the rising, shining generations

“be not dismayed…”, June 27, 2013

Be not dismayed if your endeavours are dismissed as utopian by the voices that would oppose any suggestion of fundamental change. Trust in the capacity of this generation to disentangle itself from the embroilments of a divided society.

The Universal House of Justice

‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us that, in this Day, humanity is reaching its long-awaited stage of maturity, and that its capacity is the greatest it has ever been. “There are periods and stages in the collective life of humanity,” He notes: “At one time it was passing through its stage of childhood, at another its period of youth, but now it has entered its long-predicted phase of maturity, the evidences of which are everywhere apparent…”

The chief struggle of modernity, He explains, is for humanity to leave behind those outdated ways of thinking and acting that no longer satisfy the demands of this phase of maturity, and adopt new ways of thinking and acting that match humanity’s increased capacities: “That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race can neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day, this period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former state of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moral standards, new capacities.”

So what are these virtues and powers, these standards and capacities, with which we must be imbued? Well, for one thing, these are spiritual powers that we’re talking about. But that doesn’t mean sci-fi stuff like telekinesis or reading minds and stuff, either. It means being able to show forth certain spiritual qualities, virtues, or elements of character. For instance, the ability to overcome thoughts of hatred with thoughts of love—whether through small acts of kindness like leaving a kind note for a neighbour, or bigger, more dramatic acts like giving blood to save someone’s life.

In recent years, the Universal House of Justice has encouraged Bahá’ís everywhere to exert every effort to engage the rising generations—children, junior youth, and youth—in a lifelong process of moral education and spiritual empowerment. Far from being a kind of narrow catechism, this process aims to build the capacity of young people to show forth praiseworthy virtues and character qualities, and to enable and empower them to arise to serve humanity by working for the betterment of their families, their communities, and their society. According to Bahá’u’lláh, this work, offered in the spirit of service, is equal to worship.

The Universal House of Justice has written a number of letters to youth, especially in the context of regional youth conferences, to expand on the special opportunities afforded to them. In a letter to one such conference in Paraguay in 1998, they highlighted crucial qualities youth would have to show forth in the path of service to humanity. “You will have to show forth courage,” they affirmed, “the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterised by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith.”

More recently, in announcing the series of 95 youth conferences held around the world in 2013, the Universal House of Justice expanded further upon those qualities that youth will need in order to make a difference in the world—qualities related to moral and spiritual empowerment.

In our prayers at the Sacred Threshold, we entreat the Ancient Beauty that, from out a distracted and bewildered humanity, He may distil pure souls endowed with clear sight: youth whose integrity and uprightness are not undermined by dwelling on the faults of others and who are not immobilized by any shortcomings of their own; youth who will look to the Master and ‘bring those who have been excluded into the circle of intimate friends’; youth whose consciousness of the failings of society impels them to work for its transformation, not to distance themselves from it; youth who, whatever the cost, will refuse to pass by inequity in its many incarnations and will labour, instead, that ‘the light of justice may shed its radiance upon the whole world.’

As I wrote shortly after having a thorough read of this passage, these are not airy-fairy words expressing a pious hope that things might get better. They are, in essence, a very practical game plan for the youth of the world who wish to shed the lethargy imposed on them by, and disentangle themselves from the embroilments of, a divided society; youth who wish to dedicate themselves to healing the wounds with which their peoples have been afflicted—becoming, in effect, heroes, invincible champions of justice. It’s all about showing forth spiritual qualities, developing moral capacities, learning concrete skills that will allow them—and everyone, in fact—to make a positive difference in the lives of those people around them.

Capital amongst all these qualities, I feel, is that quality of hope, of trust in God and in the capacity of humankind to figure things out. Yes, we’ll hear people around us express deep despair and cynicism about the way things are, and even the desire to withdraw and escape from society rather than try to make things better. But “be not dismayed,” as the Universal House of Justice wrote. Rather, “have hope,” and ask for God’s unfailing confirmations as we strive to serve Him and to make our communities better places to live.

No, humanity is not messed up beyond hope of salvation. Yes, it is messed up, or rather, it is passing through a phase much like that of adolescence, during which it struggles to leave behind outdated ways of thinking and acting that no longer satisfy the demands of its mature, adult life, and adopt new ways of thinking and acting that match its increased capacities. We must acknowledge humanity’s failings—our own failings—while also trusting in its capacity—and in our capacity—to do better. And with the power of Divine assistance and confirmations, we can do better: We can shine out like beacons of light against the gloom. We are seeing spiritual transformation happen little by little throughout the world, and we know where it will lead. So take hold of the latest guidance, step into the field of service, attract the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, and trust that God will take care of the rest.

