Bahá’u’lláh said: “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.” Sometimes it is easy to forget that the words with which a Bahá’í could ideally be described should refer to our deeds rather than to our feelings.
NOUNS OR VERBS
The Bahá’í community offer some great educational programmes for children and junior youth, these are open to everyone, indeed in many localities – such as here, in Newcastle – the majority, or all, of the participants are not Bahá’ís. The children’s classes focus on virtues, such as love, truthfulness, justice, humility and generosity.
As adults, it is easy to forget that virtues are not qualities we have for ourselves or expectations that we develop of how others should relate to us, virtues relate to behaviour. Virtues are verbs, not nouns.
I was once listening to somebody reading part of Stephen R. Covey’s famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and this recollection, shared by the author, spiked my interest:
At one seminar where I was speaking on the concept of proactivity, a man came up and said,
“Stephen, I like what you’re saying. But every situation is so different. Look at my marriage. I’m really worried. My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?”
“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
“Love her,” I replied.
“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”
“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
“But how do you love when you don’t love?”
“My friend, love is a verb. Love — the feeling — is a fruit of love the verb. So love her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”
… Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self, like a mother bringing a newborn into the world. If you want to study love, study those who sacrifice for others, even for people who offend or do not love in return.
This is very much how Bahá’ís are supposed to be with spiritual virtues, we should not react negatively to hatred, injustice, selfishness, estrangement and cruelty, we instead endeavour to treat everybody with love, justice, generosity, unity and kindness.
JUSTICE AND OPPRESSION
Because it is a hot topic across the water at the moment, in the USA, I will add that justice, as a virtue, does not involve judgement, that is a connotation associated with the legal system, justice involves acting with a lack of prejudice, impartiality and a genuine respect for people. We are, however, as Bahá’ís, instructed to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”.
In Some Answered Questions, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is recorded as explaining how society should deal with oppressors and criminals, it does not exactly address the current concerns in America but it does give a sense of the perspective ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had on the theme:
“…if someone wrongs, injures, and assaults another, and the latter retaliates in kind, this constitutes revenge and is blameworthy… Rather, he must act in the opposite manner and show forgiveness, and, if possible, even be of some assistance to his aggressor. This indeed is that which is worthy of man; for what advantage does one gain from revenge? The two actions are indeed one and the same: If one is reprehensible, so too is the other. The only difference is that one preceded the other.
“…But the body politic has the right to preserve and to protect. It holds no grudge and harbours no enmity towards the murderer, but chooses to imprison or punish him solely to ensure the protection of others.
“…Just as forgiveness is one of the attributes of God’s mercy, so is justice one of the attributes of His lordship. The canopy of existence rests upon the pole of justice and not of forgiveness, and the life of mankind depends on justice and not on forgiveness.
“…if a savage Arab were to enter the room at this moment brandishing a sword and bent upon assaulting, wounding, or killing you, I would of course prevent him. Were I to abandon you to that man, this would be oppression, not justice. But if he were to harm me personally, I would forgive him.
“…The body politic should… strive night and day, bending every effort to ensure that souls are properly educated, that they progress day by day, that they advance in science and learning, that they acquire praiseworthy virtues and laudable manners, and that they forsake violent behaviour, so that crimes might never occur.”
(You can read the full talk here)
ACTIONS AND REACTIONS
I don’t wish to give the impression, however, that virtues are only about how we react to negativity, virtues should govern all of our actions too. Bahá’ís are actively in the business of educating and uniting souls… our own souls very much included. In villages, towns and cities throughout the world we are offering programmes to improve the spiritual nature of the community with a better understanding of the kinds of virtues I referred to above, to promote a sense of responsibility and a desire for service within communities, and in many developing areas the Bahá’ís are involved in social and economic development programmes.
In our day to day lives we are called upon to turn all of our “thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts” and “assist the world of humanity as much as possible.”
Such deeds, as they multiply, will do more than create a nice atmosphere, they are moving humanity in the direction of the solutions it requires for all its ills. The solution to injustice is not merely in pointing out where injustice exists, but in promoting justice at the very roots of society, the solution to prejudice is not merely in pointing out where prejudice can be seen, but is in developing the understanding of the underlying similarity and essential unity of every member of the human race. Bahá’í action is not so much concerned with pointing out all the cracks in a failing world civilisation as it is with cementing the bricks of a civilisation which can rise above the smoke and ashes of the disorder which is the result of the injustice, prejudice and apathy still too prevalent around us.