Do you ever feel like you are in survival mode with all the conflict bombarding us in the news, social media, and even in our personal relationships? It seems that every topic today is divisive. Politics, the pandemic, and racism are all hot topics. Some days I feel like I’m just trying to survive, and getting to a place where I can stay focused on applying spiritual principles and solving problems seems like a distant hope. People are responding to this bombardment as people usually do when they are in survival mode. Some fight, engaging in heated disagreements and becoming angry and bitter. Some flee, withdrawing from people with differing opinions, and ending friendships and social interactions. Some “play dead” by giving up and responding with apathy, even losing interest and concern for others. Unfortunately, none of these responses bring us closer to resolving the conflict.
Being in conflict with each other puts us at odds with universal spiritual teachings. All faith traditions call for us to seek unity, to be kind, to be compassionate. Being in contention inflicts harm on everyone involved. Moreover, it slows the progress of society as a whole by limiting the collective potential we can draw on when we learn from each other and work together.
According to the Universal House of Justice (The governing body of the Baha’i Faith), one reason we are divided on things is that we have a “tendency to perceive dichotomies where, in fact, there are none.” It goes on to say that “It is essential that ideas forming part of a cohesive whole not be held in opposition to one another.” In other words, each individual may have a different perspective on a subject based on their personal experiences and understanding. Finding where those perspectives intersect allows us to better understand the whole truth. There is a folk tale from India that explains this idea well. You may have heard the story of the blind men and the elephant. If not you can read a version of it here: https://www.peacecorps.gov/educators/resources/story-blind-men-and-elephant/. In the story each man has a different perspective on what an elephant is because he has only experienced one small piece of it. In the end they learn that if they all share their individual experiences, they can better understand the truth. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith shared the following about seeking truth: “They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling, and the truth will remain hidden.”
I would like to suggest an alternative to the divisive process we are currently engaged in. The Baha’i writings outline a process of consultation designed to prevent the kind of wrangling we are experiencing and lead to constructive, unified action.
First, the problem is defined and the spiritual teachings on the topic are reviewed. There are spiritual principles that apply in every situation and identifying them can help us to focus on creating solutions rather than dwelling on problems. For example, in a matter dealing with racism it may be beneficial to focus our attention on the oneness of humanity, or the golden rule. When we focus on spiritual principles we are more likely to find agreement because they tend to be common beliefs that transcend our differences.
All individuals are encouraged to share their point of view. As illustrated above, the more perspectives that are shared on an issue, the closer we get to understanding the truth of the matter. Having a complete and true picture allows us to more easily find common points of agreement. In addition, the more ideas that are shared, the more interaction occurs between them in our minds, sparking even more advanced ideas.
Once a thought is offered, it belongs to the group, and not to the individual who voiced it. When ownership of an idea and ego are removed, people are more likely to choose their words in a way that contributes to the understanding of the whole, rather than trying to one-up others at the table, which tends to create divisions. Participants listen carefully to each perspective, rather than thinking about what they will say next to prove their point, because they have equal ownership in the ideas expressed. The focus becomes developing a clear and complete understanding of the issue. Abdu’l Baha says: “He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide.”
In the final analysis, those hot topics I mentioned above absolutely should be hot topics. They reflect the ills and problems of our current society, and as such, deserve our attention. But rather than being hot because they are the things we are fighting about, they should be hot because we are collectively striving to uncover the truth and create viable solutions.
Katrina Bradley is a member of the Baha’i community. She is embracing rural life from her home near Laramie, Wyoming. She lives with her husband, 4 children, 2 dogs, 2 cats, 5 goats, 2 ducks, and 9 chickens.