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Members of the human race! Hold ye fast by the Cord which no man can sever. This will, indeed, profit you all the days of your life, for its strength is of God, the Lord of all worlds. Cleave ye to justice and fairness, and turn away from the whisperings of the foolish, them that are estranged from God, that have decked their heads with the ornament of the learned, and have condemned to death Him Who is the Fountain of wisdom. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 342.
Once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, in a bare land of wind and boulders lived a small community. Their town was situated in a valley between two mighty mountains and was rather isolated from others. As a result, hardly anyone travelled to and from the town. The inhabitants worked hard and they had their joys and pains, just like people of any other place. Life went on without much excitement—until one day a poor and lonely traveler visited the town.
He had walked on foot for many miles and through challenging terrain, making great effort and sacrifice to visit this community. At first people stared at him in disbelief, and then with suspicion and reserve. However, the traveler was infinitely kind and wise, and day by day, through his actions and example, he managed to win the trust and good will of the people. The days stretched into weeks and months and he soon became part of the very fabric of the community.
One day, the traveler gathered the people of the town together in the village square. He told them that he had to continue on his journey and would soon be leaving. The people became extremely sad and dejected. They had grown to love him, and could not imagine him leaving. To console their grief, he promised to leave them with a very special parting gift: a Fountain of Wisdom.
With his own hands, and through sheer effort and tenacity, he built the most beautiful fountain imaginable. It was magnificent, filled with clear cool refreshing water. Before leaving, the traveler told the people to drink as much as they wanted from the fountain, but he cautioned them about two things. Firstly, he warned them that they should be very careful not to pollute the water of the fountain in any way. They were to use clean, purified goblets to draw the water from the fountain. Secondly, he warned them to stop drinking from the fountain if ever its waters did become polluted. With words of love and comfort he bade them farewell and promised to visit them again in the future.
Over the next few weeks and months the community began to change. As the people started to drink from the water of the fountain, they became more loving, patient and helpful towards each other. Those who had in previous times been foes managed to overlook each other’s shortcomings. Those who had felt as strangers towards each other built bridges of understanding and trust. Men and women learned to sincerely respect each other—even though their roles in the community remained distinct. Children were loved and protected and were given every attention needed to grow into fruitful and responsible adults; and the elders in the community were tenderly cared for.
As the community changed, it became more prosperous. The environment flourished and became lush and green. The people learned to reap its benefits without giving way to materialism. And all this time, the people were very careful not to pollute the waters of the fountain.
Years passed and the town still developed and flourished. One day the mayor announced that an officer of the king was to visit and inspect the town, as the king had heard of the town’s prosperity. The people were excited and curious. On the day of the officer’s arrival, they came out of their homes and welcomed him into their town. It must be said that the officer thought himself very important and superior to the people of the town. After all he was on a mission from the king, he thought to himself. In addition to being arrogant, he flattered people and pretended to take an interest in their lives. His only aim was to further his own interests in life, no matter what the cost. Even though he had been told about the conditions of using the fountain, he thought himself above the law. On occasions when he was certain that he was alone, he dipped his dirty hands in the fountain, and soon the water of the fountain began to lose its purity and clarity.
A small number of the townspeople realized that the water had changed, and remembered the warnings of the traveler. They immediately stopped drinking from the fountain. However, others continued to drink from the fountain. They chose to blindly imitate the actions of the officer. As they drank, they became more and more thirsty. Their thirst could not be quenched. The people changed: their love turned to hatred. People who had been friends started to see each other as strangers. Selfishness and mistrust began to flourish. Crime and violence took over the town. Women, children and the elderly were no longer safe.
The officer decided to stay and build his own fountain—a larger and more majestic one than the traveler’s. He named it the Fountain of Youth, and charged people to drink from it. As the people rushed in to drink deep of his fountain, he falsely promised them everlasting youth and vitality. The officer became more rich and powerful day by day. As he amassed great wealth, the townspeople became poorer and more wretched. A few of the people, taking his example, also built their own fountains, and very soon there was great animosity between those who lived on the north, south, east, and west side of the town, because they all drank from different fountains. Those who refused to drink from any of the fountains were called heathens and were persecuted.
Years passed, and the town and its people suffered great deprivation and sadness. The lines of suffering could easily be discerned in the faces of the people. Many had given up hope for a better life. The feelings of joy and radiance were long gone. Once again, the environment became bare and cold and the harsh wind blew as never before.
It was during such a time, after many years, that the traveler returned to the town. Those who had stopped drinking from any fountain, and remembered his promise of return, rushed forward to greet him and kissed his feet. Those who had forgotten his promise, did not bother to find out who this new stranger was in their town. Finally, those who had benefited from the demise of the town and its people tried tenaciously to cling to their power. They felt threatened by the adoration and respect paid to the traveler. They falsely accused him of plotting against the townspeople, and finally stoned him to death.