avoiding contention: don’t get trolled

MoonlightingFrom time to time, as we exchange comments with people online on topics related to the Bahá’í Faith and its principles, we may find that we encounter opposition. Sometimes, people will simply disagree, and that’s fine, of course—everyone’s got an opinion, and as long as we show tact, wisdom, forbearance and love for each other, there’s a good chance we can uncover a greater truth from these kinds of exchanges.

But sometimes, the opposition we encounter can be a little more serious. I’m not talking about honest disagreements, but rather, people straight-up attacking the Bahá’í Faith and everything that Bahá’ís believe in. This can include attacks on Bahá’u’lláh, His Covenant, and the other Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith, such as the Báb, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi; the Universal House of Justice; the actions of individual Bahá’ís or particular Bahá’í institutions or communities; the relation between the Bahá’í Faith and other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity; the Bahá’í stance on homosexuality and other highly politicized issues; and so on. Like I said, everyone has their own opinions, and that’s fine, as long as those opinions are well-founded. But when those opinions are based on misunderstandings, ignorance, or worse, when people start engaging in willful, reckless slander and calumny—misrepresenting what Bahá’ís believe and do, and accusing them of monstrosities that are patently false—that’s when there’s a problem.

As we know, Bahá’u’lláh calls upon us “to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God”. We may also have also read the advice of the Universal House of Justice about the approach we should take towards correcting the misconceptions brought forth by those who attack the Cause:

“In correcting misrepresentations of the Faith made by those who are hostile to it, our obligation is to set forth Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings cogently and courteously, but firmly, supporting them with rational proofs. Once this has been done, the challenge rests with our hearers, whatever their interests or motivations, to consider our responses in this same spirit of courtesy and objectivity. …

In the same piece of advice, the Universal House of Justice draws our attention to something we must absolutely avoid, which is contention:

“For Bahá’ís to go further than this, by engaging in acrimonious debate, much less by reflecting on the character of others, would be to cross the line that separates legitimate defense of the Faith from contention.

As a follow-up to an earlier post about what Baha’is do when people attack the Faith, I thought I’d share the following quote, from a piece of guidance from the World Centre on the topic of avoiding contention when addressing misconceptions about the Bahá’í Faith.

In emphasizing the importance of harmony in human relationships, Bahá’u’lláh declares that “conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book.” He further exhorts all people to “utter that which is meet and seemly,” to “refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men,” and to recognize that the “religion of God is for love and unity” and not to be made the “cause of enmity or dissension.”

Clearly, any tendency toward argumentation or confrontation is to be eschewed by Bahá’ís while opportunities to clarify or defend the Faith’s basic precepts and goals should be carried out “in a restrained and unprovocative language.” In some cases, it may be appropriate to directly address topics raised by critics, but in other situations, it may be more constructive to simply present the authoritative Bahá’í perspective on a matter. Confusion or erroneous understandings surrounding Bahá’í belief can best be dispelled through a reasoned focus on issues, and the principles underlying issues, without reference to the motivations or identity of individuals raising the criticisms. Regardless of the approach taken, “in our presentations and relationships we should always try to build bridges so that our beautiful Teachings can be understood and accepted, and the power which they have to establish unity amongst men will be exemplified.” In the end, though, if critics are not receptive to clarifications or explanations offered, it is preferable to respectfully leave them to themselves.

On a practical level, to argue directly or indirectly with those critical of the Faith can be counterproductive. Disputatious interactions can provide opponents with platforms to disseminate their views and agendas, and repel the wider audience observing such interactions. In addition, as the House of Justice notes, “Under most circumstances, it would seem worse than futile for a Bahá’í to attempt to defend the institutions or members of the Faith from the kind of reckless slander that has become an all too common feature of the moral deterioration of contemporary society, and that tends to characterize much of the language of the Faith’s current critics.”

