Friday, February 19, 2010


I once read something to the effect that no one should leave our presence without hope. It was from 'Abdu'l-Baha. He said, "Show ye an endeavor that all the nations and communities of the world, even the enemies, put their trust, assurance and hope in you; that if a person falls into errors for a hundred-thousand times he may yet turn his face to you, hopeful that you will forgive his sins; for he must not become hopeless, neither grieved nor despondent."

For some reason, this notion that no one should be hopeless stuck with me. Although the actual statement is that they should be hopeful that we will forgive them, I have often recalled it as being that we should ensure people have hope, in general.

This misunderstanding came in very useful one day, when I was asked to give a talk at a Passover Seder.

Passover, in case you are not aware, is a time of celebration for the Jewish people. It is a celebration of the miracle when the Spirit of Death passed over the homes of the Jewish peoples in Egypt, that last plague before the Pharaoh said the Jews could leave.

So there I was, on Passover, and I had completely forgotten about the talk. I had not prepared a thing. I was even driving somewhere else when, all of a sudden, I remembered I have to give this talk. I think the Concourse on High nudged me, or else none of this would have happened.

I looked at the clock and realized I had about an hour to prepare a talk, so I drove the library with Shoghi, age 3 at the time. He loved going there, because he could take the glass elevator to the top and run down the long staircase.

We went in, and I grabbed some of those little pieces of paper, along with one of those tiny golf pencils, that they have out for you to write down the Dewey decimal number of the book you want. While Shoghi was enjoying himself riding up and running down, I followed and wrote down some words on those pieces of paper whenever I got the chance. Finally we had to go.

When we got to the Seder, we had the opportunity to enjoy some wonderful food before I was to speak.  Then, much to my delight, we took part in one of the traditional rituals of a Seder. There was a white plate in the centre of the table, and while each of the plagues was called out, we each dipped our little finger in the grape juice (as you know, I can't have wine as a Baha'i) and flicked a drop onto the plate, symbolizing the blood that was spilled. At the end of the ten plagues, we were asked to call out something plaguing us in our life, as we flicked another drop onto the plate, symbolizing the flicking away of our troubles.

It was after this that I was asked to speak on finding positive-based solutions.

The timing struck me as ironic, and I pointed this out.

"You know, I find it amusing, being asked to speak at this time in the program on this topic. After all, you can't just flick your troubles away." Someone had shouted out school as plaguing them, and another called out their boss. It was fairly easy to say that the one person still had to go to school and the other still had to deal with their boss.

While I was saying all this, Shoghi was helping me by passing out the now-folded pieces of paper that I had written, a few to each table. I explained a basic principal of problem-solving, namely that you have to build positives instead of trying to remove negatives. As we all know, if you walk into a dark room and want to read a book, you have to turn on the light; you can't remove the darkness. On a cold winter's day, you can't fight the cold: you have to warm up. From there, I paraphrased 'Abdu'l-Baha, explaining how cold is merely the absence of heat, and poverty is the absence of wealth, and so on.

I then told them about an experience I had working with a number of communities in the States that were dealing with the race issue. Every community that was "fighting racism" got stuck. All measurable statistics were getting worse, despite what people were saying. However, those communities that were promoting "race unity" saw miracles occurring. All measurable stats were getting better. The reason, I proposed, was that if you look for incidences of racism to fight, you will always find them and become disappointed. If you are searching for incidences of unity to celebrate, you will find those, instead, and become enheartened, thereby able to accomplish more. All the communities, by the way, were doing the same activities, such as marches and picnics, and the like.

When all the tables had 3 or 4 pieces of paper, I asked the friends sitting at them to do the following exercise. They were to open the papers and find a solution to problem on them by discussing the virtues that were missing, those that were needed to make the situation better. They had 10 minutes.

The papers each had a single word or phrase on them. One had "war", while another had "drug abuse". "Gang violence", "rape", "global warming", "AIDS": all the pieces had some sort of major social or global crisis on them.

The first minute was filled with silence. The next couple of minutes saw some hesitant talking. And the last seven minutes were filled with excited conversation.

At the end of this, I called everyone back to attention, and said, "I don't care what answers you found, because I already know that they are good and will work. I want to know what you felt."

Summarizing the responses, there was a general consensus. At first, people felt oppressed trying to think of a solution to what was on the paper in so short a time. Then they remembered the exercise and hesitantly took baby steps, offering an idea, even though they were unsure of what they were doing. Finally, they realized that they were on to something, and even excited by the end. They all felt that they had a solution that was workable. In ten minutes.

What brought tears to my eyes was an old man, who had been in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, who said, "Up to this time in my life, I never saw these problems as having solutions. Now I feel there is hope." The nods of agreement all over the room gave me hope.

And so, dear Reader, I offer this to you and pray it gives hope to others.

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