I listened to a talk show this morning on bullying after a teen-suicide took place in our small community; and in response to an emotional video that’s gone viral, in which a 13 year old tells his story about having been bullied since he was in grade 2. He’s now going into grade 8 and afraid of what this year at school will bring. Click here to watch it.
I wondered what the Bahá’í Faith would have to offer this young man, to give him hope, other than love and compassion. And if we did, would it be enough?
In the following quote, the House of Justice refers to the sacrifices being made by the Bahá’ís in Iran, who surely are suffering at the hands of some of the world’s worst bullies. They suggest that these sufferings are part of God’s plan:
At a moment in Bahá’í history when the persecuted, beleaguered friends in the Cradle of the Faith heroically continue to face the trials ordained for them in the Major Plan of God, meeting martyrdom, as need be, with joyous acceptance . . . (Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 556)
As far as I can tell, bullying is a problem which has to start with a fundamental shift in parenting; followed by changes in the way society deals with bullies. It’s not enough for schools to have zero tolerance policies (as necessary as they are), because bullies will only take it out of the school and into the social media. There has been an alarming incidence of children committing suicide after having been bullied on social networking sites such as Facebook.
In the recent guidance from the House of Justice, they talk to parents very frankly about their role in parenting and what needs to change. They say:
What needs to be appreciated in this respect is the extent to which young minds are affected by the choices parents make for their own lives, when, no matter how unintentionally, no matter how innocently, such choices condone the passions of the world—its admiration for power, its adoration of status, its love of luxuries, its attachment to frivolous pursuits, its glorification of violence, and its obsession with self-gratification. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 28 Dec. 2010)
To address the isolation and pain felt by so many, they say:
It must be realized that the isolation and despair from which so many suffer are products of an environment ruled by an all-pervasive materialism. And in this the friends must understand the ramifications of Bahá’u’lláh’s statement that “the present-day order” must “be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 28 Dec. 2010)
It made me think about the major and minor plans of God, which result in conflicting emotions. With regards to bullying, the Faith offers hope that it will disappear once we have the lesser peace, and on the other hand, we might feel powerless in the face of it happening to our family and friends:
Our fellow human beings everywhere are insensibly subjected at one and the same time to the conflicting emotions incited by the continuous operation of simultaneous processes of “rise and of fall, of integration and of disintegration, of order and chaos”. These Shoghi Effendi identified as aspects of the Major Plan and Minor Plan of God, the two known ways in which His purpose for humankind is going forward. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 155, 1998)
So what exactly is the Major Plan of God?
The Major Plan is associated with turbulence and calamity and proceeds with an apparent, random disorderliness, but is, in fact, inexorably driving humanity towards unity and maturity. Its agency for the most part is the people who are ignorant of its course and even antagonistic towards its aim.
And the Minor Plan of God?
The part of God’s Plan that is revealed by Bahá’u’lláh to His followers and is laid out for them in detailed instructions and successive plans by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice. In contrast to the Major Plan of God, it proceeds in a methodical, ordered way, disseminating His teachings and raising up the structure of a united world society. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 747)
Unlike His Major Plan, which works mysteriously, God’s Minor Plan is clearly delineated, operates according to orderly and well-known processes, and has been given to us to execute. Its ultimate goal is the Most Great Peace. The four-year-long campaign, at the mid-point of which we have arrived, constitutes the current stage in the Minor Plan. It is to the achievement of its purpose that we must all devote our attention and energies. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 155, 1998)
And where does bullying fit in?
As Shoghi Effendi has pointed out, God’s Major Plan uses “both the mighty and the lowly as pawns in His world-shaping game, for the fulfilment of His immediate purpose and the eventual establishment of His Kingdom on earth.” (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 155, 1998)
I HATED this quote when I first encountered it at a time in my life when I was coming to terms with my own experiences of being bullied. I didn’t want to be part of God’s chess game! But over the years, I’ve come to use it as a touchstone for understanding the forces at work in the world, which ultimately will have the end we’re all longing for – world peace.
