How can we cultivate a spirit of consultation and true friendship online? Those vital spiritual attributes, so conducive to human progress, often get lost on the web.
Just think of the myriad times messages were crossed, balls were dropped, or intentions and words were misunderstood when using an online platform to make plans or communicate.
The Baha’i teachings say that fostering the spirit of unity and true friendship, built over time through concerted effort and effectuated with true consultation and compassion, can help us eliminate some of the barriers that online platforms invariably seem to generate:
The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion. Take ye counsel together in all matters, inasmuch as consultation is the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way, and is the bestower of understanding. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 168.
In a climate polarized by injustice and inequity, the Baha’i approach to consultation fosters an opportunity to give voice to truth, while also allowing insight into differing opinions. This consultative method has the capacity to lead to confident decision-making and “the maturity of the gift of understanding,” which obviously applies to our personal interactions and technological exchanges:
Consultation bestoweth greater awareness and transmuteth conjecture into certitude. It is a shining light which, in a dark world, leadeth the way and guideth. For everything there is and will continue to be a station of perfection and maturity. The maturity of the gift of understanding is made manifest through consultation. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet translated from the Persian.
Engaging online with others in the spirit of true friendship helps us cultivate trust. We express our ideas and opinions more freely, and experience connection to a community and a bigger world. Building true friendship, in person and online, also helps us nurture each others’ talents, and encourage our collective creativity toward a greater purpose.
However, if online friendship is not reciprocated – if sniping, insults and flame wars result – what actions can we take at that point? Baha’u’llah stressed that the person responsible be left to themselves, and prayers be offered in their name:
Consort with all men, O people of Baha, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. 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 good-will. 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. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding …. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 288.
Imagine if young people used online platforms this way, as a tool to build friendships, and didn’t grow disheartened or retaliate against others when their offering was not well-received. What if we treated celebrities or known public figures with large online followings in that same vein, and recognized that they also need love and encouragement? As Baha’u’llah reminded us, “a kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men.”
We all recognize the value and importance of developing healthy communication habits early in life, and that includes the ways in which we integrate and use technology in our daily lives. This starts with building the capacity to self-regulate, which means using social media and the internet in moderation. Building constructive habits can also apply to the ways we express our views; and in reading news stories with a truth-seeking eye.
When it comes to the integration and acquisition of technology, the Baha’i standard asks us to rise above the negative, and, in the words of the Universal House of Justice, to strive for “an etiquette of expression worthy of the approaching maturity of the human race.”
Technological advancement has an integral role in the emergence of a global civilization. Through understanding the power of technology, adopting and applying the use of constructive language, living coherent lives, expressing our views with humility, consistently seeking for truth, cultivating true friendships, participating in respectful consultation and building constructive habits, we will start to see the building of a new world.
In that process, our young people can learn to use technology as a tool that benefits humanity and contributes to its maturation. Rather than stultify their creative exploration, let’s empower and encourage them to become the catalyst for a technological spiritual revival.