The whole issue of estrangement and having a voice are very complex. We know in the Writings that:
Souls are inclined toward estrangement. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
This is the way God made us, and, as He tells us in the Hidden Words:
My work is perfect. . . (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 12)
It’s just another one of His tests for the perfection of our souls, which, if we pass it, results in the acquisition of many virtues.
Behold the courage, firmness, detachment, unity, co-operation, zeal and enthusiasm with which these loyal lovers of the Beloved daily face their tests and prove and demonstrate to the world, with radiant and shining faces, their purity, their heritage, their quality, and their virtue. With the utmost meekness, truthfulness, wisdom, and courage they meet the challenges presented to them, the challenge of defying the enemies, dispelling misunderstandings which are a result of the proliferation of calumnies and false accusations. They have met their fate with acquiescence, have bowed their heads in the valley of submission and resignation, and have borne every tribulation with radiance, for they know with absolute certainty that the fulfilment of divine prophecies will coincide with dire events and the bearing of innumerable afflictions. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 440)
Why is estrangement wrong?
Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than … estrangement … among the loved ones of God. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 8 )
Should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 87)
Everything which conduces to separation and estrangement is satanic because it emanates from the purposes of self. Consider how clearly it is shown in creation that the cause of existence is unity and cohesion and the cause of nonexistence is separation and dissension . . . Therefore, affinity and unity among even these material elements mean life in the body of man, and their discord and disagreement mean death. Throughout all creation, in all the kingdoms, this law is written: that love and affinity are the cause of life, and discord and separation are the cause of death. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)
What causes estrangement?
This hatred and enmity, this bigotry and intolerance are outcomes of misunderstandings, the reality of religious unity will appear when these misunderstandings are dispelled. For the foundation of the divine religions is one foundation. This is the oneness of revelation or teaching; but alas! we have turned away from that foundation, 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)
In families, this plays itself out like this – first there is a misunderstanding; then the lower nature kicks in with thoughts of hatred and intolerance. The world around us is submerged in negativity and the “blame game” where someone has to be right and the other person has to be wrong. We’ve been taught this as part of our ancestral beliefs, and we imitate what we see around us, which keeps us stuck in our lower nature and makes the estrangement permanent and long-lasting. We know the Bahá’í Writings tell us to work towards unity, but we have no role models, and it seems easier to cling to what we know best, which is to hold on to our anger and share it with anyone who will listen. We need to study the Bahá’í Writings for answers, as well as look towards those in the Bahá’í community who can show us a better way.
What the believers need is not only … to really study the teachings, but also to have more peace-makers circulating among them. Unfortunately, not only average people, but average Bahá’ís, are very immature; gossip, trouble-making, criticism, seem easier than the putting into practice of love, constructive words and cooperation. It is one of the functions of the older and the more mature Bahá’ís, to help the weaker ones to iron out their difficulties and learn to really function and live like true believers! (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
What attitude should be have?
If the friends and relatives are keeping themselves at a distance from thee, be thou not sad, for God is near to thee. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 557-558)
How do we behave towards those who’ve distanced themselves from us?
In the Writings we’re told:
Steps should first be taken to do away with this estrangement, for only then will the Word take effect. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
The first step is to not see it:
Shut your eyes to estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 67)
And to flee from it:
Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 8 )
When we shut our eyes to estrangement, we don’t even see that it’s present. In order to fix our gaze on unity, we need to look at the situation with our inner or spiritual eyes; and join our loved ones in the spiritual realms. When we can see them through the eyes of unity and not estrangement, we’re in a better position to flee from it and take the next steps.
Strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 8 )
Associate thou, as much as thou canst, with the relatives and strangers; display thou loving kindness; show thou forth the utmost patience and resignation. The more they oppose thee, shower thou upon them the greater justice and equity; the more they show hatred and opposition toward thee, challenge thou them with great truthfulness, friendship and reconciliation. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 557-558)
They must endeavor to promote amity and concord amongst the friends, efface every lingering trace of distrust, coolness and estrangement from every heart, and secure in its stead an active and whole-hearted cooperation for the service of the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 38)
What if the estrangement is between spouses?
