Saturday, August 14, 2010


Last night I received a disturbing series of e-mails. They weren't really all that disturbing in and of themselves, but they did disturb me.

You see, there was a man I met a number of years ago and he quickly became a very good friend. It was shortly after this that he embraced the Faith. Over the next few years we had many wonderful conversations and then sort of lost contact after I moved to Canada. We did see each other a few times after that, and talked a couple of times on the phone, but really did not keep as close a contact as I should have preferred.

Last night he asked me a fairly straightforward question about a politcal party and I responded, of course, with a bit of caution. I carefully explained that I don't actually prefer any one party over another, feeling that no party can effectively change the world for the better as the whole system is, as Baha'u'llah puts it, "lamentably defective".

His reply, a short time later, was a bit more odd and seemed a bit of a rant. He concluded by saying that "surely I didn't agree with a mosque near ground zero" in New York. Again my reply was a bit cautious, but I explained my understanding of the oneness of religion and how I couldn't object to it, as I cannot base my impressions of any religion on the actions of a few fanatics.

His final e-mail seemed as if he felt he were insulting me, although I really didn't understand the insult I think he intended, as I am fairly ignorant of many aspects of politics. He ended with a fairly abrupt "see ya", which to my eye felt sort of final.

Upon doing a little bit of research, I noticed that he had changed his religious affiliation from Baha'i to another faith, which didn't actually bother me, as I feel that we all have the right to choose the path we want. What bothered me was the sense I got of "if you don't agree with me on everything, then I want nothing to do with you".

And this made me cry. I cried over the loss of someone I regard as a dear friend, and the thought of this man becoming, in my eyes, a fanatic.

As you can imagine, this has weighed on me most of the day and my thoughts are often turning back to him, as well as his family. I long to get back home so that I can call his wife to see if there is anything I can do for her, but that will, unfortunately, have to wait. Then again, it could all be some sort of weird misunderstanding on my part. That would be a pleasant surprise.

Tonight, I had a very pleasant diversion from all of this when my family and I went to my brother-in-law's house for dinner. It was very nice, and I had a tough time keeping up with the conversation as most of it was in French. Oh, and this is not a criticism. I enjoyed testing the limits of my French and always cherish the chance to learn more. But the difficulty of it did distract me from any unpleasantness caused by the previously mentioned conversation.

Amidst all the various topics discussed, one stood out: bullying. As both families have children who are just beginning school, or still in the early grades, the issue of bullying came up. We talked about the various types of bullying that have occurred in schools, what we have seen first-hand and what we have heard second-hand. Various tactics that schools are using to stop bullying were mentioned, and things we can do as parents were also discussed.

It was a rich conversation, clearly outlining a serious problem and offering simple steps we can take towards a solution as parents, teachers and as a community. (At least I think it did. It was French, so I'm not too sure about that.)

As I sat there thinking about what had been said, and going over the conversation in my mind to try and fill in the blanks that my lack of French caused, I was reminded of the earlier conversation with my friend from last night. I was also reminded, for some reason, of an issue that I've discussed a lot over the past few weeks, namely that of thinking we're right and everyone else is wrong.

And I realized that this is another form of bullying.

You see, we have all been given this God-given gift of free will, combined with a mind and a conscience. No one can take that away from us, although we can choose to give it away. When someone does, however, try to take it away from us, we naturally feel defensive or angry. We feel defensive because we have, in a very real sense, been attacked, although we may not realize it. We may feel anger because we sense that an injustice is happening, and anger is a natural response to a perceived injustice.

When Shoghi Effendi says that we should be careful not to do anything "that might be misconstrued as an attempt to proselytize and bring undue pressure upon" people, I suspect that this may be one of the reasons. Teaching should never be a form of an attack, nor should we ever seek to win people over to the Cause through any other means than the attraction of their hearts.
Whether it is our religious beliefs, or our political beliefs, we always need to allow others to have the free-will to choose what they want, and respect them and their choices, especially if we disagree with them.

One story before I go for the night: Marielle just shared it with me as I finished reading the above to her. It seems there was a girl who used to bully her when she was a child. She always used to tease her, Marielle, that she would never find a boyfriend or anything. Now, years later, Marielle ran into her on the street. This woman was panhandling in a parking lot, and looked much older than her age. She also had the look of someone who was working the streets and generally not doing well at all.

This woman stopped Marielle and asked if she recognized her. Rather than hitting her, or laughing at her, my wife stopped and talked with her, treating her with respect and dignity. The lady asked her if she had a boyfriend, and Marielle told her of Shoghi and I. The woman, who used to bully her and make fun of her, said, quite sincerely, that this made her so happy. She was so very happy that Marielle had found a good life.

When Marielle shared this over dinner tonight, in French, so I missed it the first time around, it made everyone else at the table stop and think about their own reactions to bullies. The gentleman on my left evidently said it best. He said that he felt the people were bullies because of the suffering they endured in their own life, and that is why we need to show compassion when we can.


  1. Mead, thanks for sharing this topic with us all. It is something that has affected us all, and I know people who try to pick fights and "bully" me into answering them, and all we can do is try to be as respectful and peaceful as possible. Marielle's response to the bully is very noble because I would find it hard to react like that to the bullies I suffered through for the 6 years in elementary school. Take care!

  2. It is often distressing to see people who were Baha'is become disaffected and go in a direction that is coercive and somehow more comforting by its dogmatism. I remember two people who became Baha'is at my college. Thy started to have problems with the Baha'i teachings regarding chastity an marriage, moving in with partners without the benefit of marriage. They ended up being depived of certain Baha'i rights, then leaving the Baha'i Faith. Years later, they had become very fundamentalist Christians eager to lecture others and demand obedience to what they thought was right, including the politics that has come to characterize the "Christian right."

    The Baha'i Faith gives a lot of adult responsibility to believers to understand and implement Baha'i teachings in their lives. That responsibility is characterized by a generous spirit.

    As to the Islamic cultural center to be constructed by a private and progressive Muslim entity on private land a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, Baha'is would understand instinctively that Islam is one of the revelations from God and is not the cause of the reprehensible and detestable behavior that 19 Muslims exhibited on September 11, 2001.