It is apparent that some opponents seek to draw Bahá’ís into exchanges with the intent of demonstrating that Bahá’ís are either naïve, dogmatic, or intolerant. In particular, adherence to the provisions of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh is sometimes cast in these terms, while for believers such adherence expresses faith in a power “which quickeneth and promoteth the development of all created things on earth.” Bahá’u’lláh affirms that it is indeed possible to both tread the path of religious faith and to be tolerant: “…observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind.”

TrollfaceIf you’ve spent a decent of time on the Internet, then “trolls” and “trolling” are part of your vocabulary. I’ve seen my share of trolls online, and in the case of trolls who attack the Bahá’í Faith, picking them out is pretty easy. Most of the time their arguments don’t make much sense, and even people who don’t know much about Bahá’í can tell that what they’re saying isn’t legit.

In some cases, ignoring trolls is enough. But sometimes it is necessary to speak up; for instance, when they respond to people who have a genuine interest in the Bahá’í Faith. I mean, imagine asking a question about a really neat new message from God that seems to be the answer to the ills of mankind, and in response, getting nothing but a bunch of nonsense telling you how Bahá’ís are The Devil 666™ and in league with every evil group under the sun. That’s why it is necessary for us to speak up and say hey, if you want a legit answer, here it is, feel free to investigate further. Of course, haters are gonna hate and trolls are gonna troll, so it’s inevitable that we’ll get flak for speaking up. That’s why we need to know how to establish the truth without feeding the trolls nor engaging in contention. And in my opinion, the guidance above is a great way to describe this balancing act.

It’s all about getting attention. Trolls thrive on attention, and they try to get it by provoking conflict, drawing people into arguments. That’s exactly why, when seeking to correct misinformation that’s shared about the Faith online, it’s important to practice moderation, detachment, wisdom and restraint. “For Bahá’ís to go further than this, by engaging in acrimonious debate, much less by reflecting on the character of others, would be to cross the line that separates legitimate defense of the Faith from contention.”

Photos: Moonlighting by dawolf-, and Trollface by Paul VanDerWerf.

say something

your turn at the mikeI meant to say a few more words about blogging, so let’s have at it a bit. This whole Baha’i Blogging Challenge has been exhausting, to be honest, but it’s also been enriching. Not only has it given me the chance to read and share a whole bunch of great content from a diverse collection of baha’i bloggers out there, but it’s also given me a reason to write, write, and write some more. Some days I don’t especially feel like writing. Some days, I’ve been too exhausted to write. But still, I’ve managed to write something, whether it be random reflections on life, taking second looks at things I’ve blogged about in the past, or, well, whatever.

It made me think a little about one of my favourite prayers, which is a prayer for teaching which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá revealed for the Bahá’ís of Canada. It’s not a long prayer; it consists of three paragraphs in its English translation. I’ll quote it here in its entirety:

Praise be to Thee, O my God! These are Thy servants who are attracted by the fragrances of Thy mercifulness, are enkindled by the fire burning in the tree of Thy singleness, and whose eyes are brightened by beholding the splendors of the light shining in the Sinai of Thy oneness.

O Lord! Loose their tongues to make mention of Thee amongst Thy people, suffer them to speak forth Thy praise through Thy grace and loving-kindness, assist them with the cohorts of Thine angels, strengthen their loins in Thy service, and make them the signs of Thy guidance amongst Thy creatures.

Verily, Thou art the All-Powerful, the Most Exalted, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Merciful.

“Loose their tongues!” How often have you felt that you had something to say, but didn’t say it? And what if that thing that you held on to, that could have proceeded from your mouth in ringing tones, would have been just the right thing to say to someone, the exact thing they needed to hear at that moment in their life? There’s no knowing, of course, and it’s no use what-iffing oneself to death. But that image—loose your tongue!—has always stuck with me. I feel like it’s also somewhat fitting, given the stereotype of polite Canadians who don’t want to bother anyone. And, in the end, I think it’s helped to motivate me to keep writing in this blog. What if I end up saying something that makes sense one of these days? Keep writing, darn it! You might be able to help someone rather than simply confuse them!

