The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
It is no secret that our society socializes women to fit a specific mold—one designed to comfort men, maintain the status quo, and largely encourage our complacency.
As a result of the long laundry list of standards placed on women from such a young age, many of us naturally become hyper aware of how others perceive us. With this, we also tend to become well practiced in thinking about how we make others feel. At times we become so fearful of hurting others that we bite our tongues—often keeping our opinions to ourselves.
The Baha’i teachings actually speak to the importance of being cautious with our speech:
Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation … as to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom … –Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143.
But does moderation imply silence? Does cautionary spiritual advice like this further silence those of us who are already taught not to speak up? Does being tactful mean I should never say what’s on my mind, fearing that it may make others uncomfortable?
As a black woman in America, I have not only been asked to be silent based on my womanhood but also based on my race. The way the world has tried to swindle me into silence seems subtle at times, and at others blatantly overt. In my own personal reflection I have realized that using tact and wisdom in my speech has less to do with simply making others comfortable, and more to do with saying what needs to be said in a way that reflects what I really mean.
Wisdom, despite what the world has commonly asked me to accept, doesn’t only mean keeping an awareness of how I make others feel—communicating with wisdom can also mean I share my perspective when it might lead to progress or growth, even if something might not be easy for me to say or for others to hear. In some situations this deepened understanding of wisdom may inspire me to speak up and say what is necessary for a friendship to be constructive or for a decision to be fair. While using my language to vengefully lash out when I am offended or upset might not be constructive, communicating with tact and wisdom do not imply complicit silence. My language does not need to be crafted to merely coddle the feelings of others in order to be tactful or wise
In fact the Baha’i writings associate wisdom with justice, something that requires clear communication and assertiveness to be upheld:
There is no force on earth that can equal in its conquering power the force of justice and wisdom. I, verily, affirm that there is not, and hath never been, a host more mighty than that of justice and wisdom. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 164.
Additionally, Baha’is believe that the world must address the injustices women face in order for humanity to progress:
The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 302.
Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 159.
In the world of humanity we find a great difference; the female sex is treated as though inferior, and is not allowed equal rights and privileges. This condition is due not to nature, but to education. In the Divine Creation there is no such distinction. Neither sex is superior to the other in the sight of God. Why then should one sex assert the inferiority of the other, withholding just rights and privileges as though God had given His authority for such a course of action? – Ibid., p. 161.
Humanity cannot progress if women are shamed for speaking their minds. If we teach girls that the most important thing they should consider before speaking is how they might make a person or more specifically, a man, feel; if we moderate our speech based solely on a fear of disrupting the status quo; then are we truly practicing wisdom? The Baha’i teachings say:
Consort with all men, O people of Baha, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and goodwill. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 15.
Somewhere along the way a false narrative evolved that equated women’s kindness with their silence and complacency. Through deeper reflection, I have come to realize that justice is imperative, and that we women must continue to speak for it. We can speak with both kindness and conviction. Using wisdom and moderation can mean opening up, even if that frankness and honesty may make some uncomfortable.
If I have something to share that could help advance the collective understanding, I plan to share it. I am sure that my understanding of how to communicate with these elements will evolve in years to come, but for the time being this understanding provides me motivation and direction.