1. The art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs.
2. Intrigue or manoeuvring within a political unit or group in order to gain control or power
The fact that the word “politics” – once used simply to refer to the act of governing – has come to acquire the additional meaning listed above says a lot about the world we live in. This definition reflects the assumption that the act of governance in a country or organisation is inseparable from divisiveness, conflict and the struggle for power and status.
But is that necessarily the case?
This question has been on my mind a lot recently, probably because we just elected our Local Spiritual Assembly a week ago. Every Ridvan, nine adult Baha’is in every community around the world are elected to the community’s Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA), which serves as the administrative body for that community. Similarly, at a national level, delegates to a national convention elect nine adult Baha’is to the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) every year, as the administrative body for the entire country.
What makes Baha’i elections so different though?
For starters, you’re not allowed to campaign or engage in electioneering. There is no nomination of candidates to be shortlisted for elections. There is no discussion of voting preferences. Basically, the decision is to be made by the individual, free from the influence of others. (E.E. Talisman has a great article up comparing the Baha’i election process to the Canadian federal elections if you want more of an insight into how Baha’i elections differ from the typical elections of a liberal democracy.)
The Canadian Baha’i News Service has published an article on the partisan nature of national politics around the world and the resulting disillusionment among voters with the entire political process. It then goes on to discuss the Baha’i model of elections and governance as an alternative. It’s a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it!
The Ridvan elections have got me thinking: what would our society look like without dirty politics? Can we function as a democracy without the fierce attacks and finger-pointing? Or is the electioneering and heated debate the only way to ensure accountability and honesty?
‘Abdu’l-Baha stressed the importance of open communication and a full discussion of a variety of viewpoints:
The members thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. ‘Abdu’l-Baha
This is a principle that is only too well understood in a society that considers freedom of expression to be sacred. The beauty of democracy is that it is participatory and inclusive, allowing for new ideas to be considered. The entire model on which our political process is built serves to encourage that very “clash of differing opinions”. However, ‘Abdu’l- Baha also goes on to stress the importance of unity when considering those differing opinions to ultimately make a decision – a principle that is all too often entirely neglected in our political culture. He says:
If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right. ‘Abdu’l-Baha
When I first read this, my head was sent reeling. It is better to agree and both be wrong? Unity trumps being right? How could anything possibly be more important than being right?? What is going on here???
But then I paused for a second and thought about it. Now, I don’t think ‘Abdu’l-Baha was dismissing the importance of making the right decision when he said this. However, being right, he says, is meaningless if that “right decision” comes at the expense of unity. The “divine foundation” created by the right decision, he says, will ultimately be demolished by any disunity that lingers.
Reflecting on my experiences, this actually makes perfect sense. Making the right decision is important but we all know that the hardest work comes after the decision has been made and with the long process of implementing that decision. And even if the decision is the wisest, most insightful and wondrously creative decision that could possibly be made, it comes to nothing if there is no unified, coherent effort behind it to see that decision realised.
This principle if revolutionary. I’ve seen far too many instances of people who – in the name of doing the right thing – passionately attack and demonise those who don’t agree with them. This causes a great deal of unhappiness, anger, resentment and disunity. However, the anger and indignation they stir up within themselves from doing this also renders them incapable of seeing elements of truth and validity in the ideas of the people they engage in debate with. And that, in itself, compromises the very effort to make the “right decision”.
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
As Baha’is, we are all familiar with the importance of consultation. However, Baha’u’llah reminds us that on a very practical level (and beyond just those fuzzy sentiments of love and unity), there can be no truly effective solution without unity and no wisdom in a decision without consultation.
I admit to being as disillusioned a voter as the next person, longing for the day when politics becomes less about the struggle for power and more about wise and compassionate governance. Imagine how much more effective governments would be if we took the “politics” out of politics!