Sometimes we feel that our spiritual life and our work life differ from each other—but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Throughout the years, my husband and I have participated in Baha’i study circles—groups that meet weekly, or intensively over a few longer sessions, to study spiritual concepts and carry out different kinds of community service activities.
In these courses we’ve discussed deep topics about our spiritual identities and how to prepare ourselves to carry out volunteer service activities in the community, like children’s classes or junior youth groups. All these learning experiences shaped our lives and helped us focus our energies for the altruistic betterment of humanity. For many years, together with our daughters and friends, we have taken part in these inspiring activities in our city.
But what we learn in some facets of our lives always helps in other areas. Several years ago, almost parallel to our participation in Baha’i study circles, my husband and I created a company. These educational experiences, we later realized, helped shape the decisions we made in our work life—and helped shape us, too.
Today, all people in just about any workplace are expected to know how to collaborate, to be assertive and responsible. Teamwork helps everyone do a better job. The Baha’i study courses explore:
… how to create environments that put people in contact with the spiritual forces released through prayer and devotion; how to strengthen bonds of friendship and establish meaningful patterns of communication among people of various backgrounds; how to make the education of children an integral part of their community life; how to maintain an environment that helps young people develop their intellectual and spiritual capacities; how to generate dynamics within the family unit that give rise to material and spiritual prosperity. – Bahai.org
This topic—establishing “meaningful patterns of communication among people of various backgrounds”—directly applies to the teamwork issue. The Baha’i study groups, called “Ruhi Institute courses,” gave us a deeper understanding of the importance of sincere cooperation between team members.
The goal of teamwork goes beyond creating a product—it really promotes the practice of high-level interpersonal skills of comprehension, mutual help, sincerity and self-sacrifice. These interpersonal skills, particularly delineated in the first book of the Ruhi course sequence, are key to the development of diverse, peaceful and progressive societies. These courses help us develop them—and, to our surprise and delight, help workplace teamwork happen, too:
Some of the creatures of existence can live solitary and alone. A tree, for instance, may live without the assistance and cooperation of other trees. Some animals are isolated and lead a separate existence away from their kind. But this is impossible for man. In his life and being cooperation and association are essential. Through association and meeting we find happiness and development, individual and collective. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 36.
These Baha’i study group courses helped us develop a better grasp of workplace leadership, as well. Imbued with ideas of self-confidence and self-assurance, we usually think of leadership as the idea that one person must lead so others can follow. The Baha’i study group courses completely transform this concept, though, as demonstrated by the role of the person serving as a tutor in the courses.
The study group tutor has a unique role: to motivate everyone’s desire for learning, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to share their opinions in the group discussion, and to accompany them when they practice community service activities. This new type of role fits better with the idea of teamwork than one leader and a cohort of followers. Personally, with each experience I’ve had tutoring groups, I’ve learned diverse ways to encourage and value people’s opinions—and to intensively learn from each other:
Study the sciences, acquire more and more knowledge. Assuredly one may learn to the end of one’s life! Use your knowledge always for the benefit of others; so may war cease on the face of this beautiful earth, and a glorious edifice of peace and concord be raised. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 37.
In today’s world, knowledge expands and grows at unprecedented rates—which means we all need to keep learning every day. Does everyone have the ability to do that? The empowering, learning-centered vision of the Ruhi Institute helps us see every person as a potential treasury of knowledge and wisdom:
Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 161.
As Baha’is, we learn how education can help each of us utilize these capacities to benefit humanity. These ideas changed the way we view college students starting their first job with us, and the way we view our colleagues. Our personal “mine” doesn’t only keep intellectual gems, but also the gems of solidarity, generosity and equality. Moral empowerment is also an aspect of our education.
We learned that our workplace cannot be separated from the community, so we always look for ways to create opportunities to serve others through our workday, by collaborating with NGOs or sponsoring special events. Recently, we organized a summer class for the children of the company’s employees, where the parents themselves take turns teaching skills they know to their own children and others.
We consistently apply and revise all these ideas as we continue to learn. Of course, we don’t have the perfect company and we haven’t been able to try everything we would like, but we constantly talk about these things at work, trying to apply the dynamic of holding “meaningful conversations” that the Ruhi Institute courses recommend. Many colleagues seem surprised when they see the many new ideas our company is trying, but these ideas have come from one place: the Baha’i teachings:
Leaders of religion, exponents of political theories, governors of human institutions, who at present are witnessing with perplexity and dismay the bankruptcy of their ideas, and the disintegration of their handiwork, would do well to turn their gaze to the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, and to meditate upon the World Order which, lying enshrined in His teachings, is slowly and imperceptibly rising amid the welter and chaos of present-day civilization. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 23.
Sometimes it might seem that “spiritual” or “religious” issues exist on a separate plane from our work life, and that we don’t really have time to dedicate to them. We know that work is important. Equally important is the constant training to stay current at work. By being part of the Ruhi Institute courses, we bring coherence to our lives and develop those skills that a modern, united and diverse world needs. In that process, we’ve realized the same spiritual qualities that help us serve others also make us good administrators, colleagues and businesspeople.