The acceleration of the processes it generates is lending impetus to developments which, with all the initial pain and heartache attributable to them, we Bahá’ís see as signs of the emergence of the Lesser Peace. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 155, 1998)
I found it comforting to learn that there is a role for me to play in executing the Minor Plan:
The working out of God’s Major Plan proceeds mysteriously in ways directed by Him alone, but the Minor Plan that He has given us to execute, as our part in His grand design for the redemption of mankind, is clearly delineated. It is to this work that we must devote all our energies, for there is no one else to do it. (Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 133-34)
The House has given us some concrete ways when talking about the sacrifices of the Bahá’ís in Iran:
. . . it behoves the friends throughout the Bahá’í world to endeavour by their own greatly increased acts of self-abnegation to make fruitful the spiritual energies released by the sacrifices of their stricken brethren. (Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 556)
How on earth can we “make fruitful the spiritual energies released”? I think the answer lies in the “Minor plan of God.” Surely this means active involvement in the core activities: devotional gatherings (during which we can pray for the situations of bullying we witness in the lives of others); study circles (during which we can learn the standards of the Faith and how to translate them into action in our lives); children’s classes (during which we can teach them the virtues they need to live their lives); and junior youth programs (during which we can give the students a language in which to understand and transform bullying).
I can understand that this might not be seen as enough, and there is definitely more things that Bahá’ís can get involved in:
Bahá’í communities are, of course, engaged in a range of indispensable endeavours such as public information activity, proclamation efforts, external affairs work, production of literature, and complex social and economic development projects. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 158, to the Conference of the Continental Counsellors)
A spiritual process is called for, one in which we adjust our understanding of the forces at work which are impelling humanity towards its peaceful destiny.
At its core it is a spiritual process in which communities and institutions strive to align their pursuits with the Will of God. The Major Plan of God is at work and the forces it generates impel humanity towards its destiny. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 158, to the Conference of the Continental Counsellors)
Whether we like it or not, there is a difference between the role of the institutions and the role of the individuals. We need to be loving and forgiving towards bullies, and leave the justice to the institutions.
There is a tendency to mix up the functions of the Administration and try to apply it in individual relationships, which is abortive, because the Assembly is a nascent House of Justice and is supposed to administer, according to the Teachings, the affairs of the Community. But individuals towards each other are governed by love, unity, forgiveness and a sin-covering eye. Once the friends grasp this they will get along much better. (Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 41-42)
The institutions have specific things they can do:
In their own plans of action, the institutions of the Faith must seek to gain insight into the operation of these great forces, explore the potentialities of the people they serve, measure the resources and strengths of their communities, and take practical steps to enlist the unreserved participation of the believers. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 158, to the Conference of the Continental Counsellors)
And the individuals have a supportive role to play:
The nurturing of this process is the sacred mission entrusted to you. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 158, to the Conference of the Continental Counsellors)
So while my heart aches for and with those who are being bullied, it helps to understand that it’s all part of God’s mysterious plan, and that in the fullness of time it will all be eliminated.
When the Major Plan of God interferes with His Minor Plan, there should be no doubt that in due course a way will providentially be opened to an opportunity of stellar possibilities for advancing the interests of His glorious Cause. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 160, 2003)
Tom Price had a very interesting comment to make about the Major and Minor Plans of God, in his talks on the Five Year Plan: he said that every time he’s affected by something going on the world, he reminds himself that it’s the “major plan of God”, which frees him up to do what he can to fulfill the “minor plan”. This helps me have a context to put it in. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to them, they’re really good. This comment was from the third talk. Click here to listen:
The House of Justice gives us some final guidance for giving us a new way of looking at both bullying and all of the other signs of the decline of the Old World Order:
At times it may seem that the operation of the Major Plan causes a disruption in the work of the Minor Plan, but the friends have every reason to remain undismayed. For they recognize the source of the recurrent turbulence at play in the world and, in the words of our Guardian, “acknowledge its necessity, observe confidently its mysterious processes, ardently pray for the mitigation of its severity, intelligently labour to assuage its fury, and anticipate, with undimmed vision, the consummation of the fears and the hopes it must necessarily engender.” (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 155, 1998)
I’m not sure this will help the children being bullied, but if the adults truly understood, they could give their children some concrete support to get through it and past it, as has been done in the families of the Bahá’ís in Iran. In the meantime, please God, hasten the establishment of the lesser peace!