To follow a path of service, whatever form one’s activity assumes, requires faith and tenacity. In this connection, the benefit of walking that path in the company of others is immense. Loving fellowship, mutual encouragement, and willingness to learn together are natural properties of any group of youth sincerely striving for the same ends, and should also characterize those essential relationships that bind together the components of society.
I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. 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. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.
Like many people, we live in a residential area, where many people commute to work, whether by car, bus, or bicycle. The other day at noon, a neighbour’s car alarm went off. It seemed the owner was away, because it kept on going—honking for several minutes at a time, then pausing for a minute or two before starting up again. It was still going when I got home, in the late afternoon. Quynh met me outside and told me she had gone to look at the car, and that she’d seen a bunch of handwritten notes stuck on the car’s windshield, with dark, angry messages—insulting and cursing the car’s owner, calling them the worst neighbour in the world, and worse. She didn’t like the noise at all—it gave her a headache—but she also felt bad for the car’s owner, who obviously was away and would have had no idea what was happening. How could people leave such terrible notes?
We talked about how stress and anger can lead people to lash out against others and to lay blame. Along the way, we met some of the children and youth who live in the neighbourhood, and we continued the conversation with them. Some of them felt annoyed, saying they couldn’t stand the noise any more. We asked them if they had seen the notes that had been left behind. They had. Some of them agreed with the sentiments that were written. But the owner was obviously away, another one said. How would it be fair if we blamed someone for something that was completely out of their control? And how would we feel if we were in the same situation, and we came home from a hard day at work to a windshield full of angry notes calling us names? Terrible, that’s how, and full of despair. Several heads nodded in agreement.
“So what can we do to change the situation?” Quynh asked. It didn’t take long for one of the children to find an answer: replace all the nasty notes with a nice note. The children brainstormed a message together, settling on “Sorry about all the bad notes, tomorrow will be a better day.” After writing it out in black marker on a sheet of paper and decorating it with hearts, stars, and peace signs, they took it and walked together towards the now-silent car. When they got there, they noticed that all the nasty notes had already been removed, so they simply left their positive note under the windshield wiper. All of a sudden, one of the neighbours stepped out of her house, looking exhausted. “So sorry about all the noise,” she said. It was her car. She had just arrived, seen the notes, and disabled the alarm. She looked around at the children, who apologized—as members of the neighbourhood—for all the notes people had left, pointing out the more positive note they had left on her windshield. Her face brightened immediately, as if a veil of misery had been lifted.
It turned out that she had taken her bicycle to work that day to save on gas. She worked across the river in Quebec, so it was a long ride. Late in the afternoon, she explained, she suddenly received a call—from the Ottawa police, who had received a complaint about her car alarm, which had been going off for hours. Nobody could tell what had happened—it might have been an electrical fault that set off the alarm, or a cat, or an actual burglar—but they advised her to come home as soon as possible to shut it off. Shocked, she biked home as fast as she could, only to find all the angry messages littering her windshield. She had just finished getting rid of the notes when the children came to leave one of their own. She thanked them sincerely for their kindness, and the children wished her a pleasant evening—reminding her that tomorrow would be a better day. When we walked back home after meeting, we assured the children that their action had restored hope to that neighbour’s heart.
Whatever happens in life, we always have a choice of how to respond. These choices we make determine whether we will create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. When we create love, peace and hope in our families and in our neighbourhoods, it grows and trickles upwards through our cities, our regions, our nations and our world—that’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.
“When so much of society invites passivity and apathy or, worse still, encourages behaviour harmful to oneself and others, a conspicuous contrast is offered by those who are enhancing the capacity of a population to cultivate and sustain a spiritually enriching pattern of community life.”
Universal House of Justice, 1 July 2013
We often hear complaints that the news is too depressing, that news outlets have nothing but bloodshed, partisan bickering and chaos to report on (except the feel-good story of the night, which is usually something about cute kittens rescued from a well). Where’s the real, hopeful, honest-to-goodness good news?
Well, if what you’re looking for is something to restore your hope for humanity, then consider this. During the next few months, young people who are tired of waiting for good news will be gathering together around the world, making plans to make their own good news. These are youth who have become involved in local community-building initiatives that seek to revitalize and transform the character of their families and their neighbourhoods. Their cause? Selfless service to humanity. Rather than spending the precious moments of their youth in the pursuit of amusement, wealth, or material possessions, these young men and women, members of various races, nations and creeds, are banding together, united by a desire to heal the wounds of a broken and divided world and leave it better than the way they found it.
The leadership of the Universal House of Justice, the institution at the head of the Bahá’í Faith, has been key in both bringing together these youth and establishing what they call a “framework for action”: a concrete, world-embracing one that operates at the grass-roots, helping to empower and channel the energies of individuals—youth, children and adults alike—towards service to others. Central to this framework is a process of community education, drawing from the Bahá’í Writings, that enables participants to increase their own capacity to serve by providing the knowledge, spiritual insights and skills essential to a life of service. In this process, which has been developed and put into place over several decades, studying and serving are inseparable. Thus, young people, brimming with enthusiasm, energy, and a desire to contribute to the betterment of the world, put their new knowledge into action right away, engaging in small acts of service that gradually become greater and more complex as their capacity grows, accompanying and encouraging each other as they learn together how they can best address the challenges and overcome the obstacles they face.
Announced earlier this year by the Universal House of Justice, the 114 youth conferences taking place this summer are the logical next step in this process of accompaniment, providing opportunities for youth to gather together with like-minded youth in their countries and regions—those young souls who long “to shed the lethargy imposed on them by society”, and together, “to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessing will flow in abundance”. As they make individual and collective plans to serve alongside one another in their neighbourhoods, villages, cities, and regions, they are aware of their part in a “mighty, transforming process that will yield, in time, a global civilization reflecting the oneness of humankind.”
C’est aujourd’hui que commence une grande conférence à Montréal, regroupant des jeunes d’à travers le Québec, le Nunavut, et les provinces maritimes du Canada, “qui aspirent à se défaire de la léthargie que la société leur impose et à travailler côte à côte dans leurs quartiers et leurs villages pour commencer un processus de transformation collective”. Rappellant mes jours de service au Québec, et inspiré par le zèle et l’enthousiasme de la génération présente, j’ai composé quelques versets en leur éloge.
Ces jeunes qui quittent leurs foyers,
se rassemblant, se dispersant
tout comme autant d’aigrettes au vent,
parsèment de vie les prés d’été.
Se mêlant parmi leurs compères,
ils soufflent en eux la brise de foi,
et fracassant les chaînes du moi,
s’occupent à récréer la terre.
Voyez comment leur danse est belle!
Ces âmes célestes, esprits de bien,
reserrent les nœuds, renouent les liens,
en répondant au grand appel.
“Voilà des anges,” l’on dira d’eux :
bien qu’issus de lignée mortelle,
mais bénis d’une force spirituelle
propre aux habitants des cieux.