Of course, there’s a big difference between loosing one’s tongue to make mention of God and loosing one’s tongue to, let’s say, slander someone or otherwise talk smack about them. That’s why I feel like it pays to read what Bahá’u’lláh says about the effects of speech and utterance, and the spiritual qualities one must show before trying to engage oneself in any kind of discourse. For example:

Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement, which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.

In other words, loose your tongue, but check it, too. Don’t go off saying just anything without thinking about it and researching it; seeing whether it’s appropriate, timely, and wise, and whether your intentions in saying it are pure; using language that’s dignified, moderate, sincere, truthful and refined… Turns out, there’s a lot of work that goes into loosing one’s tongue. You can’t let that stop you, but what you do have to do is learn these skills of speech and utterance, show forth all of these heavenly qualities, and, above all, practice, practice, practice. And that brings us back to blogging, because how are you going to get practice making mention of God if you don’t say something? Sure, you might start out saying some things that sound dumb. I sure did. But don’t let that stop you. Keep reaching out, keep writing, and keep praying for confirmations. You’ll eventually say something that makes sense.

the old blogging days

So, since we were talking about websites the other day, I thought I’d go back to that subject a little and ramble on about the Internet. Because, you know, nothing is more meta than getting on the Internet to read what people have to say about the Internet. So come, let us sit on the porch in our rocking chairs, and shoot the breeze about the good old days of Doberman Pizza and Bahá’í blogging.

One of my favourite taglines for doberman pizza is “rolled, dressed and cooking since 1994“. That was the year when I first uploaded my homepage to a local Internet Service Provider, complete with wild rainbow colours, insane graphics and even insaner content. One of my first web projects, Find The Beagles, is still online after all these years, and still sports the same look it did way back then. What’s Your Pokéname?, a frivolous name generator that I coded up while in university, has only changed a little since the early days, but miraculously, it still gets over a thousand hits per month.

The “blog” part of the site appeared in June 2000, powered by a handmade Perl script. It wasn’t much more than a makeshift Twitter feed filled with mundane updates like:

whoops, left at 01:57 on 19/12/00: I just erased netscape by mistake! How *^$@# cool am I?

you’re e, left at 14:49 on 26/01/01: this is me at shamdogg’s place doing SECRET SQUIRREL things. peace to you all.

thwomp, left at 09:38 on 19/03/01: do you realize that this website is almost completely purposeless? that’s a rather interesting concept!

But then, there were also some interesting bits of news back in the day, too:

the main event, left at 07:23 on 22/05/01: In case you haven’t heard, the terraces of the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel are being officially opened today. They’re broadcasting it live on the web, in realplayer format. it’s going on today and tomorrow. Check it out!

Eventually, I signed up with Blogger and set up a proper blog page. Soon enough, Bahá’í blogs started appearing here, there, and everywhere: Povo de Bahá, Sliding Thoughts (now A Calm Storm), Life of Leif, Warble, Baha’i Thought, Baha’i Views, Anxiously Concerned, Correlating, and Barnabas Quotidianus, to name a few of my favourites—not to mention Martin’s Quest, Vafa.tk, and Arash City. And then, of course, there was Bahá’í Blog, which looked very different from its current incarnation, but was still pretty darn cool. (I mean, they were regular readers of Doberman Pizza, so of course they were cool.)

Around 2007, things had started to get pretty well organized in the Bahá’í blogosphere, as we called it. I had my own 15 seconds of fame when my blog and I were featured in an article for the Canadian Bahá’í News Service. But soon enough, newfangled Web 2.0 websites started appearing, like Facebook, Twitter, and the like, and blogs started losing a lot of the prominence they once had. For me, I also got pretty busy around this time, and I hopped over to Vietnam, where my life got turned upside-down. As a result, Doberman Pizza took some extended down time, and for a while I wasn’t even sure if it would ever get going again.

