Sunday, July 24, 2011

Door-to-Door Teaching

Ah yes, "door-to-door" teaching. That ubiquitous term that seems to raise hackles everywhere.

Oh, sorry. Let me explain. "Mike" raised a wonderful point in a comment on a recent article and asked about "door-to-door" teaching. He first asked if the National Spiritual Assembly encouraged "Baha'is to do 'door to door' teaching within the last few years?" Then he asked the very thoughtful question: "Isn't that a form of aggressive teaching, similar to what we see from Jehovas Witnesses and Mormons?"

Thank you, Mike. I'm so glad you raised this point that is such a stickling point for so many of us. (And no, this isn't nit-picking.) I have to admit, I struggled with this exact question for so long, and finally came to my own understanding of it, that I often forget that it's still a question for others. That's why I really value your input, dear Reader. (That includes you, Mike.)

To answer your question about whether or not the National Spiritual Assembly encouraged us to go door-to-door, I guess that depends on where you live. I presume you live in the United States, so I'm not really sure what they recommended, or not. I live in Canada, and we've had our own National Assembly for a number of years now. What I can take heart in, and say for all the Baha'is in the world, is what the Universal House of Justice acknowledged in their Ridvan Message of 2010, that "calling upon the residents of a home without prior notice" is acceptable, if it is done with tact and wisdom.

In other words, and this is only my own opinion and nothing official, we need to be aware of the stigma that is associated with what is commonly called "door-to-door" teaching, avoid it, and yet still be open to meeting new people. From here, I could go on a tangent (I know, it's hard to believe, but I really could) and talk about how our society is not exactly what I would call healthy, and that perhaps, just perhaps, we should re-think about some of the things that meet with a sense of disapproval in our culture (such as talking about religion, to name one), but I won't.

Instead, I'm going to actually address what I think is a great point you made, namely the question of "aggressive teaching".

But first, let me point our that I, too, had a lot of questions when this whole issue came up. I was not comfortable knocking on the doors of people I didn't know. I was, in fact, extremely uncomfortable doing it. When I was first asked to do this for the Baha'i Faith, during an expansion phase a few years ago, I had to seriously think about it, and try to figure out why I was uncomfortable. I realized that the reason was that I was actually concerned about what others would think. When I sat down and really considered it, it was clear that knocking on someone's door to talk with them was not rude in the least. The fine line between disturbing the people and encouraging them was all up to my own behaviour and attitude.

This is the point at which I drew on my own personal experience, which I have alluded to over the past few days. How did I feel when strangers knocked on my door? How did I react when they wanted to talk to me? It depended mostly on what I was doing at the time. If I was busy, say writing or eating dinner, then I really didn't want to be disturbed. If I was reading, and could easily put the book down and get back to it later, then I was glad to talk with them.

Once my own schedule was taken into account, then I looked at them. How were they approaching it? Were they interested in talking to me? Or were they only interested in a body in a door? Did I make a difference to them? If not, then I often had no interest in talking with them. But if they were interested in learning who I was and offering ideas or solutions that were relevant to me, then I was very happy to talk with them. I even enjoyed it.

It reminds me so much of that quote from Baha'u'llah: "The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration." Remember, I'm a firm believer that if something works on the macro-level, it also works on the micro-level. When we are teaching an individual, we, too, need to be like that physician. We need to recognize what disease we are dealing with, and then prescribe the appropriate cure.

'Abdu'l-Baha, when He was in London, said, "To teach by words requires the skill of a wise physician. He does not offer help to those who do not want treatment. Do not press help on those who do not need your help."

There is a great sense of courtesy in this. First, we need to treat every individual as themselves, and not as part of some faceless thing that we call "humanity", which, really, refers to nobody.

Second, we need to listen to them. We need to be aware of their interests and their concerns. Then, and only then, can we show them what the Faith can offer them. Of course, we also then end up seeing what they can offer the Faith.

In the end, I think it all comes down a simple rule that I like to follow for myself: If it makes me uncomfortable, I ask myself "Why?" But if it is just downright rude, I don't do it.


  1. Dear Mead,

    Thanks for another excellent post. Just one issue. I don't think the passage you cite from Abdu'l-Baha in London is accurate. You left out the final sentence: "The work of teaching is not for all." I can't hear Abdu'l-Baha saying this, can you? Especially when teaching is an obligation for every individual Baha'i.

