Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Backbiting - Revisited

Someone, whose name is "Anonymous" (they must be a big fan because they keep posting great comments), just posted a marvelous question on an article I wrote a while ago about backbiting. You can find the article by clicking here.

The comment was as follows: If someone, because of selfish motives, secretly harms another and the harmed one tells others about the bad things the former has done to him, is this considered backbiting, or defending oneself, or seeking justice or else? What are the differences between these things?

What an awesome and thought-provoking question.

And like I have said many times in the past, if you ask me any question, I can give you an honest and truthful answer.

I don't know.

See? Honest and truthful.

What do you think, dear Reader? If someone hurts you, seemingly with intention, and then you tell someone else about it, is that backbiting? (I prefer making this sort of question personal.)

I've thought about this a lot throughout the night, puzzling and praying for understanding, and I still have a long way to go.

Looking at the question, the poser of said question puts forth a few answers, so let's look at them one at a time.

Is it backbiting? Let's get back to this, shall we?

Is it defending oneself? I suspect that it would not be defending oneself, for that is present tense, and the the question is in the past tense. If someone assaulted me last week, and I lashed out at them today, the defense of "defending myself" would not stand up in court. It may be a form a protecting oneself, but I don't think that would necessarily have to include attacking someones character, true or not.

Let's look at a true scenario here. One day, Mirza Yahya, Baha'u'llah's unfaithful brother, put some poison in His teacup. Baha'u'llah was struck gravely ill by this. He well knew who did it, and probably even knew when He drank of the cup. In fact, I am certain that He did. But He always allowed His enemies to do what they wanted with Him, and so He drank. Ok. that aside for a moment, let's look at what happened afterwards. He was severely ill, and the doctor was called. Once He was better (I'll skip the full story here), He told the friends that He was ill. To some He even said that He was poisoned. But, and here's the important thing, He didn't tell people that it was Mirza Yahya who did it. It was only later, after the other friends spread this around and it became well-known, that He referred to it in His Writings. He confirmed a truth, but as far as I can tell, He never spread that truth around Himself.

Later, when this same faithless brother tried to convince Salmani, Baha'u'llah's barber, to murder the Blessed Beauty, Baha'u'llah told Salmani not to tell anyone. With His sin-covering eye, He encouraged others to do the same.

So, would spreading the truth of this situation be defending oneself? I don't think so. The Central Figures of our Faith reported the effects of these attacks, but didn't cast the blame upon an individual until it was already well-known in the community through efforts other than Their own.

On to the next one: Could it be seeking justice? As framed in the questions, I don't think so. It seems like telling others about what I suffered would be seeking vengeance, not justice.

If I were seeking justice in a case like this, then I would go to the proper authorities that are designed to administer justice, such as the police, or a local Spiritual Assembly. To go to individuals would be, in my opinion, looking to get others to look unfavorably upon the individual in question, and that be wanting vengeance.

Going to the proper authorities, however, would be appropriate. They would be able to look at the case with an unbiased perspective and mete out the appropriate punishment. (Idealistic of me, isn't it? But if we don't strive for our ideals, what are we striving for?)

In the drastic case of, say, a sex offender, the police arrest the individual, at least in Canada they do, and then after they have served the appropriate punishment the case is examined again. If the person is deemed to be likely to re-offend, and considered a danger to the public, or some section thereof, then further measures are taken. They are generally put on a sexual offenders list and monitored. When they move into an area where others may be at risk, a warning is put out. To contrast this with the first question, the police are not looking to defend others, but rather to protect those that may not be able to protect themselves, such as children. A real life example is visible near my son's school. All the stores near his school have a photo of a known sex offender living in the area who is deemed a high risk for re-offending. Is this fair, to plaster his picture everywhere? I'm not sure. I am not an authority on this, but it does get everyone in the area to ensure that this person is not tempted by hanging around the schoolyard. This is protection, not defense.

So could telling others be something other than backbiting? Well, it's not defense, nor is it seeking justice, if told to people other than those in a position of authority. In some cases it could be a form of protection, but again, I think that's the case only if it is done by those in that appropriate position of authority.

Is there anything that I'm missing? Maybe. But if not, then I would have to conclude for myself that I would consider it backbiting.

And I have to say, at the very beginning, I would not have said that. it was only by going through this series of questions posed by the reader that I came to this conclusion for myself.

I would love to read what others think about this, for I think it opens up a great conversation that is truly important to have.

Thanks,. Anonymous, for a great question.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thoughts on a Children's Class

Children's classes. You know, this all began, way back, with a children's class. Oh, and my cat. It began with a children's class and my cat. Here. You can read it about it by clicking here, in case you missed it. It's the story of this blog.

Well, I was thinking about it again today because we have another children's class going on, and we teachers got together the other day to reflect and consult on it.

In short, we're very happy about the class. Well, I should say "classes", because there are a few different age groups there, and we're very happy about all of them.

