and guide all the friends in all their deliberations.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Local Spiritual Assembly, p. 16)

We can safeguard and foster the interests of the Cause:

The principle of consultation, which constitutes one of the basic laws of the Administration, should be applied to all Bahá’í activities which affect the collective interests of the Faith, for it is through cooperation and continued exchange of thoughts and views that the Cause can best safeguard and foster its interests. Individual initiative, personal ability and resourcefulness, though indispensable, are, unless supported and enriched by the collective experiences and wisdom of the group, utterly incapable of achieving such a tremendous task.  (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 15)

It bestows greater awareness and transmutes conjecture into certitude:

Consultation bestoweth greater awareness and transmuteth conjecture into certitude. It is a shining light which, in a dark world, leadeth the way and guideth. For everything there is and will continue to be a station of perfection and maturity. The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation.  (Bahá’u’lláh, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 3)

It gives us insight and enables us to delve into questions:

Consultation giveth him insight into things and enableth him to delve into questions which are unknown.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 8)

It is the cause of awareness; awakening and a source of good and well-being

 . . . consultation . . . is and will always be a cause of awareness and of awakening and a source of good and well-being.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Consultation, p. 93)

It enables others to take refuge in the Bahá’í community

And to the extent that administrative processes of your institutions are governed by the principles of Bahá’í consultation will the great masses of humanity be able to take refuge in the Bahá’í community.  (Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message 2008, paragraph 8)

It is  is the lamp of guidance which leads the way, and it bestows understanding:

The Great Being saith: The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion. Take ye counsel together in all matters, inasmuch as consultation is the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way, and is the bestower of understanding.  (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 168)

When we’re able to do these things:

  • consensus on strategies and plans emerges naturally
  • discussions flourish in an atmosphere of love and genuine respect
  • unity of thought is readily achieved
  • planning and implementation becomes more responsive to local circumstances
  • transcends the habits of speech characteristic of an age preoccupied with trivial or misdirected interests

In time and with accrued experience and continued guidance, our ongoing conversations come be to distinguished by a more worthy etiquette of expression and gradually

  • clarifies ambiguities
  • expands participation
  • airs concerns
  • strengthens bonds of love and association
  • refocuses endeavor
  • reconciles differences
  • resolves problems
  • contributes to happiness and well-being

In this way, we

  • enhance our own understanding of the affairs of the Cause from a National perspective
  • rededicate ourselves to the community’s common enterprise

As delegates to the National Convention, our job is to function as an enlightened consultative and co-operative body that will

  • enrich the experience
  • enhance the prestige
  • support the authority
  • assist the deliberations of the National Spiritual Assembly

The way we consult is so very different from what we see in the outside world!  It’s thrilling to know that the efforts we make in this area will take us closer to building the Kingdom of God on earth.  Ya Baha’u’l-Abha!

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