Monday, August 1, 2011

Courtesy at the Door, or Door-to-Door Teaching, part 3

It seems that the last few articles about door-to-door teaching set off a bit of an unexpected reaction, and I, for one, may not have responded with the full courtesy deserved of you, dear Reader (and yes, that especially includes those who commented, too).

Before I continue, though, let me express my extreme gratitude and admiration for those who wrote in. You have shown much tact and wisdom, for which I am very grateful. I particularly appreciate the analogy of the treasure that we have found, of which we try to share a bit with our neighbours. That is exactly how I feel about the Writings.

Aside: I remember a little while ago when some of us were engaged in a neighbourhood, and we were inviting the friends there to assist us with children's classes and other activities. It was quite exciting watching as this small community grew up around these simple activities, and went from being fearful of walking on the streets at night, where a number of people had been killed in recent months, to enjoying and treasuring each other's company. They completely rebuilt their community, and it was admirable to watch. A few of them happened to become Baha'i, but the real victory was watching as all the friends in that area took the teachings of Baha'u'llah and applied them directly with their neighbours. That was the real treasure, not the few enrolments. But during this time, one of the friends who had been knocking on doors during the day expressed his disgruntlement to me in the evening. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that he was a bit upset that people didn't want to hear what he had to say. I thought about that for a moment and asked him to imagine if he had gone to their doors with a tray of priceless gems. "How would you have felt", I asked, "if they turned down a free gem?" He wasn't sure, at first, but then realized he'd feel sorry for them. He sure wouldn't be angry, or disappointed. That was what I suggested he try to imagine the next day when he went out again. He wasn't there to get a specific reaction, but instead was just offering priceless gems to those who wanted them. Based on his reaction the next evening, that seemed to have helped.

But back to the blog: there is the response that came later, from "Rational Atheist". Again, it is filled with extreme courtesy and wisdom, for which I am most grateful. It shows me the strength and power of that virtue, courtesy, and how it can help bring people of such different opinions together on a plane of respect.

This reply, which I would recommend you to read, points out some wonderful things from an outside perspective. I can't begin to tell you how much I value that. I think, in many respects, when it comes down to it, that is why I write all this. I really want to hear what other people think about this Faith of ours.

Aside, again: You know, when I first began writing this blog, it was intended for Baha'is. There were some things that I really wanted to share with my fellow Baha'is, and I didn't figure it would interest anyone else. Boy, was I wrong. As time went on, I realized that more and more people from other paths were reading it, too. And that was fine. I haven't really changed what I write, or how I write it (except that I try not to use obscure Baha'i terms). Based on some of the letters I've received, it seemed that these friends wanted to read the "inside scoop". (I'm not sure how much I fulfill that, but I'm fairly sure I can guarantee the "scoop" aspect.) So now, dear Reader, you have taught me a lot, especially about how open we all are, regardless of how we label ourselves (or, as a friend would say, "what team jacket we're wearing").

So what is it I want to talk about today? I'm glad you asked. I had forgotten for a moment.

I wanted to point out a few things that I think stand out to me when I read the guidance both from the World Centre, as well as my own National Centre. First is that the most important thing when teaching the Faith is to do so with both moderation, as described by Shoghi Effendi in The Advent of Divine Justice, and courtesy. Whether we are engaged in teaching by the direct method, in which we assert clearly and directly the fundamental truths of the Faith, or the indirect method, by which we are more cautious in exposing the various aspects of the Faith, the location is really of secondary importance. Knocking on someone's door does not, in itself, constitute direct teaching. We can be very indirect when we talk to people at their door. We can, for example, invite them to a neighbourhood activity, such as a children's class, without actually telling them anything about the Faith.

On the other hand, if they wish to know more about who we are, and what we are doing, we can go fully into the truths of the Faith.

To go to someone's door with the intention of a "doorstep fireside" may be overstepping the bounds of moderation, at least in my own opinion, but to ignore an opportunity that is presented to us is nothing short of foolish.