Now, there are a few things that we can do better, of course, and we began to look a bit at them. We started by looking at our strengths, for this is what we feel the Universal House of Justice alluded to, back in the Ridvan 163 message, when they said that "the community of the Greatest Name has been guided from strength to strength by the Hand of Providence". They earlier alluded to it back in 1974, again in the Ridvan message, when they said, "We can, however, confidently predict that the Cause of God, impelled by the mighty forces of life within it, must go on from strength to strength..."

"Strength to strength..." You see, we are not moving from a position of weakness to strength, but rather from one strength to another strength. When we recognize this, it helps us focus our consultations.

After identifying a few strengths, and seeing what else we were hoping to accomplish with these classes, we turned to the Writings.

Some of the things that were mentioned were the difficulty in consistency and constancy with the classes, and that if we could somehow ensure that they would occur every week, without skipping some, then we would be much better off. We also talked about how the presence of the parents would be of benefit. With these, and other comments in mind, we looked at two quotes from the Master. And it is because of these two quotes that I was asked to write this article.

"Among the greatest of all services", He writes, "that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abha Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory."

We all know the beginning of this quote from our studies of Ruhi Book 3, but it is the next paragraph that we found even more interesting.

"It is," He goes on, "however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it." We will remember this very clearly. To us, it reminds us that what we are doing will be difficult, filled with many tests and trials, but that is what makes it all the more sweeter. The victory, the spiritual growth and development of our children, and the whole community, will be well worth it. In fact, this is not only for us to recall as teachers, but as parents. We need to recall the tests, the trials, and the victories that are promised.

The second quote we read gave us a few additional clues as to what we were experiencing. "The Sunday school", He wrote, "for the children in which the Tablets and Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh are read, and the Word of God is recited for the children is indeed a blessed thing. Thou must certainly continue this organized activity without cessation, and attach importance to it, so that day by day it may grow and be quickened with the breaths of the Holy Spirit. If this activity is well organized, rest thou assured that it will yield great results. Firmness and steadfastness, however, are necessary, otherwise it will continue for some time, but later be gradually forgotten. Perseverance is an essential condition. In every project firmness and steadfastness will undoubtedly lead to good results; otherwise it will exist for some days, and then be discontinued."

When we read that it should occur "without cessation", we took this to mean that we should do it regularly, without interruption. Of course, it may not mean that exactly, but this is what we took it to mean. In other words, no matter how much we may want to say, "Oh, let's cancel the classes this week", we really shouldn't do that. We all recognized that it is just so easy to cancel a class if it's a long weekend, or for some other similar reason, but that we really shouldn't. If we do, it says to the children that this civic holiday is more important than the Baha'i education. Which it isn't.

- - - - -

There is another phrase in that second that really stood out for us, so much so that I am calling attention to it by making a break in the text here, He says, "Attach importance to it".

These classes are so important that we are to attach importance to them.

What does it mean to attach importance to something? How can we show that we are attaching importance to it?

In addition to not cancelling the classes except under extraordinary circumstances, we figured there were other ways to make it clear that these classes are important. But first we made it clear that we are not making judgement on anyone else. For example, one friend of ours has to stop bringing her son to another class that we do in French. On the surface it may seem that she is not placing importance on his Baha'i education, but nothing could be further from the truth. She has a new baby, and her husband just got back in the country after an extended absence. He requires their car for his work, and so she has no feasible way to bring her son. However, we are not letting it be. We place such importance on his being there that we are offering to pick him up at his school and take him with us to the class. It is that important to us, and we are able to offer this service. In her case, we are aware of her particular circumstances and can find a way to assist. This may not always be the case. And so we need to be very careful not to place judgement on others.

What it means is that we have to ask ourselves this question. Each and every parent has to ask themselves this question. Which is more important: Baha'i education, or soccer practice? Baha'i education or going to the grocery store? Is there another time they can have that piano lesson? Is there another opportunity to get the groceries?

What is our priority? How important do we make the classes? How important are they in the Writings? What are some of the messages we inadvertently send to our children about our priorities?

In the Ridvan message of 2000, the Universal House of Justice addressed the parents of children in a few very important paragraphs. They talked about the importance of their interaction with the children, and how "they exercise indispensable influence".

As we discussed this, we came to a few realizations that may or may not be accurate, but reflect where we are in our thinking on this matter. We felt that if we dropped off our children at a class, and then ran off to, say, get groceries, then we would be sending the message to our children that the shopping is more important. (I don't know why I'm fixated on the grocery example. I think it's because that's what I need to do right now.) If, however, there was a program for the adults, and we participated in it, then the message would clearly be that it is so important that I am doing it, too. We gave many examples like this, but it all came down to the idea that we had to have a program available for the parents, so that they, too, could help set the example of the importance of Baha'i education. To this end, we are now going to be including an adult program in with our children's classes. Well, not in the classes, but alongside them. The materials discussed will be decided in consultation with the adults.