The original post,“be not dismayed…”, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Photos © Bahá’í International Community.

peace starts with us

to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love, July 23, 2013

Cricket PassionWhatever happens in life, we always have a choice of how to respond. These choices we make determine whether we 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.

Recently, one of my blogging friends shared a particularly touching story, and I thought it would be nice to share it in connection with this theme. It’s the story of a Hindu man who gave blood to save the life of a Muslim woman—and, in doing so, ended their town’s history of sectarian violence. Originally published in the Toronto Star in 2011, this story is a timeless example of how thoughts of love, expressed through action, can overcome even the longest history of hatred.

Before 2004 life in the village of Basti Mahran in Pakistan was extremely difficult for everyone, but especially for the Hindu minority. Hindu girls were routinely raped by Muslim men. Cattle that belonged to the Hindu villagers were slaughtered and attacks on all Hindus were widespread.

And then a very ill young Muslim mother arrived at the local clinic. She had lost a lot of blood in childbirth and needed a transfusion, but the doctors couldn’t find anyone with the same O-negative blood type. Bachu Rama, a local Hindu man with the same blood-type offered to give his blood.

Before long a group of Muslims charged the clinic to find and kill Ram. The group was led by Mahar Abdul Latif.

Latif hated Hindus and in the 1990s had been part of an extremist group who patrolled the mountains in Kashmir killing all Hindus who crossed their path. As Latif and his gang approached the clinic, they were stopped by a doctor who told them that Ram was this young woman’s only chance.

“I don’t know what came over me,” Latif says. “I remember thinking that here we were refusing to even shake hands with the Hindus, and he was willing to give us his blood. It was a marvelous thing he did. It was the turning point of my life.”

Next morning, Latif visited Ram’s home to thank him. This was the first time in living memory that a Muslim visited a Hindu home in Basti Mahran. Soon everyone heard of Ram’s generosity and Latif’s change of heart, and things in the village began to change.

The women began to talk to each other. The rapes and attacks stopped. Now Hindus and Muslims not only liked each other, they also actively supported each other – even in their religious practice.

This spirit of reciprocity and cooperation spread to every area of life in the village. Women from both communities joined forces in their cotton selling businesses and began to earn four times more that they had earned when selling separately. The villagers successfully lobbied the government to build power lines, roads and a proper water supply.

When I shared this story with other friends recently, someone commented: “I want to believe it… but it just seems to good to be true.” But these kinds of gestures of love, kindness and fellowship happen everywhere, in neighbourhoods and towns in every country around the world. Sometimes these gestures are small, like the kids in our neighbourhood who left a kind note for their neighbour. Sometimes they’re bigger and more dramatic, like Bachu Rama’s gift of blood that welded a town’s Muslim and Hindu communities together.

And the kind of spiritual transformation that resulted isn’t specific to Basti Mehran, either. Look at the transformation of Norte de Bolivar in Colombia, where crime became “unheard of” after many years of effort teaching and empowering the village’s children and junior youth. Look at the transformation of Bihar Sharif in India, where the lines of caste, age and gender began to blur and fade away after years of expanding community-building activities to welcome a greater and greater diversity of people. Look at the transformation of Tanna in Vanuatu, where a community energized by a spirit of service weathered the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam and began efforts to rebuild their communities long before aid agencies set foot on their island. It’s not too good to be true; it’s just true. People everywhere are able to make choices that lead to the transformation of their communities.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who Bahá’ís take as an example of right conduct, left behind a wealth of Writings that interpret and explain the teachings of His Father, Bahá’u’lláh. Among these are pieces of very practical advice on how to create peaceful, loving communities. My favourite among these goes: “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.” In other words, action follows thought: When we focus on thoughts of war and hatred, warlike and hateful actions will be the result. And when we focus on thoughts of peace and love, peaceful and loving actions will be the result—in our personal lives, our families, our neighbourhoods, 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.

The original post, to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Special thanks to Trisha at creating reciprocity for bringing the story of Bachu Rama and Mahar Abdul Latif to my attention. Photo: Cricket Passion by Umair.

to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love

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.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.29

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?

lined up in the parking lotWe 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.