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Letting Go of Your Ideas for the Benefit of Others

Joseph Roy Sheppherd | Aug 8, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Joseph Roy Sheppherd | Aug 8, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

In Baha’i consultation, once you express and idea or an opinion during the consultative process, that concept belongs not just to one person, but to the entire group:

… consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth. He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide. A spark is produced when flint and steel come together. Man should weigh his opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure. Before expressing his own views he should carefully consider the views already advanced by others. If he finds that a previously expressed opinion is more true and worthy, he should accept it immediately and not willfully hold to an opinion of his own. By this excellent method he endeavors to arrive at unity and truth. Opposition and division are deplorable. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

… the keynote of the Cause of God is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation. – Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration

In the process of Baha’i consultation, the ideas which do emerge are considered collectively on their own merits, and do not reflect on the personalities of the participants. 

Ideally, then, the merits of the ideas themselves eclipse the egos of the individuals. With this in mind, participants will know that the ideas they propose will be heard and considered fairly without having to be repeated or insisted upon: 

They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling, and the truth will remain hidden. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

To achieve this kind of detachment, the participants must adopt a new philosophical attitude which allows for the non-personalization of ideas. This means simply that during the consultative process, their individual ideas are not their personal property. When a participant gives his or her opinion or proposes a solution, it is offered to the entire group. Once it is said, it is no longer the individual’s point of view, but rather one of the ideas which has emerged from the consultation. In a sense, all ideas belong to the entire group. Adopting this attitude generates great benefits. If the idea is adopted, modified, amended or rejected, then the individual who suggested it feels no personal triumph or defeat. This helps to remove the taints of personal ego and partisan politics within the Baha’i consultative process. Without egos, politics dies from neglect.

Defining the problem is crucial to finding a solution, and only by listening to the perceptions of others can a collective problem be accurately described and assessed. Individuals see the world differently, and there is great value in having access to a different perspective. Baha’i consultation provides that access. If people are unaccustomed or unable to listen with empathy to the insights of others, then they are doomed to living in a world where their social perspective is exclusively personal. When we personalize everything, we can develop a seriously incapacitating form of social blindness. Baha’is try to get away from the habit of relating to any problem with the words “What about me?” or “What’s in it for me?” Collective insight, then, becomes the key to solving collective problems.

This type of consultation offers a great advantage – it allows people to consider several possible solutions to a particular problem. Only when we lay several plausible ideas side by side and compare them – not for their absolute rightness or wrongness but for their relative appropriateness – can there emerge a spectrum of possible solutions. 

In Western civilization, we sometimes tend to think in terms of monocausality and monosolutionalism. Many people and groups view the solution of various issues along the lines of THE problem and THE solution. By its very nature, Baha’i consultation overcomes this monocausal and monosolutional mentality. By attaching the word Baha’i to this type of consultation does not mean that Baha’is hold some kind of philosophical patent or copyright on the concepts they employ. Ideas are born, but they then belong to all of humankind. The adjective Baha’i is descriptive, not possessive.

Once all the participants have offered their ideas, and a selection of possible solutions has emerged from the consultation, the process of refinement begins. Usually, many of the suggestions will be similar, and their good points can be amalgamated. Eventually by weighing the merits of each possible solution, the group can then vote on the most appropriate ones.

In Baha’i consultation, voting is the process by which the group reaches a consensus. Each participant has an equal vote, and either votes to endorse or reject the proposed solution. Within the Baha’i consultative process there are no abstentions – universal participation is required at all stages of the process. Certainly, selecting a solution by unanimous consensus would be ideal, but if this is not possible, then the majority will decide whether the proposal should be adopted or not.

Next comes what is probably the most important part of the process. All the individual participants must lend their unstinting and earnest support to the decision of the majority. This kind of humble and sincere submission to the will of consensus is often the hardest thing to learn within the Baha’i consultative process. The concept of proponents and opponents is so deeply ingrained in the mentality of modern-day social role-models like governmental and corporate organizations, that people initially doubt there is any other way. It seems natural for people to withdraw their support and wait on the sidelines for their chance to say, “I told you so,” because if their idea has not been accepted, and failure comes, they can feel vindicated.

This is a very destructive attitude. The act of withholding support by a minority never allows people to realize the full potential of a good idea, or the true worthlessness of a bad one. This underlying opposition and lack of unity very often leads to the desolation of the entire group and the failure of their efforts. There is, however, great wisdom in wholeheartedly supporting the decision of the majority. Not only can any hidden potential be readily seen, but it is also the quickest way of determining whether the solution the group has chosen is correct or not. This practical approach allows the group to revisit the original decision and evaluate whether it works or not, and then make adjustments or revisions with the goal of implementing a workable solution.

Submission to the will of the majority is part of the mutual trust which develops within Baha’i consultation. Participants soon understand that not all decisions are correct, even the ones reached by unanimous consensus. If something is going to go wrong, universal participation will very quickly reveal it. A great deal of time is saved which would otherwise be wasted trying to do something halfheartedly. Once they have tried this type of consultation, those who initially doubted that a concept such as submission to the will of the majority could be beneficial to the assessment of collective decision-making soon become its greatest champions and find it hard to believe that others have not yet discovered its worth. 

We now come to the final stage, the goal of the Baha’i consultative process. While most people have at some time found themselves in a meeting which seemed to exist for the sole purpose of planning other meetings, the process of Baha’i consultation attempts to avoid this fruitless outcome altogether – because the discussion and decision-making process must be followed by collective and affirmative action. The solutions must be implemented with the support of all the participants. This is the reason why Baha’i consultation exists – so words can become actions. For the participants, consultation forms the collective process of choosing the future.

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