What are some of the causes of bitterness?
Misunderstanding: Often we jump to conclusions without having all the facts.
This hatred and enmity, this bigotry and intolerance are outcomes of misunderstandings, the reality of religious unity will appear when these misunderstandings are dispelled. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96)
Difference of Opinion: Instead of thinking of truth as a diamond, with many facets, we feel that our way is the only right way.
Do not allow difference of opinion, or diversity of thought to separate you from your fellow-men, or to be the cause of dispute, hatred and strife in your hearts. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 53)
Taking Offence: Our ego takes a bruising and we get our feelings hurt. We take offence even when no offence was meant.
The temptation to react sharply and defensively is very great, yet we know that . . . we should not do so. Not only is it contrary to the spirit of the instructions of the Master and the Guardian, with which you are thoroughly familiar, but giving vent to such reaction tends to evoke resentment rather than bringing about the desired result. (Letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated January 25, 1972, to a National Spiritual Assembly)
Temporary Bonds of Brotherhood: We form alliances which we think are forever and when they aren’t, it can lead to bitterness. This can happen when family members betray you; or when gangs feel they have to defend their turf.
Brotherhood or fraternity is of different kinds. It may be family association, the intimate relationship of the household. This is limited and subject to change and disruption. How often it happens that in a family, love and agreement are changed into enmity and antagonism. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 79)
These forms of fraternity [family, race, nation, ethical motives], these bonds of brotherhood are merely temporal and transient in association. They do not insure harmony and are usually productive of disagreement. They do not prevent warfare and strife; on the contrary they are selfish, restricted and fruitful causes of enmity and hatred among mankind. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 227)
Holding onto Imitation and Ancestral Beliefs: You see this in parts of the world that have been feuding for generations. The original problems are long forgotten, but the bitterness continues down through the generations, and you follow suit without thinking, because your family has always held that particular prejudice.
Alas! we have turned away from that foundation [of divine religions], holding tenaciously to various dogmatic forms and blind imitation of ancestral beliefs. This is the real cause of enmity, hatred and bloodshed in the world; the reason of alienation and estrangement among mankind. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96)
Imitations . . . have ever been the cause of strife, enmity, jealousy and war. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 158)
Human Inventions and Dogmas: An example of this can be seen in Rwanda. When the European colonists conducted censuses, they wanted to identify the peoples throughout Rwanda-Burundi according to a simple classification scheme. They defined “Tutsi” as anyone owning more than ten cows (a sign of wealth) or with the physical feature of a longer nose, commonly associated with the Tutsi. The Europeans noticed that some Rwandans had noses they thought characteristic of their people, so they created historical and racial theories to explain why some Africans inherited such features. This ultimately became a factor in the genocide.
Just as the thoughts and hypotheses of past ages are fruitless today, likewise dogmas and codes of human invention are obsolete and barren of product in religion. Nay, it is true that they are the cause of enmity and conducive to strife in the world of humanity; war and bloodshed proceed from them and the oneness of mankind finds no recognition in their observance . . . we remain fettered and restricted by human inventions and dogmas, day by day the world of mankind will be degraded, day by day warfare and strife will increase and satanic forces converge toward the destruction of the human race. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 228)
Lack of Religious Unity and Association: It’s hard for us to feel bitterness towards those we are associating with, if we can see that they are focused on God.
The world of humanity is one, and God is equally kind to all. What, then, is the source of unkindness and hatred in the human world? This real Shepherd loves all His sheep. He leads them in green pastures. He rears and protects them. What, then, is the source of enmity and alienation among humankind? Whence this conflict and strife? The real underlying cause is lack of religious unity and association, for in each of the great religions we find superstition, blind imitation of creeds, and theological formulas adhered to instead of the divine fundamentals, causing difference and divergence among mankind instead of agreement and fellowship. Consequently, strife, hatred and warfare have arisen, based upon this divergence and separation. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 393)
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