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Friday, March 30, 2012

Bullying in All Forms

In my other blog "Mining Gems" (, I state simply that the issue of bullying is one of virtues - or specifically the lack of educating one about their innate seed of virtues within.

For this blog, I'd like to consider what constitutes bullying and how a Baha'i education might address them.  We all can easily have a vision of bullying that involves physical and/or verbal attacks, but what is bullying?  It can come in the form of sexism, racism, and many other detrimental -isms that attack the "other" person.  It is a way to make distinctions ugly and reflect some odd beauty or higher station of the bully above the "other".  It brings with it a satisfaction of (ill-gotten) empowerment and attention.

Contrast this with the words from the Baha'i writings...

Consider the flowers of the rose garden. Although they are of different kinds, various colors and diverse forms and appearances, yet as they drink from one water, are swayed by one breeze and grow by the warmth and light of one sun, this variation and this difference cause each to enhance the beauty and splendor of the others. The differences in manners, in customs, in habits, in thoughts, opinions and in temperaments is the cause of the adornment of the world of mankind. This is praiseworthy. Likewise this difference and this variation, like the difference and variation of the parts and members of the human body, are the cause of the appearance of beauty and perfection. As these different parts and members are under the control of the dominant spirit, and the spirit permeates all the organs and members, and rules all the arteries and veins, this difference and this variation strengthen love and harmony and this multiplicity is the greatest aid to unity.

      (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 295)

If the view that differences are not only beautiful but "strengthen love and harmony and this multiplicity is the greatest aid to unity" is taught early and often in words and deed, then an essential context that supports bullying behavior is destroyed.  Now, do I naively think that reciting the above words and similar words will remove bullying behavior completely?  No.  These words must be shown in action by adults modeling them in everyday life with children, role-playing scenarios with children with thoughtful reflection, and teachable moments at the earliest stages of life must be taken advantage of.

We too often allow soul-damaging behaviors to occur by stating that "boys will be boys" or some similar impotent excuse.  We must balance the line between playful behavior and disrespecting behavior, but I think we tend to give too much leeway and allow disrespect to be a normal activity for children.

One other thought, why would backbiting be considered a most great sin in the Baha'i scripture?
Read the following...

"That seeker should, also, regard backbiting as grievous error, and keep himself aloof from its dominion, inasmuch as backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. He should be content with little, and be freed from all inordinate desire" 

Gleanings From the Writings of Baha'u'llah, Pages 264-270

"Ye have been forbidden to commit murder or adultery, or to engage in backbiting or calumny; shun ye, then, what hath been prohibited in the holy Books and Tablets. "

The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Pages 19-34

Backbiting is listed right up there with murder!  Interesting, yes?  Backbiting is also a form of bullying.
Perhaps it is in words that we allow girls to bully more so than boys, since physical bullying is allowed for them.  I encourage you to reflect on how, as parents and teachers, we teach this particular lesson.  How many teachable moments are we missing when backbiting is occurs and it is thought of as a harmless behavior?

For a musical reminder of the writings about backbiting...

Lastly, imagine youth that are raised to consider themselves with the potential to be brilliant stars.  With that as their frame, it is easier to lovingly teach when they make mistakes.  Mistakes in word and action are opportunities for growth and a caring parent or teacher will not react with superfluous disappointment but with a diligent and tempered view that this sapling requires just a bit of support and trimming ;-).  Let's help them from when they are very young and not wait until they are teenagers.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"The newly born babe..."

"The newly born babe of that Day excels the wisest and most venerable men of this time, and the lowliest and most unlearned of that period shall surpass in understanding the most erudite and accomplished divines of this age...." - The Bab, quoted in "The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha'i Revelation, p.65

Several questions come to mind when reading this quote.  What level of understanding should we expect from today's generation?  What was the level of understanding of the 'most erudite and accomplished divines of' the past age?  In what manner and content does the newly born babe excel?

Perhaps, the newly born babe's excellence comes from at least two things, so many new things being made known to humanity since that time both materially and spiritually and a greater collective thinking that propels the individual's excellence beyond what an individual can achieve.

The material developments over the past 168 years must be considered phenomenal.  Consider the vast technological advances since the mid to late 1800s.  To be able to travel from one side of the Earth to the other in less than 24 hours was unfathomable.  The earliest message sent by Samuel Morse via cable in 1844 was "What hath God wrought" and it only travelled from Baltimore, MD to Washington, D.C.  And now, not only could you call someone on the other side of the Earth and hear their voice without delay by phone - you can do this with a device found in your pocket, untethered.  You can even be reading this blog on that same device.  It can also be used to give you the best driving route from Baltimore, MD to Washington, D.C.  Oh yes, in 1844 automobiles were only a dream.

Spiritually, we have come from being isolated in our own familial religious history to having the potential to being knowledgable about religion in all forms.  Information about and contact, through direct and indirect means, with followers of all religions is readily available.  The opportunity for individual investigation of truth is upon us in an astounding way.  The dogma of others dictating one's spiritual actions (clergy) has been broken - even within those religious traditions in which it was most strong.  This spiritual transformation has been shaped by new revelations from God and by the pace at which the material world has developed.  The material can have a great impact (positively and negatively) on our collective spiritual progress.

