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A Baha’i Lawyer’s Approach to Preventing Disputes

Armin J Jezari | Apr 17, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Armin J Jezari | Apr 17, 2024

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Lawyers like me, operating within a legal framework, either work proactively to preempt disputes, negotiate earnestly to resolve disputes, or present arguments before a tribunal to settle disputes. 

The practice of law is generally an adversarial profession  — but the rule of law provides humans with a civil structure to work out their differences in non-violent ways.  

However, differences of opinion can’t always be settled by laws. As examples, think about a husband and wife disagreeing on a paint color, two friends competing over a love interest, political rivals arguing over policy, or a pair of intellectuals debating the meaning of life  — just to name a few. 

This means that having an underlying ethos in dispute resolution is critical if we wish to elevate our society and our relationships to more harmonious ends. 

How can we do that? 

RELATED: What is True Consultation?

Working through Disputes by Deferring

The Baha’i writings provide profound guidelines on how to work through disputes — both professionally and personally. This letter, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, contrasts how a dispute might be resolved in a marriage versus in a group:

In any group, however loving the consultation, there are nevertheless points on which, from time to time, agreement cannot be reached. In a [Baha’i] Spiritual Assembly this dilemma is resolved by a majority vote. There can, however, be no majority where only two parties are involved, as in the case of a husband and wife. There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other.

Even though we may be right, we nevertheless, on occasion, can find ways to defer to one another so neither unjustly dominates the other. This simple yet quite profound idea can help us willingly acquiesce, when appropriate, so our spouse, friend, or coworker feels a sense of fairness and justice, as they do with us. At a minimum, this could be one reciprocal method to preserve and even strengthen any relationship.

Understanding Another Perspective

Another approach to resolving disputes involves understanding a different perspective in considering another’s viewpoint. Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, also spoke to the issue of perspective in a talk he gave in Paris in 1911:

… when you meet those whose opinions differ from your own, do not turn away your face from them. All are seeking truth, and there are many roads leading thereto. Truth has many aspects, but it remains always and forever one. 

He continued:

Do not allow difference of opinion, or diversity of thought to separate you from your fellow-men, or to be the cause of dispute, hatred and strife in your hearts. Rather, search diligently for the truth and make all men your friends.

Here again, we learn to appreciate another’s perceptive as an avenue to truth. We do not turn away from someone because they possess a different opinion than ours. Rather, we search for truth together and humbly share and listen to one another. 

Humility in Discourse

No one is right all the time. To engage one another in discourse, and to do so with a sense of humility, is an essential spiritual quality. With respect to humility, Baha’u’llah wrote: “Humility exalteth man to the heaven of glory and power, whilst pride abaseth him to the depths of wretchedness and degradation.”  

RELATED: Elevating the Discourse

Other passages in the Baha’i writings direct people to avoid conflict and contention and, even more so, to never act with aggression. Abdu’l-Baha, in his “Will and Testament,” said: “O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation, conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every aggressor deprives himself of God’s grace.

He went on to point out that:

It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straightforwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them.

This means not allowing a dispute to become a conflict, nor ever to become contentious, and under no circumstance, to act with aggression in advancing our viewpoint. On the contrary, the Baha’i teachings say that we must handle disagreements with the utmost love, courtesy, and kindness. This disarming approach can often preempt a dispute from intensifying, and oftentimes escalating disputes result in regrettable outcomes. 

Certainly, there is much that can be written about sincerity, respect, wisdom, language, self-restraint, and courtesy  — all of which are essential in resolving disputes with grace. Addressing each of those spiritual virtues isn’t possible in this short article, but perhaps I’ll leave you with the image of how a good attorney handles him or herself when before a court: “If I may, your Honor.” Let us treat everyone with that type of honor.    

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