If you want to build community, you’ll need to consult with people as an integral part of the process—and how we speak to each other can enhance or retard our progress.
We are all flawed, and others, seeing our flaws, sometimes remark on our inadequacies. That can hurt. It’s hard to undo hurt feelings, so we could all use more practice being loving and respectful in our discussions. We need to find ways to create bonds of friendship, which allow us to laugh and talk freely in an atmosphere of warmth and trust. Free flowing and natural consultation then replaces stilted, formal and emotionally dangerous setups.
The combination of those “little voices” in our heads, that tell us we will embarrass ourselves if we speak out in a group, and the actual negative comments we regularly hear when they are addressed to us or to others in our presence, can combine to keep us quiet. Personalities can complicate relationships, too, and so it helps to learn new ways of dealing with each other despite the differences between us. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, gave this advice about real, honest human interaction to the Baha’is:
In their relations amongst themselves as fellow-believers, let them not be content with the mere exchange of cold and empty formalities often connected with the organizing of banquets, receptions, consultative assemblies, and lecture-halls. Let them rather, as equal co-sharers in the spiritual benefits conferred upon them by Baha’u’llah, arise and, with the aid and counsel of their local and national representatives, supplement these official functions with those opportunities which only a close and intimate social intercourse can adequately provide. In their homes, in their hours of relaxation and leisure, in the daily contact of business transactions, in the association of their children, whether in their study-classes, their playgrounds, and club-rooms, in short under all possible circumstances, however insignificant they appear, the community of the followers of Baha’u’llah should satisfy themselves that in the eyes of the world at large and in the sight of [Abdu’l-Baha] they are the living witnesses of those truths which He fondly cherished and tirelessly championed to the very end of His days. – Principles of Baha’i Administration, pp. 130-131.
He went on to say:
Indeed, the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to draw fully on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith. – Ibid.
The Baha’i teachings promote the necessity of agreement between religion and science. Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and educators bring science—and religion provides us with points of reference to keep us focused when personalities might clash.
Experts say that we should remove ourselves from “toxic” people, and in some situations that action might be wise—but most relationships are simply complicated, and giving up or walking away isn’t necessarily an appropriate solution. Some relationships are commitments that can’t easily be dropped just because they’ve become difficult—family members, for example. These situations require spiritual guidance and patience. Baha’u’llah said:
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. If it be accepted, if it fulfill its purpose, your object is attained. If anyone should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding … – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 289.
Ultimately, our individual opinion is not of great importance. If it is heard that is enough. Once it has been stated for others to see or hear, it no longer belongs to us—but becomes public property to be used, set aside or altered. Since it no longer belongs to us we need not be attached to how it is received or ranked.
In Baha’u’llah’s book The Seven Valleys he explained the seven stages of progress of the soul, which lead to the goal of detachment and selflessness:
He who hath attained this station is sanctified from all that pertaineth to the world. Wherefore, if those who have come to the sea of His presence are found to possess none of the limited things of this perishable world, whether it be outer wealth or personal opinions, it mattereth not. For whatever the creatures have is limited by their own limits, and whatever the True One hath is sanctified therefrom; this utterance must be deeply pondered that its purport may be clear. – The Seven Valleys, pp. 36-37.
Community building has many elements, and consultation only represents one of those important factors. But if consultation is comfortable and satisfying to the participants, the rest of the endeavor will be easier to accomplish. Our manner in communicating with each other and the efforts we make to detach ourselves from our own opinions, become friends and speak truthfully but kindly will affect our results—and our happiness.