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The Baha’i world is teeming with joy and deliberation after reading and reflecting on the recent 30 December 2021 message of the Universal House of Justice. With its optimism about the future of the world and its emphasis on contributing to social good, people all around the world are consulting and planning on how they can put this vision into action where they live.
There are so many profound points in this message, but I’d like to share my understanding of one excerpt. The Universal House of Justice says:
The enkindled souls being raised up through the processes of the Plan are seeking to gain an ever more profound understanding of Baha’u’llah’s teachings—“the sovereign remedy for every disease”—and to apply them to the needs of their society… They emphasize qualities and attitudes—such as trustworthiness, cooperation, and forbearance—that are building blocks of a stable social order.
The message explicitly mentions three qualities that relate to the betterment of the world so I’d like to reflect on them. The message goes on to describe other qualities and attitudes and each could be deserving of its own article, or more! In this post however, I’d like to focus on trustworthiness, cooperation and forbearance using the metaphor of constructing a house for the society-building work we are engaged in.
I’m certainly no builder, architect or engineer, but to me it seems obvious that to build a secure house, we need firm foundations and pillars. Trustworthy people are the pillars of a stable society. No matter what’s going on around us, these people stand their ground. They live according to their principles without compromising them, and they don’t let fear or desire steer them off course.
For society to be stable, we need to be able to trust each other. And to trust each other, we all need to be worthy of each other’s trust. To do this, we can’t just say that we can be trusted. The words “trust me” mean nothing unless they have been proven through trustworthy actions. I think this involves other related qualities. One is truthfulness. For people to trust us we need to always speak the truth. It’s quite obvious that we can’t trust people who lie, so we can’t feel secure in an environment full of deceit.
Not only that, but our words also have to align with our actions. If we say one thing and do another, then our words start to lose their meaning and people won’t trust what we say. The alignment of our words and actions also relates to being dependable. This means that our actions echo our words; we keep our promises; we show up. So, I think being trustworthy means that we can depend on each other, and this adds stability to our social order. But the pillars of this house we are building cannot stand in isolation. For them to be useful, they have to be connected into one structure, and this is done through cooperation.
We are all individuals, but it is as a collective that our full potential can be realized. Even Isaac Newton, a scientific genius, said of his own scientific accomplishments, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This is to show that we progress together by working together and learning from each other.
The COVID pandemic has demonstrated what happens when we cooperate and when we don’t. Through cooperation we have shared research about the nature of the virus, quickly developed vaccines, and implemented measures to control the spread. However, we have also learned that with the constant threat of other viruses entering the human population, we need to quickly coordinate at the early stages so that we contain and eliminate such viruses before they spread. This takes cooperation on a global scale, and cooperation when done effectively and extensively can lead to unity.
I think cooperation also requires consultation – to freely share our insights with each other, listen openly to others’ views and make decisions together. Through consultation, we are able to learn from each other and discover the truth together. We don’t get caught up on who is right or wrong, but we focus on what is productive or unproductive, what is backed up by evidence and what is not. We focus on the object of consultation, not the personalities around it.
So, for me, to build a house for us all to live in, we need pillars of trustworthiness that are connected together through cooperation. But that’s not enough. If we could constantly stand firm as pillars of trustworthiness and always work together in harmonious cooperation, our house would be wonderful. But we can’t because we are not perfect. We can only try, and try we must. So, as we earnestly strive to be trustworthy and cooperative, I think we need to overlook the faults of others and be forbearing with each other.
Forbearance is no simple thing. Not judging others for their mistakes and wrongdoings is easier said than done. But I think it’s essential. If we are all imperfect, then we are bound to make mistakes, so the only way to keep on living in harmony is to overlook those things.
What can make this a challenge is our determination to be the best we can. As I’ve said, to build a better world, we need to earnestly strive to be more trustworthy and cooperative. Not only that, but there are also many other qualities we need to develop – love, generosity, courage – the list goes on. Striving on a daily basis can help us to develop these qualities in ourselves by summoning all our resolve to fight the fight within ourselves and to constantly aim at a high standard of integrity. And yet, at the very same time, I believe we need to refrain from judging people when they fall short of the standard we set for ourselves.
But what we also have to be careful of is not to lower the standard we are aiming for in order to refrain from judging others. I believe this means that we shouldn’t be overly critical of ourselves. Of course, we can regularly reflect on our own character and actions, but to beat ourselves up for mistakes is counterproductive to growth, individual and collective. It’s helpful to have a learning mindset, to strive to be better, to recognize where we need to improve and keep trying. That’s all we can do.
I think this is tied to the fact that although we are building this house together, we are all individuals. And although we are working towards a common goal – a better world – our part in this endeavor is subjective. I can’t see inside your heart. I can’t judge your private character. I can’t tell you what to do. I can try to be the best pillar of trustworthiness that I can, offer to connect with others, and be generous and compassionate when others and myself falter.
Maybe I have simplified things a bit, but the house analogy helps me to understand how trustworthiness, cooperation and forbearance can help us build a better world. As we strive to establish firmer foundations of trust and connect them together through cooperation, I feel that the Universal House of Justice is telling us to rest assured that while the house will shake from time to time, it is getting stronger and stronger, day by day.
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