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John and I recently returned home again after visiting some out-of-town family, who we hadn’t seen in a very long time.
Several years had passed since our last visit, so I had wondered if we would need a few days to warm up to each other, to catch-up and re-engage in some way. But this didn’t turn out to be necessary.
We’ve had similar experiences in recent years with others, when we visited them or they visited us. It didn’t seem to matter who visited whom, because in each case we were happy to be together and quickly reestablished our connection. In addition to the fact that they were delightful, gracious, fun people to be with, there was something more: the realization that we are family.
What does that mean? I suppose the simplest explanation is common roots and a shared history—biological, social, cultural. Even family members separated by time and distance can relate to this, though not everyone chooses to build on this foundation in a loving, unified way.
But family means more than just having DNA in common and being on the same genealogy chart. To learn more about it, I did a search on the word “family” through the electronic version of the Baha’i writings and came up with 3251 matches.
Affirming the larger meaning of family, Abdu’l-Baha said:
All men are of one family … let us join together to hasten forward the Divine Cause of unity, until all humanity knows itself to be one family, joined together in love. – Paris Talks, pp. 138; 123.
The recognition that we are all in reality one family is both powerful and unifying. This quotation from Baha’u’llah makes it clear that seeing ourselves as one human family even forms the main prerequisite for peace. As such, every one of us has a role in creating a peaceful world:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 286.
To paraphrase ideas within several passages by Abdu’l-Baha, I can imagine comparing nations to the members of a family. Perhaps we could think of a family as a nation in miniature; if we were to enlarge the circle of the household, we would have a nation. Enlarge the circle of nations and we would have the entire world and all humanity. In this metaphor, the conditions surrounding the family surround the nation, and the condition of the nations is the condition of the world.
When I think about the diversity of the human family and its role in creating love and harmony, I find myself comparing it to music, with notes blending together. I wonder if this describes true peace: the most magnificent music imaginable created by the full blending of all people.
Yes, I admit, this all sounds idealistic. My own family, like most others, does have its troublesome relationships. Old grudges, miscommunications, unresolved disputes, indifference—yes, it’s all there. So maybe our own physical families form a parallel to the larger, human family. We’re imperfect but still worthy of love, compassion, and forgiveness.
As messy as the world is today, the Baha’i teachings say that a strong spiritual undercurrent now moves us toward the establishment of universal peace. Baha’u’llah promised that peace is inevitable, at some point in the future. In the meantime, what if—starting now—we all recognized that we are one family? What if our daily actions showed this recognition? Then surely we would be that much closer to having peace as a reality for ourselves and our family, now and in the future:
Exert yourselves with heart and soul so that, perchance, through your efforts the light of universal peace may shine and this darkness of estrangement and enmity may be dispelled from amongst men, that all men may become as one family and consort together in love and kindness, that the East may assist the West and the West give help to the East, for all are the inhabitants of one planet, the people of one original native land and the flocks of one Shepherd. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 469.