Unless you live in a bubble and never read or watch the news, you’ve probably heard these words over and over: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Heather Heyer was killed during the Charlottesville protest this year.

Heather Heyer was killed during the Charlottesville protest this year.

They’re a challenge paralegal Heather Heyer issued to her friends before her murder during the riot that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia during a clash between protestors and counter-protestors in regards to the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

We all have opinions. Our heads are not buried in the ground, although many of us act as though that’s where we’ve placed them. Some of us don’t give voice to our opinions for fear of causing controversy, in the mistaken belief that this will preserve the peace. “Never discuss religion or politics,” is the adage we hear—but—when adhered to, it actually allows emotions to smolder, fester and ultimately erupt. Whether individual feelings or those of groups, these powerful emotions will eventually reach their breaking point.

The best way to avoid an eruption—which can be quantum leaps worse than letting ourselves be heard and in turn listening to why those who differ believe the way they do—is to come to a consensus, whether it be to “agree to disagree” or to work out some kind of compromise.

The Baha’i teachings explain that we should:

… take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87.

Our moral obligation as citizens, as human beings, is to stand up for our beliefs and to protect and defend others from unfair and unjust actions. We can only do this by making our voices heard and by petitioning authorities, using any and all peaceful means.

Baha’u’llah asks us to:

Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 285.

But he does not tell us that in opposing injustice, bigotry or hatred we should do so in a state of wrath or violent reaction. He instead wants us to be “… a guiding light unto the feet of the erring.” – Ibid.

If we react in anger we cannot encourage change in others. Worse, we may cause them to become even more entrenched in their thinking, spurring them on to further hateful or violent acts. So we stand up for and demand justice, but we do so lovingly and peacefully. We cannot right a wrong by committing another wrong.

That is not to say that acts that are unlawful or unjust should be ignored. This is why we have a justice system. Even if someone’s actions lead us to wish for revenge, we must avoid it completely. Abdu’l-Baha explained:

Now, vengeance is reprehensible even according to reason, for it is of no benefit to the avenger. If a man strikes another, and the victim chooses to exact revenge by returning the blow, what advantage will he gain? Will this be a balm to his wound or a remedy for his pain? No, God forbid! In truth the two actions are the same: Both are injuries, the only difference is that one preceded the other. Therefore, if the victim forgives, or better yet, if he acts in the opposite manner, this is praiseworthy.

As for the body politic, it punishes the aggressor but not to exact revenge. The purpose of the punishment, rather, is to deter and dissuade, and to oppose iniquity and aggression, so as to prevent others from extending their hand likewise in oppression. – Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 307-308.

May the legacy of Heather Heyer and her untimely death enhance our own awareness and commitment to stand up for justice and to spread the light of oneness of humanity—to be loving and to create peace.

That brave young woman was nervous about participating in the counter-rally because she feared the violence she believed would erupt. Ms. Heyer’s co-worker, Victoria Jackson, recalled her admitting, “I want to go so badly but I don’t want to get shot. I don’t want to die…” Yet she went—and she died. Is that a negative or a positive? I’d say both. As her mother, Susan Bro, expressed to those attending her daughter’s funeral, referring to the people who organized and participated in the white supremacist rally, “They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her.” Her father Mark Heyer said, “We need to start with forgiveness and stop all of the hate.”

Let’s each of us vow to do so as well. Let’s not allow Heather Heyer to die in vain.

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.

7 Comments

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  • Oct 19, 2017
    What a progressive article. I also would like the Baha's to be more aware and tuned in to what is going on in the world. Many stay so aloof from it all they end up out of step with the times. Linda hit the nail on the head with her observations of the Baha'i communities. We need as Baha'is to be involved with current events or we are not revelant and able to interact effectively in giving the message of Baha'u'llah.
  • Linda Pearce
    Oct 19, 2017
    Thank you for this Janine Toth. I have been an active Baha'i for almost 50 years and can count on my fingers Baha'is I have met who are anxiously concerned about what is happening to people in the world today. It makes me happy to hear a Baha'i talk about at least what is happening in the United States rather than changing the subject, walking away, pretending they didn't hear, or saying something they heard in the mass media.
    The next step might be to talk about what is going on in the rest of the world. I would particularly ...like to know what our response should be to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo being raped and slaughtered in the millions.
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    • Oct 19, 2017
      You specifically mention the Democratic Republic of Congo. There's a video that profiles a number of Baha'i communities from around the world called Frontiers of Learning. The section for Lubumbashi, DRC starts at 23:54. I don't remember if the video addresses issues directly related to violence in that country. But it does illustrate the pattern of community life they are using to contribute to a new social order. This commenting system doesn't seem to allow links. But if you google it with the search terms: Frontiers of Learning bahai.org, it should be the top result.
    • Oct 19, 2017
      You specifically mention the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here's a link for a video that profiles a number of Baha'i communities from around the world. The section for Lubumbashi, DRC starts at 23:54.
      www.bahai.org/frontiers/
  • Oct 18, 2017
    In a society with a broken criminal justice system, it falls upon the general public- even more so than otherwise- to come to their own conclusions, speak up, and act on behalf of justice.
  • James Howden
    Oct 18, 2017
    As a Baha'i, I mostly agree with this, but the implied criticism of "outrage" concerns me. Outrage, or anger, is a natural human reaction to injustice or some other perceived threat. It is not to be demonized, as it often is, especially in the context of Male Anger. It is not anger/outrage that is the problem, it is what action one takes as a response to it. The Baha'i Teachings discourage aggression, or other actions/words that promote division. The wisdom of this is all the more evident as time and tragedy pass. We have intelligence, creativity, and reflective skills (potentially ...-- these are the great ends of EDUCATION). But we injure ourselves -- we injure men, especially -- when we mistake anger (not aggression) as the enemy.
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    • Melanie Black
      Oct 18, 2017
      I believe this is what Ms. Toth said in essence. She is talking about outrage at social injustice and the Baha'i response to that. What I understand you saying (and I could be wrong), is that you are uncomfortable with the word outrage. You read it as rage, but I believe Heather H meant we should be outraged by racism and not by anything having to do with rage against men. I'm the Faith, men and women are equal. My personal observation is that when women finally are on par with men, then men will be less burdened by many ...of of the stereotypes and expectations that our many societies have placed on him.
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