We are noble beings, created in the image of God, but we’re not perfect. Our nobility lies latent within us, waiting to be actualized.
In the words of Baha’u’llah:
Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. – Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 260.
Education—divine education—enables us to benefit from the gems within ourselves. By applying the teachings of the messengers of God, we can unveil the hidden virtues latent in our minds, hearts and souls.
This is not an easy task—in fact, it constitutes the primary battle we face in life. At times the task feels too daunting, but if we persevere, we can improve in leaps and bounds; we can purify ourselves and draw nearer to God. This primary spiritual job is important for our own selves, and it also has a significant impact on others. In this way, the Baha’i teachings urge us to:
Resolve to gain the victory over your own selves, that haply the whole earth may be freed and sanctified from its servitude to the gods of its idle fancies. – Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 93.
We are called upon to be the best we can possibly be, so that our lives can influence others. This is a noble and at times bewildering task, because it is easy to feel powerless to change and even shrink from the responsibility to lead a noble life for the good of humanity.
To take the initiative, to transform ourselves takes great faith, resolve and determination. We need the faith in ourselves and a higher power to give us the strength to wrestle with our lower selves. But we also need the strength of will to fight this battle each day. At times, when we feel connected to the spirit, love flows from us and generosity abounds. But in the heat of the moment, when hateful feelings emerge, and temptations creep up, we need an inner vigilance, one that depends on constant striving:
If only ye exert the effort, it is certain that these splendours will shine out, these clouds of mercy will shed down their rain, these life-giving winds will rise and blow, this sweet-smelling musk will be scattered far and wide. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 245.
Of course, no one reaches perfection, and even if we try to do and be our best, we can still slip and falter. Acting contrary to the standards we want to emulate can often lead to a lack of forgiveness for ourselves. Likewise, it can also lead to judgment when we project those standards onto others. Because we each do our utmost to lead a noble life, any sign of imperfection in others can become even more highlighted and pronounced.
Baha’u’llah cautions us against this, asking us to focus on our own faults:
How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? – The Hidden Words, p. 10.
Although we all inhabit the same world, we can only live from within the dimension of our own individual selves. We can all strive to build a new world together and embark on a collective quest for truth, but when it comes down to it, we have to live according to our own intelligence and conscience. We can only live our own lives, not the lives of others. So when we judge another person, we are really infringing on their inner world, their right to live the life they choose.
But it is tricky when we are doing our utmost to purify ourselves, and are met with the opposite to our own ideals. In a way, we need to have a double standard: one for ourselves, and one for others. We need to have vigilance with ourselves, and forbearance towards others. We have to constantly remind ourselves that the “faults” we see in others are outside of our domain and our identity. They are not something to judge; they are something to learn from and be used to add to our resolve to conquer ourselves.
The only person we can truly know is our self, and that is why we cannot judge others. We cannot control their behavior; we can only control our own. We cannot choose their ideals, only our own.
That said, we also need to be careful with the way we judge ourselves. Inner judgement does not mean condemnation – it entails a frank assessment of our spiritual state and actions. When we take ourselves into account each day, we reflect on our being and actions in relation to the ideals we seek to embody, in the same way we would assess our progress towards a practical goal like improving our fitness level.