I’ve had a LOT of experience with this experience and judging by the divorce rate alone, I know I’m not the only one! We were created to be in relationship with one another, because that’s how we grow.
The Bahá’í standard is that we don’t give or take offence, but how many of us fall into this “habit of thought and speech)?
Bahá’í consultation is not an easy process. It requires love, kindliness, moral courage and humility. Thus no member should ever allow himself to be prevented from expressing frankly his view because it may offend a fellow member; and, realizing this, no member should take offence at another member’s statements. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179-180)
One person does something (an event) which causes us to get upset or take offence (the meaning we give to it); and we believe they are the cause of our upset (the lie). For example: This weekend I was hoping to see my son while I was in the city he lived in. I love him very much and I know he loves me. I extended the invitation and he didn’t respond. (an event). I took offence and my lower nature had a lot of fun feeding me these lies:
- Judgements: He’s thoughtless, inconsiderate, hurtful.
- Suspicion: He doesn’t love me anymore; he doesn’t want me in his life
- Anger and Bitterness: I’m never going to ask him again; or answer his calls again.
- Resentment: Why does he always do this to me? Why do I always set myself up for his rejection?
- Envy and Jealousy: Why do other people have frequent interactions with their children and I don’t?
The Bahá’í Writings tell us how hard it is to free ourselves from these worldly thoughts which attract us to the centre of our selves. If we aren’t assisted by the divine power, we’ll escape from one and fall into another. We try to soar upward, but the density of the love of self, like gravity, pulls us back into the prison of self. The only thing that can keep us ever on the path of upward ascension is the power of the Holy Spirit:
Just as the earth attracts everything to the centre of gravity, and every object thrown upward into space will come down, so also material ideas and worldly thoughts attract man to the centre of self. Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism. The physical man, unassisted by the divine power, trying to escape from one of these invisible enemies, will unconsciously fall into hands of another. No sooner does he attempt to soar upward than the density of the love of self, like the power of gravity, draws him to the centre of the earth. The only power that is capable of delivering man from this captivity is the power of the Holy Spirit. The attraction of the power of the Holy Spirit is so effective that it keeps man ever on the path of upward ascension. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)
How often do we blame others for our feelings, instead of owning them ourselves? My son didn’t make me feel any of those negative thoughts above – his action was just an action, until I gave it meaning, and the meaning came from my lower nature, it didn’t come from God.
It behoveth you, therefore, to attach blame to no one except to yourselves, for the things ye have committed, if ye but judge fairly. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 222-223)
The more we blame each other for our feelings, the more we take offence, even though no offence might have been meant at the beginning, when the other person was just trying to state what happened and what it would take to get their needs met, but when this happens, the whole relationship can start to fray.
Let’s look at some other examples:
- Your husband leaves the toilet seat up after you’ve told him a million times to put it down, and it seems like his failure to do so is causing your anger and upset.
- A friend doesn’t agree with something you said and you think her lack of agreement is causing your upset.
- Your boss gets angry with you and you blame your anxiety on what she said and how she said it.
Each of these things is just an event:
- Your husband leaves the toilet seat up
- A friend disagrees with you
- The boss is angry at something you did
The upset we feel comes from believing the lies we tell ourselves about what happened.
- He has no respect for me; he never listens; nothing I want is important to him . . .
- If she doesn’t agree with me she’s no friend of mine; why isn’t my point important? how could she be my friend and disagree on this important issue? . . .
- She must be PMS’ing; she’s made me look bad; she’s shamed me in front of my coworkers . . .
So if most of the problems between us come from taking offence, believing the lies we tell ourselves and blaming others, what can we do to free ourselves from these habits of thought?
Learning how to distinguish between what happened and the meaning we give to it is important if we don’t want to keep drinking poison and staying stuck in our lower natures. Instead of blaming them for making us angry, we need to learn to love them for the imperfect sinners they are, and see their actions as arising from their lower natures.
As a devoted believer you are urged to . . . attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. By this means, you can liberate yourself from the anger to which you refer in your letter, and foster your own spiritual development. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
We can’t change what happened; but we can learn to stop believing the lies we tell ourselves about what it means; and learn to think more positively instead.
When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 29)
If just one person learns to dissolve their negative feelings, the whole argument will come to an end. The other person can’t push our buttons and there is no one to argue with; and if you aren’t busy arguing with each other, it’s easy to be more loving.
Instead of personalizing my upset about my son’s lack of response, I could just as easily tell myself:
- His phone might have been lost, stolen or broken and he didn’t get the message
- He was away
- He was busy with his own life
- He just forgot
None of those beliefs have the negative charge the others ones did, and allowed me the freedom to overlook his faults and forgive him; which makes it much more likely we’ll have a more positive, loving interaction the next time we speak.
Changing a habit of thought or speech is not necessarily easy. It requires us to be vigilant and persistent, and practice until we get it right. Don’t worry! If you’re sincere in wanting to change this habit, God will increase the number of tests to give you an opportunity! Don’t lose heart! The more we work at changing our thoughts and reactions, the more we move the world towards peace!
Freeing ourselves from the bondage of blame is such an important topic, I’ve written a whole ebook on it, called Letting Go of Fault-Finding, Blame and Accusation, which you can download by clicking on the title