    Best Wishes

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment. You're correct in that I did not quote the entire passage from "'Abdu'l-Baha in London", but I don't think this makes it inaccurate. I suspect that it is more a question of translation and historical context.

    It is quite possible that I'm mistaken, but I think there may have been a confusion about what He meant. At the time of Baha'u'llah, for example, He (Baha'u'llah) gave some individuals the task of going back to Iran and spreading the teachings of the Faith. They were officially designated "teachers". And yet, at the same time, He says that teaching is the duty of all. Is this a contradiction? I don't think so. I think it is just a question of either degree or position.

    Perhaps if I used capitalization, it would be easier. I think what it means is that we all have to "teach", but only a few are "Teachers".

    When 'Abdu'l-Baha came to the West, there were a very few who were sponsored to go out and teach, and this station was only open to a few. That is how I understand what He means in this passage. And you can see why I only quoted an extract instead of the whole passage. :)

    Thanks again for raising a great point.


  3. How is it not an invasion of privacy? Many people feel intimidated by those who come knocking at their door when they are a stranger nowadays. It is not the same world it used to be.

  4. Dear Mead,

    Thank you for your response. What will settle this question for me is to see if there is are original Persian notes for that talk. This is what the beloved Guardian wrote about "'Abd'ul-Baha' in London"

    "Regarding 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London. Nothing can be considered Scripture, for which we do not have an original text. A verbatim record, in Persian, of His talks would, of course, be more reliable than one in English, because He was not always accurately interpreted. However, such a book is of value, and certainly has its place in our literature."

    (Compilations, Principles of Bahai Administration, p. 33)

    I have not had a chance to check to see if there are Persian notes for this specific talk but I plan to. Thanks again!

  5. I am a single senior citizen in Canada.On a recent Saturday, I was sitting outside when three Baha'i on a door-to door approached me. For some reason I decided to engage in polite conversation and ask a couple of questions.
    After a while it became a mistake. All three started to answer each question and throw counter questions at me. It was hard to follow what each was saying and seemed a bit like the ganging up of three minds on one. It was intimidating.
    A neighbour hearing what was happening rescued me by coming over and reminding me I was due at their place for a BBQ. Not true, just an excuse to disengage.
    I suppose that if you must do door-to -door it is necessary to travel in groups for protection. However, once engaged in "teaching" a single, still unknown party, only one Bahai should stay,. The others should excuse themselves and withdraw down the street where they can still see their colleague, but not be involved. A neighbour called me away to rescue me.

    This episode did not impress my neighbours and I as far as the "gang aspect of it.

  6. Thank you so much for this insightful comment, Leading Edge Boomer. I believe that all Baha'is who are thinking about going door-to-door need to read your comment.

    Oh, and the fact that you're reading this blog and taking the time to post your observations where really speaks highly of you.

    On behalf of the portion of the Baha'i community I represent, namely myself, I apologize for this unseemly behaviour.

    When I was in Toronto going door-to-door, my partner and I discussed ahead of time who would do the talking. When we first started, we alternated doors (I would talk, then she would, then I would, then she would, etc...). Later we were a bit more systematic. If it was a guy at the door, I'd talk. A woman, she'd talk. That led to greater comfort on the part of the people we were speaking with.

    Whoever was not talking was praying. Silently. Helping keep the good vibe up.

    I've also seen similar behaviour at firesides, where someone asks a question, and every Baha'i in hearing distance thinks they have to weigh in. ATTENTION BAHA'I FRIENDS: You don't. Just let the speaker answer. And if they make a mistake, it's ok. Our faith is not so fragile that it cannot tolerate a degree of mistakes.

    Courtesy is far more important.

    Thanks again, LEB. I'm very grateful for your input here.


  7. Nice piece, glad I found.
    I just recently found this web site amd find it very interesting.
    Look forward to reading more.

  8. Good day! Does the frequency of updating your website depend on some thing or you compose blog articles when you have an inspiration or you create in case you have time? Thanks a bunch in advance for your answer.

    1. Hi ClarkTeegan,

      I'm not quite sure how to respond. If you mean this in response to how often I add new articles, then that is completely dependent on both time and inspiration. When I was busy selling my jewelry during the Christmas season, I had less time to actually sit down and write. I wanted to write a few articles this week, and I do have the inspiration, but my son is home with a cold.

      Last week, I had the time, but nothing I wrote struck me as worthy of putting out there. I have lots of draft articles from that time, which I may complete when inspiration hits, but that all depends on the whims of the Concourse on High.

      Hope that helps.