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“Let deeds, not words, be your adorning” are the immortal words of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith. – The Hidden Words, p. 24.
Baha’u’llah calls on us to be men and women of action, not just people who talk about what should be done. His statements tend to inspire vigilance over one’s lifestyle, and more than a little bit of impatience with stagnation and idleness. To live with these words in mind means often asking when it’s time to stop talking and time to start doing.
With that in mind, some might view conversation as an inferior form of action. It could appear less valuable than the resolute firmness of deeds; and as a result it may be seen at best as a precursor to action, and at its worst its failed substitute. But often, the Baha’i teachings also say, we can accomplish a great deal of progress in the world through good conversations.
Baha’u’llah implies this interdependence of words and deeds when he remarked on the need for imparting guidance to others:
Were man to appreciate the greatness of his station and the loftiness of his destiny he would manifest naught save goodly character, pure deeds, and a seemly and praiseworthy conduct. If the learned and wise men of goodwill were to impart guidance unto the people, the whole earth would be regarded as one country …
No man of wisdom can demonstrate his knowledge save by means of words. This showeth the significance of the Word as is affirmed in all the Scriptures, whether of former times or more recently. For it is through its potency and animating spirit that the people of the world have attained so eminent a position. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 172.
Baha’u’llah calls his followers to a life of action—but that life of action almost inevitably makes use of the power contained in words. Whatever it is that we do there is something that we must also say. If we stand up for the rights of the oppressed we must speak up. If we teach, we must explain. If we build something, we must communicate with our co-workers. There are very few things that can be accomplished without communication, and there are few activities that can’t be improved through a more effective use of one’s own words.
At times of self-reflection, it’s good to have a way to distinguish between conversations composed of mere words and those that are integral to the path of action we all try to walk. The primary attribute to look for is whether or not the conversation is transformative in some way, and results in tangible progress towards desired goals. Basically, these conversations move us forward rather than in circles.
From there, one way to assess a conversation’s potential for positive change is by using the six traditional journalistic ways to pose a question: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
What was transformative about who was involved or what was discussed? Did where or when it took place bring us closer to our cherished goals? What about the motivations that led to the interaction, the question of why we entered into the conversation? Finally, what is to be gained from how we talked with one another?
There’s no checklist or scoring system here—instead, this basic line of questioning assumes that we can observe and assess the spiritual and practical significance of our words. Baha’u’llah said “At the outset of every endeavor, it is incumbent to look to the end of it.” – Ibid., p. 168.
We cannot know the future, but we can make projections. We can knowledgably guess whether our words trap us in endless circles of inaction, or if they result in deeds themselves, able to move us forward on a path of social and spiritual progress.
Baha’u’llah said that behind the power of our own words there is a far greater power, and that power drives God’s salvation of humanity:
O friend of mine! The Word of God is the king of words and its pervasive influence is incalculable. It hath ever dominated and will continue to dominate the realm of being. The Great Being saith: The Word is the master key for the whole world, inasmuch as through its potency the doors of the hearts of men, which in reality are the doors of heaven, are unlocked. – Ibid., p. 173.
There’s an image for you. When you speak to someone you aren’t just talking—you are knocking on the doors of heaven.