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Truth often seems like a fuzzy, grey area. Even in Ancient Greece, some philosophers and schools of thought didn’t believe in the possibility of certain knowledge about the world.
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This type of skepticism carries through to the present. Many people think that everyone has their own truth, with each person’s truth assertions equally valid. But whether or not objective truth exists or can be proven is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, let’s consider this question: “Can we share what we believe is true with others – and if so, how should we do that?”
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 fulfil its purpose, your object is attained. If any one should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him.
We can glean a number of things from this passage about sharing truth with others.
First, it suggests that we should share our views with others. If we believe that we understand a certain truth about the world, then the right thing to do is to tell other people about it rather than keeping it to ourselves. This is why Baha’is share their beliefs with the world – but it is also why anyone who discovers anything about reality should share it.
The Democratization of Knowledge
Contemporary scholars call this process “the democratization of knowledge,” which refers to disseminating knowledge to a wider portion of the world’s population, not just the previously-privileged elites such as academics, clergy, and the wealthy classes in society.
Truth, we might say, has intrinsic value. This is why philosophers and scientists have for over two millennia dedicated their lives to its pursuit, often at the expense of their wealth or even lives. So, how should we do that?
From Baha’u’llah’s passage above we learn how: with kindness and goodwill.
Sharing truth with kindness implies that our tone and words are “mild as milk,” to quote another phrase from Baha’u’llah about our speech. As a result, Baha’is try never to proselytize, push their Faith on others, or become confrontational.
How Baha’is Share their Beliefs
Baha’u’llah’s teachings ask every Baha’i to care about the other person’s right to hear our views, and also care enough to truly hear theirs, too. Having goodwill suggests that no ulterior motive impinge on our truth-telling. Baha’is don’t seek to win over any person, or control their views. When we tell others about something we feel certain of, the Baha’i teachings caution us not be forceful or insistent. In fact, Baha’u’llah said we should offer the truth and if it is rejected, we should leave the person to themselves.
The Bab, the messenger who prepared the way for Baha’u’llah, also wrote that the use of force has never been a suitable way to share one’s beliefs: “The path to guidance is one of love and compassion, not of force and coercion. This hath been God’s method in the past, and shall continue to be in the future!”
So while Baha’is love to share the truth as they understand it with others, and let them decide for themselves, they also consider the effectiveness of how to present that truth. In this regard, the Baha’i approach to truth-telling employs both logic and empathy. Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, said that we should offer logical proofs to others so that our message is clear. Baha’u’llah said that we have to understand the person we are sharing truth with, and also know when they are ready to receive what we have to say.
Clearly, then, Baha’is do not try to find ways to manipulate others. We are not like marketers who try to hack a person’s psychology just so that they can sell the person something and profit from them.
Instead, Baha’is recognize that we need to understand each other, so we can have an open conversation in which I express what I understand and you do the same. If we don’t first understand each other’s conceptual framework then the conversation doesn’t really have a landscape to take place in.
Believing Without Insisting: Ending Fanaticism
These methods of sharing truth are especially pertinent at a time when many societies are torn by conflicting views. In order to have constructive conversations, we need to let down our collective guard and open our eyes so that we are willing to really hear what others have to say.
This doesn’t mean that we have to sit on the fence on any issues. We can still maintain our opinions and positions, but we don’t need to villainize people who disagree with us. We can remain confirmed in our own beliefs while at the same time understanding where other people are coming from.
This all shows that a great difference exists between certitude and fanaticism. In both cases, a person feels certain about their view of the world, but in the latter a person seeks to impose that view on others, even against their will. We should all aim to find the truth, and when we believe we have found it, we should share our views with others – but it is so vital that we do so with kindness, goodwill and an openness to hear their views as well.