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Charles H. McAllister, a noble African-American gentleman from my hometown of Los Gatos, California, taught me a piece of wisdom that I’ll never forget.
Here’s the story: In 1973, I came home to Los Gatos for a family visit. In June 1972, I had graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. Later that year, I became a Baha’i. So when I met Mr. McAllister, I looked to him as a Baha’i mentor.
In Los Gatos, I called the local Baha’is and attended an event. Afterwards, Charles gave me a ride home. On the way home, we stopped at a nursing home and visited an elderly, convalescing Baha’i woman. As we were leaving, another elderly woman, sitting in the hallway, motioned for me to come over.
She cupped her hands over her mouth and whispered into my ear: “Do you know you’re walking with a black man?” she asked. (Truth be told, she used the “N-word.”) “Sure,” I replied, “He’s my friend!” Revulsion rippled across her face.
In the car, I told Charles what happened. He said, “You know, Chris, this is how I know the Baha’i Faith is true. Because my rule of thumb for truth is this: Truth unifies, lies divide.”
This simple, deep knowledge stunned me. This was not “propositional truth.” Not a formula, like Einstein’s relativity equation, “E = mc2.” Not even a metaphysical truth. “Truth unifies, lies divide” expresses a profound social truth. These four words enshrine the essence of Baha’i purpose and progress.
Ever since, I have meditated on Baha’i precepts of unity. In “The Baha’i Gospel of Unity,” I presented 50 Baha’i principles of unity, based on a decades-long study of Baha’i Writings (including the original Persian and Arabic texts) on the subject of unity. Yet the fifty principles themselves are sundry applications of one essential reality. “Truth unifies, lies divide” expresses their quintessence.
How does truth create unity? How do lies divide? What does this look like in real life? Let me give an example from popular culture, where a single scene can dramatize a slice of life.
Every Thanksgiving, my family enjoys a tradition: We all sit down and watch the classic Thanksgiving Day movie, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” a comedy written and directed by John Hughes. Here’s dialogue from a well-known scene, surprisingly dramatic, between Neal Page (played by Steve Martin) and Del Griffith, the shower curtain ring salesman (played by John Candy). In a motel room, they get into an argument, and Neal verbally attacks and insults Del:
Neal: You’re no saint. You got a free cab, you got a free room — and someone’ll listen to your boring stories! Didn’t you notice on the plane when you started talking, eventually I started reading the vomit bag? Didn’t that give you some sort of clue, like maybe this guy is not enjoying it? Y’know, not everything is an anecdote. You have to discriminate! You choose things are funny or mildly amusing! You’re a miracle! Your stories have none of that!
Del: You want to hurt me? Go right ahead, if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right: I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold, hard cynic like you. But I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. You think what you want about me, I’m not changing. I … I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. Because I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.
Movie Clip: Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Insulting Del
Here’s Del’s response: Planes, Trains and Automobiles: You wanna hurt me?
What does the social truth — “Truth unifies, lies divide” — tell us about the interpersonal dynamics in this well-known scene? Lies divide in many ways. One way involves severely criticizing another human being and hurting them deeply. In this scene, whether Del Griffith is boring or not is beside the point. He is a noble person, according the Baha’u’llah’s dictum, “Noble have I created thee.” This is true not only of you and me, but of others as well. The “other” is your “brother.” Abasing others is self-debasing:
The tongue I have designed for the mention of Me, defile it not with detraction. If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults and not the faults of My creatures, inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self better than he knoweth others. – The Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, p. 19. (Emphasis added.)
To be “kind” is to see a stranger as “kin.” Truth unifies by bridging the divide.
©2014 by Christopher Buck.
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