Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Cleaning, part 2

It never fails: I have an idea, talk it over with my wife, sit down to write it and forget the main point. Fortunately, I did talk it over with my wife first, so when she reads the article, she is able to tell me what I missed.

Quite often this oversight on my part leads into a new article on a totally different subjct, and nobody, except Marielle (and myself) are the wiser.

Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about spring cleaning, or at least that's what I was hoping to write about. It didn't quite work out the way I had planned when I originally thought about it the night before.

The point that I totally failed to get across was that what we need to really be sure to get rid of are those preconceptions that we try to impose on others.

Now don't get me wrong, preconceptions are not necessarily bad, in and of themselves, but they should not be imposed on others. Those are the sorts of things that I think we really need to get rid of in our spring cleaning.

To clarify, though, I don't think preconceptions are always wrong. In fact, I would even say that most of our preconceptions are pretty good. While they are, by definition, formed before any information is gathered first-hand, we gather a lot of information unconsciously and from the world around us.

For example, long before I actually knew much about the Baha'i Faith, I had met a number of Baha'is and I had a good feeling about most of them (well, probably all of them, but I don't really remember). This gave me the preconception that the Faith was a good thing.

Then I learned about it and discovered that my feeling was accurate. Preconception: good.

But this is not always the case.

There are many times when we have a preconceived idea about something, generally an odd connection made somewhere in our brain based on something unrelated in the past, and we believe that we are right. This tends to lead us into thinking that we should defend it, or impose it on others.

However, if we take the time to investigate it, we may discover that we were wrong, and change our minds. That is spring cleaning.

One example is the idea that Baha'is should not have tatoos. Obviously this is not correct, for there is nothing in the Writings against tatoos, but many of us have carried this thought into the Faith from a previous religious background. For more on that subject, click here.

There are other examples that are quite obvious in community life.

One that comes to mind is the some communities read the Tablet of Visitation for the Ascension of One of the Central Figures. In many areas, everyone will stand and face the Qiblih. While this is nice to do, it is not mandatory. Nowhere does it say that it should be this way, although it is not a bad ting to do. The problem is that there are those who now believe you must do it, having seen it all the time, and through unspoken peer pressure, convince others that they must do it, too. I mean, come on, if you're a new Baha'i and really trying to be obedient to the Faith, and you go to a commemoration of the Ascension of Baha'u'llah, what are you to think? Everyone stands up and faces the Qiblih, so naturally you do, too. Nobody said anything, but you do it so that nobody will look at you odd.

Sure, it's not required, but you try sitting down in that situation.

Another thing that stands out in my mind is this one community where the seats were always arranged in "pew style" for the Feast. There was a large hall in their Baha'i Centre with a podium up at the front. Naturally, the chairs were lined up in rows facing the podium. It just made sense.

One evening, while setting up for the Feast, the host, who was responsible for the arrangement of the chairs, decided to put them in a circle. They did a great job of it, artistically arranging them so that the podium fit in quite well into the circle.

The host then went downstairs to set up the food for the social portion, and when he went back upstairs someone else was just finishing lining up all the chairs in little rows again. (The lizard-brain, we can blame the lizard-brain) Good intention, not the best of actions.

It took a few more Feasts in that community, with active work by that host, before this was overcome. The host, who was not hosting these other Feasts, by the way, actively went to the Baha'i Centre early and set up the chairs in a circle time and time again, but didn't leave the room. Eventually the community "got it", and they really did become more adaptable after that.

So next time you go into a room, and see the chairs set up in the same old way, you may want to ask yourself "Why?" Is it just convenient, or is there a more valid reason?

Why are we doing the things we are doing? Is it just out of habit? And is it the best way?

Try a bit of change, and see if some of the ideas need to be tossed. Who knows? You might find a better way of doing things.

But always be careful not to do things merely because "that's the way it's done", for you may be inadvertantly imposing your ideas on others.

One last example: I remember this lady who really loved the Faith, but never declared. She came to all the activities of the community that she could, and really defended the Faith where possible. She taught up a storm, but never enrolled. Finally someone asked her why she wasn't enrolling. Her answer? "Because I don't have a black dress."

It seems that all the Persian women in her community at that time wore black dresses, and she thought to be a Baha'i, you had to wear a black dress.

You really can't fault anyone there. It was just an assumption, which could have carried over for quite some time. But really, imagine if she did enrol, and began teaching that you had to wear a black dress. Hmm.

Well, time to say my evening prayers.

Maybe I can pray for a black dress for my wife. She looks good in black.

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