Why struggle to open a door between us when the whole wall is an illusion? – Rumi

That all opposites—such as mass and energy, subject and object, life and death—are so much each other that they are perfectly inseparable, still strikes most of us as hard to believe. But this is only because we accept as real the boundary line between the opposites. It is, recall, the boundaries themselves which create the seeming existence of separate opposites. To put it plainly, to say that “ultimate reality is a unity of opposites” is actually to say that in ultimate reality there are no boundaries. Anywhere. – Ken Wilber, No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth

A few years ago I met a man who seemed like my exact opposite. We worked together, so we had plenty of time to get to know each other, and I soon learned that we held divergent views on many, many subjects.

Two-men-arguingWhere I saw opportunities, he saw danger. If I expressed an opinion, his was usually 180 degrees different. When I felt sympathy for the downtrodden, he said everyone deserved what they got. If I admired a book or an article, he usually hated it. His views on society seemed to be the polar opposite of mine. When a war in the Middle East started while we worked together, I advocated a peaceful resolution and he wanted a wider, more total war. “We should bomb them back to the Stone Age,” I once heard him say.

For a while I suspected that he was just a contrarian, enjoying his nay-saying role. But I gradually learned that he really did believe in his views. He didn’t come to his beliefs blindly, either—an intelligent person, he had really thought them out, and reached conclusions he could justify and explain.

Despite our stark differences, I liked the guy. He had a sharp wit and a ready sense of humor. He knew his views didn’t always make him likable, but he had the courage of his convictions. So, trying to follow the Baha’i teachings and be a friend to all, I tried hard to find some common ground between us. It seemed like a challenge—could I discover anything we did agree on? Did we have anything that could possibly serve as a unifying factor?

It took a while, but I finally found something: he dearly loved his kids. He had a growing family, and my children had already passed those ages, so we formed a bond around that important subject, avoiding our views on the polarizing issues of the day and instead talking about child-rearing, the challenges of parenting, and how best to raise children in the cauldron of our contemporary society. He admired the fact that I had raised my children with the Baha’i teachings, which counsel a life of moral rectitude, decency and moderation; and began asking for advice about rearing his own children.

I learned something valuable from him—that the walls we tend to build between ourselves and others don’t have to always keep us apart. Just because he and I didn’t agree on much, I found out, we could still agree on some things, and if I tried I could find a way to extend my community to include him. This quote from the Baha’i teachings, one of my favorites, guided me toward that outcome:

In every dispensation, there hath been the commandment of fellowship and love, but it was a commandment limited to the community of those in mutual agreement, not to the dissident foe. In this wondrous age, however, praised be God, the commandments of God are not delimited, not restricted to any one group of people, rather have all the friends been commanded to show forth fellowship and love, consideration and generosity and loving-kindness to every community on earth. Now must the lovers of God arise to carry out these instructions of His: let them be kindly fathers to the children of the human race, and compassionate brothers to the youth, and self-denying offspring to those bent with years. The meaning of this is that ye must show forth tenderness and love to every human being, even to your enemies, and welcome them all with unalloyed friendship, good cheer, and loving-kindness. When ye meet with cruelty and persecution at another’s hands, keep faith with him; when malevolence is directed your way, respond with a friendly heart. To the spears and arrows rained upon you, expose your breasts for a target mirror-bright; and in return for curses, taunts and wounding words, show forth abounding love. Thus will all peoples… see how He hath toppled down the walls of discord, and how surely He hath guided all the peoples of the earth to oneness; how He hath lit man’s world, and made this earth of dust to send forth streams of light. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 20.

Do you know someone like that, someone whose views, thoughts and feelings tend to arouse discord in you? Do you think it might be possible to find a way to widen your community enough to let them in?

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

2 Comments

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  • Aug 29, 2015
    A person, who directly criticized what he regarded as Baha'u'llah's flaws, made the statement "If your Faith doesn't stand up to scrutiny, it's not the scrutiny that is the problem." I believe such a person has not scrutinized the Writings, and Life, of Baha'u'llah with SUFFICIENT rigour!
  • Aug 28, 2015
    As the song goes, "The Russians love their children, too." Another couple of points of unity might be the birth of a child or the illness or death of a loved one. As human beings we all must experience these things.