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The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
How do I become Baha’i?

Working on My Negative Conditioning

Michelle Schiefelbein | Mar 25, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Michelle Schiefelbein | Mar 25, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

We all see the world based on our conditioning. I’m trying to get rid of some of mine.

Whether from a perspective of race, gender, politics, education, family upbringing etc. we all form our beliefs about the world and those in it by how we have been educated since birth. Parents, teachers, peers, media, public/private education, our neighborhood, our lot in life—they all shape this education.

Conditioned to think and act a certain way, we honestly can’t help it. One person believes their actions are perfectly justifiable, but another will see the same action as appalling. Their reactions depend on their conditioning.  Because of this conditioning, there really doesn’t seem to be one side or the other—but rather seven million + conditioned perspectives.

Since the dawn of creation, humans—usually those with the power to do so—have created social constructs and systems that predominantly delineate human worth. Humans have created ways and systems that allow us to act out our conditioning: for example, by finding a group or party or organization that believes at least a little bit of what we believe. We are social animals and want to feel like we belong, so this is when those seven million + perspectives get categorized a little bit more and sides begin to form.

Because we either don’t realize or forget sometimes we are one human race, among other things, we fall into patterns of behavior that, either consciously or unconsciously, separate us from others according to our conditioning. Philosophers, intellectuals, the media, politicians etc. have a clever way of appealing to our conditioning, cementing it and categorizing things even further. Collectively, that division creates erroneous social constructs that causes people’s oppression.  

At the extreme we have seen what happens when the worst of this conditioning plays out in a mental and/or spiritual illness in a government leader—think Hitler,  Mao, or Stalin for example. The phenomenon of patriarchy, paternalism, white supremacy, racism, sexism and the like come from the result of conditioning, categories, worth and power. All of this bogs down our progress, especially when we fail to critically examine these things and intentionally work to eradicate them.  

This can all change, of course, if and when we learn to recognize our oneness as a human race and that all are “created from the same dust:”  

O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 20.

In other words, we are equal, and we depend on each other like the human body depends on every operating system and every organ and every cell. Even though each system has a completely diverse function, nevertheless each part is absolutely necessary to stay alive and healthy. That goes for a healthy, vital society, too—we treat each other with worth because we are equal, and each of us plays a part in creating a healthy whole.  

This means we must all intentionally and consistently learn to recognize when we behave based on our conditioning, in a way that separates rather than unites. We then can break free of that conditioning, by consciously recognizing the nobility, uniqueness and worth of every human we encounter. By the way, that includes the ones who annoy us and who we disagree with, no matter how obnoxious they may be acting, no matter how overt or subtle the acts of oppression they cause. Ah, the challenge. No one ever said this was easy—and it reminds me to work on myself, daily.

Baha’is believe this is a new day, and by recognizing that truth we may begin to end conflict and suffering with an essentially spiritual process that allows everyone’s purpose and potential to manifest. Hopefully we can do this so the world can benefit and progress from the uniqueness of everyone’s contribution. Hopefully we might be able to try to have a conversation with someone we see as having a completely opposite view. But maybe this might take a little bit of work too—who knows? No one knows until they try to produce a little peace and fellowship:

When we consider outcomes in the world of existence we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration. All created things are expressions of the affinity and cohesion of elementary substances, and non-existence is the absence of their attraction and agreement. Various elements unite harmoniously in composition but when these elements become discordant, repelling each other, decomposition and non-existence result. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 123.

I have personally vowed over the years to intentionally work to remember what I have written here, to always remember to love every human being despite myself or my conditioning. I share this now because we need it. I see how our conditioning plays itself out more overtly every day, separating us as human beings from each other and into categories of perceived worth. Most of all, though, I see how this plays out in a very detrimental way to our collective well-being. Because of our conditioning we are in constant conflict with each other, either outwardly or inwardly through resentment, withdrawal, and things like anger and hate towards one another.

For me personally, as a Baha’i, I know I must always work for unity, eradicating the negative conditioning in myself. Hopefully, these words might spark something in others. Until we begin to see this in ourselves and work on it, while loving every person for exactly who they are, this world will be stuck in strife.

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  • Mar 26, 2017
    That was a helpful article. In the last few days I was verbally attacked by someone in such an abusive way it was hard to see the person's worth so my thoughts towards this person have been very negative. Your perspective, granted difficult helps me to reframe what happened in a more productive way. Thank you.
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