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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?