Consider how fragmented society was in time and place prior to today.  To provide two examples, only 26 of the 50 states that make up the United States were created by 1844.  The rest were, at best, territories of the U.S.  The Mexican Cession didn't occur until 1848.  The United States was fragmented and the scope of one's travels correlated strongly with one's religious exposure.  As a second example, Italy wasn't united until 1861. The present formation of nations is a recent phenomenon.  Not until stable nation-states and transportation systems that went beyond one's own ethnic and religious experience could we begin, as a whole, to learn from one another and put together the pieces of this grand covenant between humanity and God.

Imagine how the quote "The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." would have been received at that time?  It is an astounding declaration given the division of humanity along national, ethnic, and familial lines.  Many of us take such a declaration as an assumption of modern society, even though not all agree with its implications for political and religious aspects of humanity.  The first gathering of followers of many religions to promote greater understanding didn't occur until 1893 in Chicago.  It was the Parliament of the World's Religions.

Over the past 168 years, humanity has connected its separate communities to form an even greater worldwide community.  It is still fragmented in many ways; however, even the "most erudite and accomplished divines of" the past would find it difficult to envision the world as it is today - in terms of transportation, commerce, communication, and many other aspects.

So, what does this grand transformation mean to that "newly born babe" of today.  She has opportunities to understand many more things at an earlier age than others did in the past.  She has the opportunity to harness those gems within to help others in far away places to do the same.  The plight of others in a far corner of the world can be learned of very quickly and she can apply creative solutions by leveraging social tools only available within the past ten years.  She can benefit reciprocally from that interaction as well.  It is not merely those well off providing funds to those with less.  It is about making this world new.

If only we consider education outside of the 19th century manufacturing model and modernize it in line with the knowledge and understanding of today's spiritual gifts, then, and only then, will we be able to roll out a new world before our very eyes.  What part will you play to deepen your understanding of what it means to facilitate those newly born babes to meet their potential?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Competition Against the Self

When we use competition against another person to improve ourselves, we can make great gains athletically and mentally. Competition against the other is a strong theme in the United States culture. We use references to battles, wars, and fights to spur our development off of the real battlefield. Our school mascots are a variety of warrior symbols and predators. Survival of the fittest in the worst perversion of Darwin's most elegant idea is applied to our children and each other.

We are at the same time improved by this competition and denigrated to our base material selves. By constantly keeping our eyes and mind on what the other is, we are losing our sense of self, our true selves. I am not proposing that we remove competition with others from our culture. However, I am proposing that we recognize its limitations and that it is used too often.

Some will encourage a child to 'be the best you can be', but then follow that be encouraging the child to compare him or herself to another child not only as an exemplar but as a form to become. We don't even recognize that the two concepts are fundamentally in conflict. If I am to be the best that I can be, then I should utilize the exemplar to consider my current station and reflect on my being and compete against the self.

Each day is a chance to learn more about my current station, see inward and challenge myself to improve, a little at a time. If I recognize that within me is great potential, those myriad of gems, then I can take it upon myself to cut them, to polish them and make the best me I can be. So, I encourage students to be reflective at times and challenge themselves to improve against the self and not against the other.  Therefore, how should the home and school encourage such development and actions?  I leave that to you.

"Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty."

"Through the Teachings of this Day Star of Truth every man will advance and develop until he attaineth the station at which he can manifest all the potential forces with which his inmost true self hath been endowed."

(Both are from Baha'u'llah, you can read the full text here --> Gleanings )

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Learning Objectives of Life

From time to time, I contemplate the learning objectives of a lesson or activity.  They tend to be most easily filled with simple concepts that we call facts.  The learning objectives of an entire course of study end up being encyclopedic tomes that, though impressive, can be satisfying to the intellect but a disappointment to the soul.

I have for the last several years been developing a instructional framework that I call the Mining Gems Model.  You can read more about it here --> HERE, but the part I want to mention that is its keystone, if you will, is virtues.  This isn't just my opinion, but teachers and parents who have attended a seminar or workshop of mine have been drawn to that part of the model.  They agree with the profound, yet simple, quote from Abdu'l-Baha that states, "Every child is potentially the light of the world--and at the same time its darkness."  The full context of the quote can be found here ---> HERE. Abdu'l-Baha also stated, "Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning. A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved - even though he be ignorant - is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all the science and arts. The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light."

And it is with this that I meditate on the question, "What are our life's learning objectives?"  It is to absorb encyclopedic information in order to pass an exam?  Is it to receive high marks, to earn a high income, to own many things?

Well, perhaps here is one quote to start the conversation with...

