The most difficult thing about trying to make the world a better place: you don’t often see instant evidence that your efforts have paid off.
Sure, everyone talks about making the world a better place. We often read messages of encouragement and perseverance, and we love to encourage each other to persevere whenever we have a goal. But at the same time, we’re painfully accustomed to instant gratification—even when it comes to helping our communities.
Deciding to make a change is easy, whether it’s resolving to teach children or youth in our communities, trying to adopt a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, or starting to bring neighbors together to create unity. The hard part is having the perseverance. This is why diets usually don’t work on the long run, why so many movements eventually fizzle out, and why some problems in society never seem to change. It’s frustrating to put in constant effort and not see anything come of it. It’s not just about self-discipline; it’s also about keeping alive the initial fire that sparked the decision in the first place.
But when it comes to making changes in our community with the intention of changing the world—a phrase that might seem overly ambitious, but is actually the purpose behind the efforts the global Baha’i community has put into place—patience is a necessity. You can’t embark on such an ambitious journey and expect it to be over in a few months, or a year … or even a lifetime.
The Baha’i teachings say that positive change is inevitable—humanity is ultimately headed towards spiritual evolution, because that’s our nature. If we look back at the world one hundred years ago, the improvements in every part of human life since then are striking, and yet, many people see the world today and talk about how “we’re getting worse.” We aren’t. We just expected change to be immediate.
The Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected leadership body of the Baha’i Faith, offered words of encouragement to those busy with community efforts that didn’t seem to be giving any fruit:
Have hope. It will not always be so. Is not the history of our Faith filled with accounts of inauspicious beginnings but marvelous results? – The Universal House of Justice, April 2015.
Isn’t the history of humanity full of these “inauspicious beginnings but marvelous results?” Evidence shows us that humanity has tremendous potential, and we shouldn’t underestimate our own capacity to change things. But of course, change always begins on a small scale and then works upwards—from the efforts of a few individuals, to a new mentality in small communities, to institutions in the area changing their policies and attitudes—until it reaches the world.
Think, for example, about all the different communities of the world as fruits on a tree. At one point, you could look at the tree and say it’s not bearing any fruit, because there are only leaves … but a few months later, you will see small fruit hanging from the branches. Still, you could see the green lemons and say “these lemons are green and they will always be green!” but thinking that they’ll stay green forever doesn’t change the fact that someday, each and every one of those fruit will become ripe.
You could also look at a certain fruit that is still small and green while the others are large and colorful, and give up on it, thinking that it will never grow. But all fruits will eventually ripen—it just takes some more time than others.
In the same way, we sometimes put down our own communities, thinking that the people in our country will never learn, or humanity is corrupt as a rule, or that we individually are too flawed to create anything good. But being patient is about believing in the capacity of everyone, even ourselves, to effect a change in our society.
What we’re trying to do, in all the different areas that we operate, with all our different ways of contributing to the betterment of the world, is like the work of any gardener. It takes a lot of labor; but more than anything, it takes love and patience.
Love sometimes seems like a concept we throw around casually, but the fact is that love is a powerful force in human life. It’s something that keeps us going against impossible odds, even in bad situations—we can love someone forever, despite them hurting us; we can love things to the point of obsession. We clearly have a powerful ability to love; why not harness it to drive us with the same fire in our efforts to change the world?
The Universal House of Justice wrote that “all activity begins with this simple strand of love. It is the vital thread from which is woven a pattern of patient and concentrated effort, cycle after cycle.” – April 2015. No effort is worth it—nor will it be successful—if it doesn’t come from love: love for the people around us, love for the cause that drives us, and most importantly, love for God that translates into trust. Our efforts, if we’re patient, will bear fruit:
Be patient under all conditions, and place your whole trust and confidence in God. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 296.