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Most who’ve heard about the Baha’i Faith know its central theme: unity. Of course, everyone would likely agree that unity is a good thing, and that we should all strive to establish it in the world.
However, in our society today unity seems like an unachievable dream, much less the unity of all humankind.
We know that unity is essential for progress, whether on a small scale such as a family nucleus, a wider circle of friends and family, or in our local communities. The Baha’i teachings, though, envision building unity in the wider society and ultimately the whole world.
Today I decided to write about this topic because, besides personal experiences that made me reflect on the meaning and value of unity, I observed disunity between a few people working toward the same goal.
That experience led to a personal conclusion – that achieving and maintaining unity is only possible when the individuals involved reach a high level of spiritual maturity. This essential factor plays an important part of any striving toward unity, which means that we have to evaluate certain attitudes and virtues to assess the cause and root of disunity.
Here are seven of disunity’s main culprits:
- Prejudice and perception,
- Wrong attitude during consultation,
- Lacking foresight,
- Acting while hurting, and
- Character flaws such as jealousy, lack of humility and wisdom, short temper, backbiting, hypocrisy, and striving for material gain or power.
Many of these attitudes and shortcomings inevitably lead to disunity. It’s important to remember that unity does not mean conformity. Our diversity is a part of the challenge, since we all have different personalities, temperaments, upbringings, and education, which ultimately influence our perceptions and behavior.
The Baha’i writings offer us answers, starting with this admonition from Abdu’l-Baha:
Be in perfect unity. Never become angry with one another… Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God.
This quote really can warm your heart, but let’s be realistic – who has never gotten angry at someone else? I sure have! As much as I try to have love and compassion for everyone around me, I do get very angry at injustice, oppression, lies, hurt, and deceit.
This is exactly what gave me an “AHA” moment – I realized that unity, love, and especially justice go hand in hand, as this passage from Baha’u’llah’s writings tells us: “The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men.”
For the longest time, I used to believe that love and kindness would be enough to establish unity, until I encountered individuals that despite my kindness and love would not reciprocate the same treatments towards me or my loved ones. But even in this case, I’ve learned from the Baha’i teachings, we need to continue being kind, loving, and forgiving.
Let’s face it, this is not an easy task. But the prophets and messengers of God have shown us that it is possible to love our enemies and wish them well regardless of how they treat us. So, let’s forgive…it’s essential for unity, and for the peace and soul of the forgiver.
But how often do we forgive the same error and hurt committed by the same individual? Is there a time when forgiveness is not the solution? Another Baha’i quote on forgiveness, from Abdu’l-Baha’s Some Answered Questions, gives us this golden advice:
Just as forgiveness is one of the attributes of God’s mercy, so is justice one of the attributes of His lordship. The canopy of existence rests upon the pole of justice and not of forgiveness, and the life of mankind depends upon justice and not on forgiveness.
Here it is again, the importance of justice. My understanding is that in cases of repeated injustice forgiveness is not the solution – accountability and punishment are required. In one of his tablets, Baha’u’llah wrote:
Justice hath a mighty force at its command. It is none other than reward and punishment for the deeds of men. By the power of this force the tabernacle of order is established throughout the world, causing the wicked to restrain their natures for fear of punishment.
Lately, in modern psychology we read a lot about healthy boundaries, and the Baha’i writings clearly outline the necessity of setting healthy boundaries when it comes to injustice, oppression, tyranny, theft, deceit, and the like. We can personally forgive those who wrong us, and who wrong others, but justice must prevail in order for society to sustain itself.
So, in society as a whole, justice has to come first for unity to be possible. To protect our own hearts and souls we need to continue to strive to cultivate love, compassion, service, and forgiveness – but draw a line when we encounter injustice, violence, and tyranny.