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“Would you rather be a friendless loser or have a bunch of friends that secretly hate you?” one of my “friends” in elementary school once asked me.
We were probably 10 years old at the time. I was fortunate to be raised in a loving and supportive environment that enabled me to have healthy self-esteem, so I said: “I guess I’d rather be a friendless loser then.” To my surprise, my “friends” laughed at my answer and called me a loser for the rest of the day.
That experience hurt me very much. I am sure that I tried to hold back the tears around them, but I cried the moment I got home.
Now, having matured from the high standards of the Baha’i Faith, I can’t help but look back and feel sorry for those kids. At 10 years old, these girls had already learned that being hated is better than being alone. They had already been taught that it doesn’t matter if your “friends” like you, as long as they act like they do.
Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, said that we must instantly forgive – otherwise we can carry those childhood pains into adulthood:
Among the teachings of Baha'u'llah is one requiring man, under all conditions and circumstances, to be forgiving, to love his enemy and to consider an ill-wisher as a well-wisher. Not that one should consider another as an enemy and then put up with him and be forbearing toward him. This is hypocrisy and not real love. Nay, rather, you must see your enemies as friends, your ill-wishers as well-wishers and treat them accordingly. Your love and kindness must be real…not merely forbearance, for forbearance, if not of the heart, is hypocrisy. – Abdu'l-Baha, as quoted by J. E. Esslemont, Baha'u'llah and the New Era, p. 286.
As a young adult, I can understand the wisdom of forgiving, for if we don’t forgive and continue smiling and acting like everything is okay, then we act hypocritically. We learn to smile at people that we don’t like because it’s culturally acceptable and perceived as kindness. We learn to always maintain a positive image – online and in person – regardless of how we feel. While it’s always important to show kindness towards people, we often forget the most important virtue: truthfulness.
Many people forget that true love and kindness must come from the heart. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they loved me, and I couldn’t help but think, “We both know that you don’t.”
The Baha’i teachings say:
Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also be acquired. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith, p. 384.
Truthfulness creates the foundation of all human virtues, so we can’t acquire any other qualities unless we firmly establish truthfulness, not only in what we say but also in how we act. We can’t be honest and be hypocrites at the same time, and hypocrisy is not just detrimental to our relationships, but also to our spiritual health:
Honesty, virtue, wisdom and a saintly character redound to the exaltation of man, while dishonesty, imposture, ignorance and hypocrisy lead to his abasement. – Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 57.
I’m not saying that we should tell people we don’t like them, and frown at them when they walk by. Instead, I’m advocating for us to all show genuine love and affection towards all who cross our path. The Bahai writings explain what that can look like:
You must consider your enemies as your friends, look upon your evil-wishers as your well-wishers and treat them accordingly. Act in such a way that your heart may be free from hatred. Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If someone commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others. Refrain from reprimanding them, and if you wish to give admonition or advice, let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the bearer. Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts. Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart. Assist the world of humanity as much as possible. Be the source of consolation to every sad one, assist every weak one, be helpful to every indigent one, care for every sick one, be the cause of glorification to every lowly one, and shelter those who are overshadowed by fear. – Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453.
When I went to middle school the year after that conversation with my “friends,” I learned that those two girls had merely mimicked a conversation they had read in a series about a clique. Ironically, the fictional clique consisted of a group of mean girls that may have secretly hated each other. The clique asked a new girl that question at a sleepover and also made fun of her in the same way.
Children are like sponges – they pick up what they’re exposed to. How many of their attitudes do you think they pick up from their relatives, friends, and educators?
Let’s be the spiritual role models for the next generation, and follow the exalted standard the Baha’i writings have given us, so that hopefully the next time a group of girls ask their friend that same question, and hear her response, they will smile and say, “Me too.”