If you have a desire for justice and you enjoy making friends, then you’re in luck, because these things go together well.

The Baha’i teachings say that enjoying the company of others can bring about a more unified and prosperous society:

They that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 36.

So much of the injustice, cruelty, and exploitation in the world is sustained in large part by prejudice. Unfair treatment of some portion of the population gets excused on the basis of negative stereotypes and harmful assumptions. Some people are willfully ignorant about their prejudices, because believing in them serves their selfish interests. But others simply don’t know any better for one simple reason: they’ve rarely socialized with anyone who wasn’t of the same race, religion, class, nationality, or other marker of identity.

We know that prejudice festers in segregated environments—but new experiences can give us food for thought and nourishment for the soul. Meaningful conversations pursued with a listening ear and an open mind can clear the air of many of the misconceptions that reinforce the oppression of marginalized groups. Interactions that begin with words can also lead us to take concrete practical steps to improve our communities.

Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, encouraged people to break out of their bubbles. In his home country of 19th-century Iran, the boundaries that separated people were very strong. Although almost all of the most prominent early Baha’is were from the Muslim and Persian majority, the Baha’i teachings also spread widely among religious and ethnic minorities. Through the influence of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, the Baha’i community became a laboratory for an integrated society. A generation later, his son Abdu’l-Baha explained:

At present in Asia those who have accepted [Baha’u’llah’s] teachings and followed His example, although formerly most hostile and bitter toward each other, now associate in brotherhood and fellowship. The strife and warfare of past times have ceased among them. Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, Muslims and others have attained to a superlative state of love and agreement through Baha’u’llah. They now consort together as one family. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 372-373.

One example of this is my mother-in-law’s family, the product in Iran of a marriage between a Baha’i man of Jewish background and a Baha’i woman of Muslim background. The cultural differences between them did create some troubles along the way. But it also demonstrated that, contrary to the assumptions of the wider society, members of those groups could live together in happiness and security.

Who we are as individuals is influenced by two powerful sets of factors: nature and nurture. One is beyond our control. The other is made up of all the habits we pick up over the years. Who we associate with, how, and in what kinds of environments are very important influences on our identity. Habits can be very hard to break, but none of them are irreversible.

Breaking those habits, and finding new ways to interact with our fellow humans, ignites the process of becoming a different person.

We should never despair about overcoming the injustices associated with segregation, prejudice and racism. Some things may seem impossible for us. But bit by bit, conversation by conversation, deed by deed, we can become a new community, a new nation, and a new humanity. We can build a new “us.”

That’s the process we carry forward when we “associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance.”

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.

4 Comments

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  • Aug 04, 2017
    From my personal experience having parents of two different cultures; I agree that there can be some differences but after all the Unity prevail and they complement each other and is so beautiful to see all that, God is emazing he creates us like different flowers of same garden How pretty is to see a Garden with many different types of flowers! I recommend to listen Marta Solano a hispanic singer who has an angelical voice and sings about the teachings of the Bahai Faith one of my favorite songs; El Color de tu corazon (The color ...of your Heart )<3
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  • Mark David Vinzens
    Aug 04, 2017
    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all”
  • Aug 04, 2017
    The most intense segregation I experience is ideological. I would like to be friends with people who don't agree with me, discuss things openly and positively or refrain from discussing them, but so many people have their minds made up about everything and will not associate with anyone who differs in any way.
    • Melanie Black
      Aug 04, 2017
      Hi Daniel, I understand what you are talking about. It seems like so many people are angry nowadays. The only thing I can suggest (without knowing you) is to try meeting with diverse people in groups such as at Baha'i meetings where there is a strong motivation to get along because of a higher spiritual principal. Unless people have that to begin with, they may not feel the need nor the want to change. I don't know your religious interests, but you can rest assured that there won't be any Baha'is trying to convert you as that is not our ...way at all. We are eager to make friends with everybody. Good luck in your search.
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