"All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names. Let others partake of its waters in My name, that the leaders of men in every land may fully recognize the purpose for which the Eternal Truth hath been revealed, and the reason for which they themselves have been created." - Baha'u'llah (emphasis added)

How do we empower students to 'carry forward an ever-advancing civilization'?  I propose that lessons need to have two, intertwined parts.  One part of the lesson contributes to gaining subject knowledge and understanding, while the second part contributes to the growth of the child's virtues.  At times virtues are taught by example, while at other times virtues are the explicit objective of the lesson itself.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Model of Behavior

As a parent I am aware, not all of the time, of my behavior when in the presence of my child.  What I do and what I say will alter her reality, her understanding, and her ability to express virtues in this world.  I fail at times and sometimes I succeed in small measure.  I don't ponder this to a level of immobilization or fear, but I check myself from time to time and many times ask, "Did she just replicate what I do?"  And my response to that question is either "Oh no." or "That's nice."

I wonder however, when parents start having difficulties with a child's behavior do they analyze themselves, their home environment, their words and deeds and ask, "How might these things contribute to reinforcing my child's undesirable behaviors and how they might contribute to reinforcing his/her desirable behaviors?"

If my child acts out inappropriately, then have I displayed that behavior as an adult?  Have I given permission, by deed, that acting out is commendable?  Do I expect respect, when the subtle actions I have with my child deem respecting them as unworthy of my time?

Please don't misunderstand me, I don't agree with the idea that my child is above me and should be treated as a spoiled princess having all things done for her at a moment's notice.  I do think though that she has a noble station and if I can show her respect by acknowledging her interests by commenting on a drawing as she requests, "Daddy, take a look at this" and just giving into the shared moment, then I will do it.  Also, I will respect her by asking her to wait patiently when I cannot be interrupted and then following through with recognizing her use of the virtue of patience when I am ready.

When she was younger, the time period she could wait without being frustrated was short but over time I have reinforced the display of patience from one minute to now many minutes.  This is one example of applying patience and caring.  Do I always excel at this?  No.  But I try to remind myself of my nobel nature and her's and the power of another virtue used so little by ourselves, for ourselves - forgiveness.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Woman's Place - Respect Begins Early

A woman's place is...(you finish the statement).  

Some quotes concerning a woman's place from the Baha'i writings include...

"The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged prerequisites of peace. The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one half of the world's population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. There are no grounds, moral, practical, or biological, upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavor will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge."

"Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God."

You can read a wonderful statement titled, "Advancing the Status of Women" HERE.

In regards to education, it is my contention that the advancement of the status of women begins at home.  Is your home a place of respect for all?  Is it a place that respects women?  Is the power of Baha'i consultation utilized or do traditions and cultural expectations overrule this priceless gift?

I have watched as mother's are disrespected by their children at a very early age, while the father is either treated in a similar manner or is the authoritative figure in the family.  Can you hear the stereotypical phrase, "Well, you wait until your father gets home!" I am not recommending that the mother become an authoritarian and practice 'tough love' or some similar method with their children.  What I am asking is for reflection on the boundaries we provide for children.  Does the leeway I give my child disrespect me?  Does it disrespect them in that it teaches them the wrong lesson of the status of women?

I ask you to consider what actions, small ones even, can build a disrespectful framework for the status of women in the eyes, mind, and heart of a child?  Looking forward to your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Respect's Beginnings - Please and Thank You

"A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding." - Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf

Observing children and adults in conversation, I notice how often eye contact is made, how often the words 'please' and 'thank you' are used, and how often kindly words shape and display how they respect one another.  At the earliest of ages, children can begin the habit of using 'please' and 'thank you' to demonstrate respect, an essential virtue for any relationship - especially those within a family.

For a child to develop this simple way of showing respect, the parents need to model it.  By using these words from parent to parent and from parent to child, we create a normal pattern of respect for all.  Now, interestingly, many of us miss our opportunities to use these words.  Humbling oneself by asking 'please' and showing gratitude for the smallest of things may not be in our own normal pattern of behavior.  Family members may take each other's actions for granted and conversations may be stripped of these foundational words.

Begin, if you don't already, recognizing how often you use these words with your spouse or loved one.  Use them with your children and kindly encourage them to use them with you.  If your child asks for something without ending or beginning with 'please', then, with a kind tone, ask, "and...."  Give them opportunities without reminding them.  Choose when you remind them wisely.  When they are quite young, a toddler, it can be more often.  As they get older, less often.  

Never respond to a child that demands or orders something from you.  You'll know when their tone is inappropriate or not respectful.  Of course, with children they need to learn that the tone is inappropriate, so this is your moment to kindly teach them.  But how might you teach them?  Let's consider these words from Abdu'l-Baha...

"Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If some one commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others. Refrain from reprimanding them, and if you wish to give admonition or advice, let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the bearer. Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts." - The Promulgation of Universal Peace

How does this apply to your own child?  I do not think that this means we should use the teachable moment and make light of it and smile.  Perhaps, we merely shouldn't make it heavy, as if the world crashed down on his/her shoulders.  Step-by-step, 'please'-by-'thank you' - respect for family, respect for others, and respect for self begins.