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The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250.
As so many of us now realize, we have a whole host of serious and pressing issues to deal with in our world. One of the worst of those issues—prejudice—has inflicted its wounds on everyone.
It’s time to heal these wounds, and we must stand together to make that happen. We can take four practical steps to eradicate the root causes of prejudice:
- Understand that if you have not been genuinely persecuted, you are in no position to judge those who have been
If you have never experienced prejudice, you probably don’t know what it feels like to be oppressed. There is legitimate fear out there, and many of our brothers and sisters are living in terror. Women have always been concerned about equal rights, but now we fear losing those hard-won rights. Minorities long persecuted are experiencing a new wave of racism. The LGBT community deals with prejudice constantly. Even the handicapped have been humiliated publicly. Immigrants are a target as well, their equal rights and even lives on the line. The point is, we cannot know how it feels until we walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s wise to not make light of the fears and justifiable concerns of those persecuted by prejudice.
The Baha'i teachings ask us—especially those who are part of the privileged majority—to extend ourselves by making a “supreme effort” to overcome prejudice:
Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40.
- Stand up to persecution and intolerance
If you see someone being harassed, speak up. Be a part of the solution. If you aren’t comfortable with speaking up, just go and be present with the person being harassed. Sit beside them and strike up a conversation. This can help to diffuse the situation, as the attacker will see that he is being ignored. In any case, the victim will feel supported and not alone:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
All prejudices, whether of religion, race, politics or nation, must be renounced, for these prejudices have caused the world’s sickness. It is a grave malady which, unless arrested, is capable of causing the destruction of the whole human race. Every ruinous war, with its terrible bloodshed and misery, has been caused by one or other of these prejudices. - Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 146.
- Support groups and organizations that promote unity and human rights
We need to work together now more than ever. Beyond simply fighting ignorance, we must make energetic progress in promoting equality on every level. Community building is a noble start. Join an organization that supports your ideals. Invite neighbors over that you have only greeted in passing. Volunteer for a worthy cause that moves you. Working together for the common good is a powerful thing, because we are more effective in numbers:
Ye are all the leaves of one tree and the drops of one ocean. - Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 288.
If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa
- Don’t be afraid of what you aren’t familiar with
Being open to people, religions and races that you had not previously associated with is a great way to dispel uneasiness and false assumptions. Familiarity breeds understanding. I absolutely adored my grandmother. She was kind, religious and loving. When I was fourteen, my mother was a fearless champion for equal rights. Back in 1971, my mother exposed me to a diverse group of her friends and I came to love them as well. They included Hispanics, gays, and her boyfriend who was African-American. My grandmother was not thrilled with this at all, and I realized then that she had hidden prejudices. She had only associated with her white Christian friends, so she had fears about what she didn’t know.
Interestingly, two things forever changed her views before she passed away. Near the very end of her life, she became blind from a botched eye surgery. An industrious woman, she started taking classes at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles. This took her out of her safe, affluent white neighborhood and into a world of varying races, lifestyles and religions. What happened after that was a wonderful gift, because for the first time in her life she was able to truly “see” a beautiful cross-section of humanity in a way she never had before she lost her eyesight. Her preconceptions were dispelled, she made wonderful friends and a new world opened before her, even though she was blind.
The second event was that her daughter, my sister and I became Baha’is. Since we were the people she adored, she opened the door of religious tolerance, learned about the Baha’i Faith and passed away with one of her most cherished possessions by her bedside, a Baha’i prayer book. If my grandmother had not let go of her prejudice and fear, this beautiful awakening might never have occurred.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. - Nelson Mandela
Now is the time to be strong in our resolve, and hold tight to these ideals of love, unity, and compassion. We must not falter nor doubt our capacity. In a world full of darkness, we each can become a source of light and hope for all human beings.