Further in our discussions, which I felt were very fruitful, were practical questions about the location. Due to our circumstances, the classes pretty much have to be in one family's home. This places an extra burden on them, so we all offered to help. We could go there early and help clean the house a bit, to get it more beautiful for the children. We could offer to watch their children while they... do their grocery shopping (yeah, I hesitated while typing that again). We could begin with a bit of socializing and a snack so that we could leave sooner after the class, freeing the hosts for other things.

In other words, we are learning to act as a community, in service to each other.

And maybe that is the most important thing that I came out of the consultation with. The importance is not that we all come up to the same level of commitment, but rather that we look at the Writings, derive fresh inspiration from them, and strive to put our actions more in line with the implications that we find in them.

So there we have it. Children's classes. They are a great challenge. We will undoubtedly face tests. But the victories that will arise from these classes is worth every effort. And we must make them a priority. They are very important. And the importance that we place on them, as adults, will make a deep impression upon the children.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Our Priorities

I was on my way to the university this morning, listening to the radio. Oh, before I forget, I serve as the Baha'i Advisor at the University of Victoria. Why? I don't know. I was asked. I used to be called the Baha'i Chaplain, and still am sometimes, but asked if there was less "Christian: title that could be used, and that's what they came up with. I just don't want you to think that I'm some sort of professor or anything. I'm not that bright, really. (That's my caveat for anything really bozoid I may say today.)

So. this morning I was on my way in, listening to the radio, when an interesting article came on. It was about a First Nations Reserve here in British Columbia, Canada, that is allowing its members to apply to own the land on which their houses are built. Now, this may seem like an obvious thing to do, allow people to actually own the land upon which their houses are built, but this is not the traditional way that things have been done amongst the First Nations people here. The land has always belonged to the community; or more accurately, they have always belonged to the land. The very idea of owning land was a bit ridiculous, given their perspective of their role in the world.

Anyways, what got me thinking was the idea that our laws, our priorities, our very culture will reflect our basic fundamental beliefs. If, for example, the land is our highest priority then the whole concept of owning it will seem totally ridiculous. And our laws will reflect that, as they have on the First Nations Reserves here in Canada.

However, if money is our highest priority, then our laws will reflect that, too. In the United States, for example, money is given so high a priority that they actually consider corporations legally as people. In fact, profit is considered so important that you will get a greater tax credit for giving money to Wall Street than if you give money to charity. Same in Canada.

Interesting. Sad, but interesting.

Baha'u'llah said that this society, and all the institutions within it were "lamentably defective". Of course, I'm paraphrasing, and it really is my own opinion, nothing official. What He actually said was, "the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective."

And He didn't say that it was just defective. He said that it was lamentably so. It is not just defective. It is deplorably defective. It doesn't just deserve to be condemned, but strongly condemned. Lamentable is a very powerful adjective here.

But let's look at that quote in context. He said, "The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective."

"Impending convulsions". "Impending chaos". Why? Because the prevailing order is worthy of strong condemnation.

What is it about this "prevailing order" that merits such language? You see, it's not just the corrupt individuals that may be working within the system that are condemned. It is the very system itself, as far as I can tell. And perhaps it has to with our basic assumptions, such as the importance of money, or the seeming lack of importance of the individual. Perhaps it has to do with our priorities, such as selling off the community's land to individuals so that they can use it as collateral to secure short-term loans from banks, for that was cited as the rationale for allowing individuals to buy the land on the reserve.

What happens, I wonder, if that individual, who now owns a chunk of land in the middle of a reserve, defaults on the loan? It is no longer part of the reserve land. The bank could do whatever they want with it, sell it to anyone willing to pay. I, for example, could buy it, or any unscrupulous landowner, to do with as they please. The point is that this one community is now falling prey to this belief that the making of money somehow supersedes the very concept of our relationship to the land that was held so sacred for so long. Of course, it is their right to do so, but I find it a bit disturbing.

In the full paragraph in which Baha'u'llah talks about this lamentably defective order, we read the following:
This humble servant is filled with wonder, inasmuch as all men are endowed with the capacity to see and hear, yet we find them deprived of the privilege of using these faculties. This servant hath been prompted to pen these lines by virtue of the tender love he cherisheth for thee. The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. I beseech God, exalted be His glory, that He may graciously awaken the peoples of the earth, may grant that the end of their conduct may be profitable unto them, and aid them to accomplish that which beseemeth their station.

He prays that the end of our conduct may be profitable to us.

To me, this speaks right to the heart of the issue on this one reserve.

It also speaks to the heart of so many other issues.

I'm not saying that the people who passed this law on that one reserve were wrong, but just that I seriously wonder if they have really thought through the implications of all that they have done. Perhaps they have. Perhaps they have not. Time will tell.

In the end, though, it really drives home the point that our basic assumptions of the the world around us dictate our laws, our questions, our educational facilities, and so many other aspects of our lives. Just imagine, if you will, how different our lives would be if society, as a rule, placed the highest priority on the individual, as opposed to gold. Or the family? Or justice? Or unity?

The mind boggles.

At least mine does.