That’s why things like this Bahá’í Blogging Challenge are really a stroke of genius. First of all, you have the challenge—go ahead, post something new every day, I dare you. A call like that has to be answered, and the requirement to post each day gets the creative juices flowing out of necessity. Second, you have the added benefit of support from all of the other poor souls who are also toiling through the challenge. In fact, some of the old-school bloggers I mentioned above, such as Sholeh at A Calm Storm and James at Warble are participating, too—check out what they’ve been writing, and get wowed by how far back their archived posts go. All in all, it encourages us to rise above the lethargy imposed upon us by our busy lives and just create—spin our words into something beautiful, just like we did in the old days.

Hmm, speaking of the old days, maybe I should go hang out at Shamdogg’s place. ben to tings. you’re e.

it’s a doberman pizza life

Hey everyone. It’s been a little while since I actually used this blog as a blog. Thanks to some encouragement from friends, a little planning and a lot of creative ideas, I’ve joined up with the Baha’i Blogging Challenge to breathe a little life into this quiet little website. So for the next thirty days you’ll have something new to read on doberman pizza, as well as on many more Baha’i blogs.

Life has been nice and busy, as you can imagine. Quỳnh and I welcomed our second child into the world very recently, and we’ve been running around changing diapers and cleaning up after both of our little ones. Work and service are going quite well; even though I’ve been too busy with kids to be serving in quite the same way as I used to, I’ve been getting lots of good work done and finding new ways to serve.

I’ve been blessed to receive a lot of great feedback about doberman pizza in the past little while. I’ve never really been very conscious of being “known” as a Baha’i blogger, but several people have mentioned to me lately how they’ve appreciated reading what I write here. Besides what that might bring me in terms of “fame”—which I figure I’ll always be more comfortable forgetting—it’s really nice to know that what I’ve written here and there might actually have helped someone, somewhere, to progress a little farther in their great journey of understanding. If you’re one of those people, then God bless you and thanks for being here. And if you’re not, well, read on and hopefully you’ll find something that’ll be uplifting, or at least funny.

So, what I’m planning on doing this month is part journalling (i.e. “normal” blogging) and part reviewing what I’ve written in the past. Depending on who you ask, some of the posts on this blog are more or less popular. I’m going to select some of them that have been particularly popular over the years over the years, and have a look back at them. Perhaps I’ll have a few words to add to each of them, or perhaps they’ll hit a nerve and I’ll have a lot more to say. Either way, we’ll take a trip back through the past fifteen years to see some of the most engaging posts doberman pizza has had to offer. If any of them have been favourites of yours, feel free to say so in the comments. And if you don’t see one of your favourites show up, then tell me which one, and perhaps we can find the time to take a look back together.

quick (fast) checkin

wireless getlol, blogging at the mall.

the Fast has gone pretty well so far, except that I’m really tired—but then, that was happening since before the Fast. I think winter, short of making me depressed this year, has left me in rather pitiful physical shape. maybe I can blame the bus strike for not letting me get to the gym regularly… uh, anyway, excuses aside… I spent a couple of days at the beginning sick with a sinus cold, and thus unable to fast. It always really irritates me when that happens. shortly afterwards, I paid a visit to Craig and Geneviève in Victoriaville, which is always like a drink of life-giving waters. we had a chance to chat about my upcoming trip to Vietnam, and they gave me a lot of tips and encouragement about Vietnam and travel in general.

For the rest of you out there who are fasting, I strongly recommend you follow the blog nineteen days, maintained by a couple of Baha’is with photographic skills and an eye for the poetic. They’re into their second year of blogging their fast and are now featuring guest bloggers each day this year, making it an even more interesting and engaging read.

That’s it for now… off to help with Ruhi Book 3.