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Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life. – Buddha
In the first installment of this essay, we learned modern researchers and pollsters have determined that women exhibit a greater propensity toward faith and religion than men, which raised an obvious question – What can men learn about faith from women?
I’d like to suggest, with the help of a whole group of contemporary scientists, human behavior specialists and gender researchers, that we men can learn five important benefits of having a spiritual belief system from women:
- a moral code
- cohesiveness and community
- facing the unknown
In this installment of the series, we’ll explore the first of those important reasons – sociability.
Let’s face it – on the whole, women tend to be more sociable than men. Of course that’s not true in every case (no generalization ever is — including this one), but on the whole sociological and psychological researchers have concluded that most women lead more active and fulfilling social lives than most men.
And interestingly, women tend to live, on average, about five years longer than men. Medical science used to believe that female longevity came from primarily genetic causes, but now many have concluded that women’s social lives give them different and better ways to cope with stress, and help them live longer as a result. UCLA neuroscientist Shelley Taylor says “women are much more social in the way they cope with stress, men are more likely to deal with stress with a ‘fight or flight’ reaction…with aggression or withdrawal. But aggression and withdrawal can take a physiological toll and friendship brings comfort that mitigates the ill effects of stress. That difference alone contributes to the gender difference in longevity.”
And sociability generally starts with faith – faith in people, faith in the bonds of friendship, faith that others will treat you well, faith in an abiding system of principles and beliefs.
Building a sense of faith while we’re here occupying this physical plane of existence, the Baha’i teachings say, has several very important purposes:
…the purpose of religion is the acquisition of praiseworthy virtues, the betterment of morals, the spiritual development of mankind, the real life and divine bestowals. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 151.
Faith asks us to acquire “praiseworthy virtues,” Abdu’l-Baha said, encouraging every human being to develop their spiritual reality. Those virtues – the traits that make up each person’s character and, as a whole, become our personality – encompass everything we say and do in this world. The great religions share this simple, single goal – to instill spiritual virtues into humanity.
If you think of your best friend’s personality or the character of the role model that had the most positive effect on your life, their virtues usually shine through. A sense of humor, strength, kindness, generosity, humility, love and a willingness to help others – even a few of those traits and virtues, if incorporated into our characters, become praiseworthy, beneficial and attractive. Working on acquiring those virtues and practicing them every day is spiritual muscle-building, the workout for the soul we all need to feel healthy and happy.
Sociological and psychological research increasingly has focused on identifying and studying the constellation of human virtues that forms “agreeableness” – which scientists define as someone with a pleasant, empathetic, friendly and sociable disposition. Agreeable people tend toward altruism; they get along better with others; and they prefer to cooperate rather than be combative. They have less stress, fewer conflicts and generally better physical, mental and spiritual health. Finding a faith leads to agreeableness, because religion typically encourages these agreeableness-related qualities, and their positive ramifications result in peaceful, mutually helpful groups, societies and cultures. Men can benefit greatly in their work, family and personal lives by increasing their sociability and agreeableness – by developing the spiritual traits in what the Baha’i teachings call a person’s disposition:
The prophets are sent to educate this innate quality in humanity. They are like gardeners who sow the grain which afterward springs up in a thousand forms of advancement…. The prophets are sent to refresh the dead body of the world, to render the dumb, eloquent, to give peace to the troubled, to make illumined the indifferent and to set free from the material world all beings who are its captives. Leave a child to himself and he becomes ill-mannered and thoughtless. He must be shown the path, so that he may become acquainted with the world of the soul – the world of divine gifts.
Existence is like a tree, and man is the fruit. If the fruit be sweet and agreeable, all is well, but if it be bitter it were far better there were none. Every man who has known the celestial bestowals is verily a treasury; if he remain ignorant of them, his non-existence were better than his existence. The tree which does not bring forth fruit is fit only for the fire. Strive night and day to change men into fruitful trees, virgin forests into divine orchards and deserts into rose gardens of significance. Light these lamps, that the dark world may become illumined. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 109.