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How do I become Baha’i?
Life

You Can’t Subcontract Self Improvement

Jaellayna Palmer | Apr 21, 2024

PART 61 IN SERIES Personal Path Practical Feet

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

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Jaellayna Palmer | Apr 21, 2024

PART 61 IN SERIES Personal Path Practical Feet

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

John and I are in the midst of home renovations, and even though we have had several weeks of living in a state of disarray (even total chaos), I do know that the result will look great. 

Our living space will soon have fresh paint, carpets that invite barefoot walking, windows we can clearly see through, colors that match or pleasingly blend, etc. Someday it will be done and life will be normal or better again. Voilà! Transformation will have been achieved. 

RELATED: Three Ways to Counter Your Anger and Rage

If only transforming one’s own character were so easy! But as we all know, self improvement is the opposite: never finished, not as predictable, and can’t be subcontracted. 

The Baha’i writings say that the purpose of life is to know and worship God, to improve one’s own character, and to contribute toward the advancement of civilization:

All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. 

As clear as those lofty, spiritual goals may be, our own daily steps are not so evident. 

Whatever a person’s affiliation with a religious tradition — or through recognition of their own spiritual nature without an affiliation — it seems to begin with recognizing one’s own reality. Finding myself to be essentially a spiritual being, I ponder the essence of creation, the wonders of science and nature, my relationship with other people, and my potential to impact more than my own life. 

This leads into the idea of improving my own character. A person doesn’t need to be a bad person to need improvement; indeed, we all need improvement. Whether we want to become more patient, generous, forgiving, grateful, curious, kind, industrious — and the list goes on — almost every day brings opportunities to learn and grow. If I consciously recognize what I want to work on, that is better yet. Much like the home renovations, I can purposely seek ways to improve. I can make a goal and take steps to practice, realizing it may be a long journey, not to be finished or just crossed off a list. 

Both personal growth and social transformation are facilitated through education. This includes reading holy writings, participating in informed discussions, and other similarly purposeful endeavors — and then engaging in action. In their Position Statement on Education, the Baha’i International Community wrote: 

… moral values are not mere constructs of social processes. Rather, they are expressions of the inner forces that operate in the spiritual reality of every human being, and education must concern itself with these forces if it is to tap the roots of motivation and produce meaningful and lasting change.

RELATED: Responding to Stress with Spirituality

So how do I express these moral values? Service to others is the link between my own transformation and contributing to the advancement of civilization. Sometimes the service is organized: sorting cans and packages at the local food bank, cleaning up a park, or fundraising for a worthy cause. Often though it is subtler: helping a neighbor with chores or offering encouragement to someone who feels discouraged. I may know the other person: driving a friend to a doctor’s appointment or taking care of someone’s yard while they travel. Often, though, I may not already know the other person, as in the case of volunteering to help new immigrants with their résumés. I may offer the service as an individual. Or I may be part of a collective effort, as in the case of supporting local Baha’i youth in their group activities. 

As I go through my house now I can see progress as projects are finished. Though my own personal renovation won’t be so obvious, I know that if I take the steps it will happen—and as valuable as this is, no costs will show up on my credit card statement. 

   

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Comments

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  • Zachary L. Zavid
    Apr 22, 2024
    -
    Having a growth mindset is all-important
    • Jaellayna Palmer
      Apr 22, 2024
      -
      Agreed!
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