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My Reflections on True Friendship

August 11, 2020, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by

I have been thinking about the concept of friendship lately and the positive impact it can have. Friendship is a powerful force and its influence can extend beyond homes, workplaces, and schools to every setting and scenario imaginable from a visit to the doctor’s office to being on vacation. Imagine living in a world where everyone was welcoming, kindness reigned, individuals of all backgrounds came together and people were frank in their views. Is that only a thought reserved for imaginary utopian societies? I don’t think so.

I feel like this quote from Abdu’l-Baha can be a source of inspiration as we strive to create genuine friendships with everyone:

Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.1

This summer will mark the 15th anniversary of my two-months volunteering at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. I will always remember that experience because of the friendships made with everyone who was serving together. I’ve been thinking about how those friendships were formed and how we can we develop genuine relationships with everyone and avoid having anyone left out. What attributes are needed to create friendships? I’ve come up with a list of six: open-mindedness, kindness, patience, sincerity, humility, and love.

I personally like starting off with qualities such as open-mindedness, kindness, and patience. Open-mindedness will give you the freedom to speak to anyone who crosses your path, to learn about new topics, to expand your social circle, and may even lead you to light bulb moments of inspiration for your work or creative endeavors – ideas you may otherwise have never come across.

Kindness can give you the ability to bring people together and to put them at ease. I think that kindness implies a lack of judgement and an understanding that we are all constantly growing, trying to address our challenges, and figuring out how to meet our goals in life.

Patience can provide the endurance needed to move past the small talk, to listen with an open heart, to understand the process of making friends can take time, and to facilitate a genuine connection. I love this quotation of Baha’u’llah from The Tabernacle of Unity where He is addressing Manikchi Sahib, a Parsi Zoroastrian scholar and philanthropist and describing their friendship:

Thy letter hath reached this captive of the world in His prison. It brought joy, strengthened the ties of friendship, and renewed the memory of bygone days. Praise be to the Lord of creation Who granted us the favour of meeting in the Arabian land, wherein we visited and held converse. It is Our hope that our encounter may never be forgotten nor effaced from the heart by the passage of time, but rather that, out of the seeds thus sown, the sweet herbs of friendship may spring forth and remain forever fresh and verdant for all to behold.2

I have also been contemplating the qualities such as sincerity and humility.

Sincerity and honesty are qualities that can keep a friendship from crumbling like a game of Jenga. The last thing anyone wants to worry about in a social situation, is whether they’re being accepted simply because the other person wants something in return.

I also believe that people are always growing and it doesn’t hurt to be a humble listener. Humility can help us to be friendly to all, rather than pass judgment on our differences, or perspectives we don’t understand. I think that humility will allow us to interact genuinely instead of trying to impress people. Abdul-Baha said:

You must manifest complete love and affection toward all mankind. Do not exalt yourselves above others, but consider all as your equals, recognizing them as the servants of one God. Know that God is compassionate toward all; therefore, love all from the depths of your hearts, prefer all religionists before yourselves, be filled with love for every race, and be kind toward the people of all nationalities.3

I think perhaps that brings us to the most important quality: love. Our planet cannot survive without love and unity. I have to say love and unity is not reserved for homogenous groups. They can be formed anywhere and with anyone. These are two qualities that also should strive as we find ways to get to one another. Baha’u’llah says,

We love to see you at all times consorting in amity and concord within the paradise of My good-pleasure, and to inhale from your acts the fragrance of friendliness and unity, of loving-kindness and fellowship…4

In these days of being socially restrained, here are some ideas I’ve been thinking about for forming new and strengthening existing friendships where I live. These ideas can be utilized through a videoconference platform by teaming up with a few people to host, if public health guidelines allow. I thought I would share them in case they are useful to you:

1. Host a devotional gathering with prayers of different religions and traditions.
2. Study a meaningful topic with a group. This could be a one-off deepening or a study circle of the first book in the Ruhi sequence of training materials for building community.
3. Ask neighbors, co-workers, school friends, etc. to participate
in a service project.
4. Talk to someone you usually don’t interact with. See what their point of view is and discuss it with them.
5. Host a virtual game night or a virtual or socially-distanced meal.
6. Share the arts with others, whether singing together or making crafts.

These are just a few possibilities I’ve been contemplating as means to forge true friendships. I’d love to hear how you are creating genuine friendships. I’d love to end with this quote from a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the Baha’is in Iran because I think it refers to the type of society I mentioned at the beginning:

Persevere, therefore, with diligence and steadfastness along this path of endeavour. As you do so, strive to perceive the nobility in every human being—rich or poor, man or woman, old or young, city dweller or villager, worker or employer, irrespective of ethnicity or religion. Help the poor and deprived. Attend to the needs of young people and foster in them confidence in the future so that they may prepare themselves adequately for service to humankind. Take every opportunity to present to your fellow citizens, with utmost sincerity, your experience in combating prejudice and collaborate with them in creating bonds of love and fellowship, and so contribute to the progress of your nation and the prosperity of its people.5

  1. Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks []
  2. Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity []
  3. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace []
  4. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah []
  5. 28 July 2008, Letter from the Universal House of Justice to the beliebers in the cradle of the Faith []
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Salar Akhavan

Salar Akhavan holds a degree in journalism from the University of North Texas. He enjoys reading up on current events, taking walks during cool temperatures, & the occasional chess game.
Salar Akhavan

Discussion 2 Comments

The service project “Elevate” offered a workshop at the BC summer school a few years ago which was based on a resource of questions to stimulate meaningful conversation about friendships. If you are interested, email: [email protected] for a copy of this free resource.

Charles Boyle

Charles Boyle (August 8, 2020 at 1:55 AM)

Hi Charles! Thank you for sharing that info as that will be another wonderful resource for everyone to utilize.

Salar Akhavan

Salar Akhavan (August 8, 2020 at 4:02 PM)

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