In the end, it all comes down to recognizing that we are always talking to another human being with their own aspirations and goals, as well as personal beliefs.

But then there is a second point: we are not mandated to teach in this manner, nor is it prohibited. At no point in the history of the Faith, as near as I can tell, have we ever been told that we have to teach in a particular manner. There was one time here in Canada when a Counsellor was asked about door-to-door teaching, and he gave a clear and concise description of how to do it appropriately. Then someone asked him if we had to do it. His reply was, "Of course not, but if you can tell me another way to reach a large number of people in a small area, I'd be happy to hear it." And that was it. That was really the heart of the question, to me. How do we reach people? It's the question that has been asked by many countless peoples over the last few hundred years. In most areas it is by going door-to-door, but in some other areas it is by going to the park. I had the bounty of helping in a teaching campaign that was situated in a public park, and we met many people that way.

Did any of the people in the park become Baha'i? I'm not sure. Nor am I concerned. We were able to reach out, meet people, share ideas and help build a bit of a stronger community. That's good enough for me.

Finally, there is one more thing I want to write about, but I'm not going to do it today. It is a response to the comment in the comment by Rational Atheist, in which he says, "Why do you think I'm reading a religious blog in the first place? All faiths have positive aspects which I wish to explore as I contemplate life, the universe, and everything." Before leaving this post, I really wanted to point out that statement, and leave you to think about it for a bit. I'll try to write about it tomorrow, but may not be able to do so for a few more days. the summer is my busy time for work, so the articles are not as frequent as I would like.

Peace, love and prayers to you all!


  1. Rational Baha'iAugust 2, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Thanks for bringing up this line that Rational Atheist wrote, which also sparked my attention:

    "Why do you think I'm reading a religious blog in the first place? All faiths have positive aspects which I wish to explore as I contemplate life, the universe, and everything."

    That's a really wise statement, and I wish more people understood it.

    It reminds me of this from the Writings of the Baha'i Faith:
    "If we are lovers of the light we adore it in whatever lamp it may become manifest but if we love the lamp itself and the light is transferred to another lamp we will neither accept nor sanction it."

    I'm a Baha'i, and my whole life I've understood that there is "light" in other religious revelations as well. I've recently started reading a lot of books dealing with Atheism (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris...) and I find "light" there as well.

    There's so much to learn from anyone you meet, so it's always good to keep an open mind, and remain humble :)

  2. Thanks for your inspiring blog, and for your balanced approach to this delicate issue. As a life-long Baha'i who has never been fond of "door-knocking", I am quietly disappointed to see the re-emergence of this practice in the community. I am troubled by the practice for two main reasons: 1. For me, it violates the Golden Rule, and 2. I have not yet seen it to be effective. Thankfully, the Faith tolerates diverse approaches here, as you have noted, and I rarely feel "pressured" to engage in this activity.

    I was moved to comment here mainly by the question you quoted, posed by the Counsellor: "...but if you can tell me another way to reach a large number of people in a small area, I'd be happy to hear it..." Perhaps the Counsellor viewed this as a rhetorical question, or perhaps it was truly an invitation to learn. Either way, I'd like to suggest there are other ways which might be both more effective and more in keeping with the dignity of the Faith.

    Let me share an example: I am employed in a profession which is quite specialized. Many people in my profession know each other through academic conferences, former working relationships, and word-of-mouth. Two prominent members or our profession (one of them recently deceased) were / are Baha'is. Their reputation for professional honesty , courtesy, and humility despite tremendous professional accolades are well-known in our small professional community. They were also active in mentioning the Faith to their colleagues, and sharing teachings when asked. Often, professional colleagues who discover I am a Baha'i are already well-disposed to the Faith as a result of their examples. I don't know if these two Baha'i's ever knocked on anyone's door, but my own experience confirms that they have reached a large number of people in a small "area", in a very effective way.