Baha’is see the young as the most precious treasure a community can possess. In them are the promise and guarantee of the future. Yet, in order for this promise to be realised, children need to receive spiritual nourishment, such as can be found in the children’s classes happening all around the world.
Using consultation skills in family meetings is excellent for facilitating understanding and making effective family decisions. It’s also a great way to build life skills in children, no matter what their age. They can learn to contribute toward family unity and to the world around them. Meetings can be casual or formal and in any setting; it’s up to each family to explore what works for them. We facilitated an online course called “Communication Skills for Spiritually Minded Parents” at the Wilmette Institute that explored how consultation can be used in family life. In this article, we offer a few words about the importance of consultation and then explore four benefits to consulting as a family unit.
To begin, here are some quotations below from the Baha’i Writings that point to the importance of consultation.
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. 1
The preservation of unity within the family, and the maintenance of a setting in which all members of the family may grow spiritually, requires moderation and restraint by all concerned. Family consultation is a vital element in the development of a sound relationship; the principles of consultation enumerated by the Master, including courtesy, respect for the views of others, and the full and frank expression of opinions, are applicable to relationships within the family as well as to the functioning of a Spiritual Assembly. 2
Benefit #1:Communication and Character Skill-Building
Family meetings can help all participants learn these skills and virtues:
being able to talk and listen well (confidence)
knowing how to start conversations and bringing up topics that you wish to explore together (courage)
using eye contact and other appropriate nonverbal body language (courtesy)
sharing appreciations of each other (thankfulness)
taking turns talking and listening (empathy)
honoring another person’s point of view (respect)
speaking honestly and clearly so others can understand (truthfulness)
asking questions to clarify and build understanding (curiosity)
speaking politely, without talking back (consideration)
knowing when to stop talking (patience)
learning how to forgive (compassion)
detaching from your own ideas and looking for the best solution for everyone (humility)
building unity of vision (cooperation)
Benefit #2 :Training for Working in Groups
Developing the skills and virtues listed above will have myriad benefits, and one major concrete one is an increased ability to work as a team. By introducing young children to the practice of family consultation, and by focusing on something simple that affects them– such as determining plans for a weekend activity–parents can support the children’s skill-building. With love and encouragement children (and adults!) can better learn how to:
address only one topic at a time
turn to the Baha’i teachings to discover the principles that apply to the topic
share their thoughts and feelings
listen to the input of others
appreciate the diversity of ideas and solutions that arise
summarize the main points of agreement
write down a decision that the family makes (good to have someone be a note-taker)
carry out a decision in unity
reflect on their participation and progress
Chelsea’s family gathers agenda topics ahead of time from everyone, including their three young children. Often, they use meeting times to review their calendar of activities and to plan family activities. At times, they do a fun activity together after the meeting ends.
Benefit #3: Building Family Trust and Cooperation
As the family carries out decisions in harmony, trust is built. Here are two quotations about this, one from the Writings and one from an author:
In all matters, great or small, word must be the complement of deed, and deed the companion of word: each must supplement, support and reinforce the other. 3
Because keeping commitments has such an impact on trust—and because trust is so vital to a thriving family culture—it’s wise to keep in mind that commitments to family members are often the most important commitments of all. 4
As the family builds unity and trust, they will be more likely to turn to each other when problems arise, and the children will be more likely to willingly participate in consultations. At times when a topic could be very sensitive to a child, it might be best for fewer people to participate. At other times, the family might also decide and demonstrate the importance of having extended family members or someone outside the immediate family that they trust participate. Some examples of these might be:
what Baha’i funds should the family support: invite the community treasurer
how to stay in touch with grandparents: include them
what changes would make a child’s room more functional: include a building contractor
Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquility, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all. Such a family but addeth to its stature and its lasting honor, as day succeedeth day. 5
Sometimes parents focus on instructing and correcting. It can be easy to forget that we also need to learn from our children and invite them to be open in sharing thoughts and consulting together with us for a good outcome. With young children, holding family meetings can build a foundation so that communication continues in the vital teen and young adult years.
Benefit #4: Training for Future Relationships and Marriage
Holding family meetings is a wonderful way to teach children about consultation and allow them to engage in the process. Giving children an opportunity to express themselves, raise alternate points of view, solve problems, and discuss challenging topics will be wonderful practice for their relationships in the future. Furthermore, a family meeting is a natural platform to engage in a healthy decision-making process that can prevent conflict and improve the dynamics in the home.
Children who are trained in consultation become youth and adults who can consult well with a relationship or marriage partner. As the children grow in maturity and skill, you can encourage and help them to bring more serious issues up in family consultation, such as how to build a friendship with someone new at school, the importance of safe touch, how to respond to a bully, or understanding and accepting a tragedy.
Susanne’s family with mature children finds family consultations are useful for:
organizing financial resources to support education or business start-ups
determining where an elderly family member should live
exploring whether someone is ready to marry
As you communicate with your children–at all times, but especially during family meetings—you might find it helpful to think about how your words contribute to or disrupt unity. Ideally, all our communications will contribute to unity in the broad sense. Sometimes it is unity paired with justice, sometimes with mercy or compassion. If our intention in communicating is to bring our mind, heart, and soul in close connection to another’s mind, heart, and soul, it affects the words we choose, the timeliness of our speaking, the quality of our listening, and the outcome.
Remembering that unity is the goal during consultation can be helpful. There is no doubt that families will face challenges and will have differences of opinion between members, but with unity all things are more joyful and optimistic.
A few resources for further consideration:
This video offers a broad overview of what consultation is and what principles are involved.
This video provides a sample of what a family meeting might potentially look like and it illustrates the benefits of holding regular family meetings at home. Notice where, as a family using Baha’i consultation, you might incorporate some skill building for consultation skills. Note that in this pretend scenario, the family had a routine in place for their family meeting. As you begin holding family meetings, you may like to have a chart visible to everyone with the elements listed out, so everyone knows what to expect.
Chelsea Lee Smith is an author, certified parent educator, and serves as faculty and coordinator of the parenting and family courses at the Wilmette Institute (www.wilmetteinstitute.org). She lives in Australia with her husband and three children, and shares resources at www.enablemetogrow.com and www.momentsaday.com.
Susanne M. Alexander is a Relationship and Marriage Educator, author, and coach with Marriage Transformation®, www.marriagetransformation.com; www.bahaimarriage.net; www.bahairelationships.com. She is the Department Chair and also a faculty member for the Wilmette Institute relationships, marriage, parenting, and family online courses (www.wilmetteinstitute.org). Susanne has been single, dating, engaged, married, divorced, and widowed. She is a child, stepchild, parent, stepparent, and grandparent. All of this has given Susanne a diversity of experience to share! She is originally from Canada and is married to a wonderful man in Tennessee, in the United States.