You have asked, however, for specific rules of conduct to govern the relationships of husbands and wives … If, God forbid, they fail to agree, and their disagreement leads to estrangement, they should seek counsel from those they trust and in whose sincerity and sound judgement they have confidence, in order to preserve and strengthen their ties as a united family. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456)
What are the advantages of removing estrangement?
Where love, respect and courtesy are genuinely and mutually expressed, estrangement finds no accommodation and problems become soluble challenges.
(The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light . . . If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God . . . Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88-89)
Why is it important to remove estrangement?
The people of the world are carefully watching the Bahá’ís today, and minutely observing them. The believers must make every effort, and take the utmost care to ward off and remove any feelings of estrangement.
(Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 207)
Does working towards unity always work?
If a believer showeth kindness to one of the neglectful, and, with great love, gradually leadeth him to an understanding of the validity of the Holy Cause, so that he may come to know the fundamentals of God’s Faith and the implications thereof—such a one will certainly be transformed, excepting only those seldom-encountered individuals who are even as ashes, whose hearts are ‘hard as rocks, or harder still. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
Where does speaking your truth come in?
It’s important to be truthful, since without it no progress can ever be made:
Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 22)
Why is speaking your truth important?
Speech is a powerful phenomenon. Its freedom is both to be extolled and feared. (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)
Why is it to be feared?
It calls for an acute exercise of judgement, since both the limitation of speech and the excess of it can lead to dire consequences. (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)
Remember, above all, the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh concerning gossip and unseemly talk about others. Stories repeated about others are seldom good. A silent tongue is the safest. Even good may be harmful, if spoken at the wrong time, or to the wrong person. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 125)
We need to speak to the person directly, and not about them behind their backs:
If any soul speak ill of an absent one, the only result will clearly be this: he will dampen the zeal of the friends and tend to make them indifferent. For backbiting is divisive, it is the leading cause among the friends of a disposition to withdraw.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
There’s a time and place for truthfulness:
Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it.’ Such is the consummate wisdom to be observed in thy pursuits. Be not oblivious thereof, if thou wishest to be a man of action under all conditions. First diagnose the disease and identify the malady, then prescribe the remedy, for such is the perfect method of the skilful physician. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 268)
Follow thou the way of thy Lord, and say not that which the ears cannot bear to hear, for such speech is like luscious food given to small children. However palatable, rare and rich the food may be, it cannot be assimilated by the digestive organs of a suckling child. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 268)
How do we do it?
First we have to choose our words carefully.
Lay not on any soul a load which ye would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for any one the things ye would not desire for yourselves. This is My best counsel unto you, did ye but observe it. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 127)
A harsh word is like unto a sword, but gentle speech is like unto milk. The children of the world attain to knowledge and better themselves through this.
(Compilations, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 132)
Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. And likewise He saith: One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison. It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 172-173)
Then we must focus on the positive:
One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. The friends must overlook their shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues and not their defects. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
Then there are certain virtues we need to focus on:
Love and harmony, purity of motive, humility and lowliness amongst the friends, patience and long-suffering in difficulties—these inform the attitude with which they proceed “with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views”, each using “perfect liberty” both in so doing and in “unveiling the proof of his demonstration”. (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)
What if someone doesn’t agree with us?
If another contradicts him, he must not become excited because if there be no investigation or verification of questions and matters, the agreeable view will not be discovered neither understood. (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)
What if it only makes things worse?
The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 87)
Can we get a group together to help mediate problems of estrangement?
Definitely! God loves consultation in groups:
In a case where several people are involved, such as a family situation, he may want to gather together those who are affected so that they may arrive at a collective decision. There is also no objection whatever to a Bahá’í asking a group of people to consult together on a problem facing him. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)
How would this work?
You ask in your letter for guidance on the implications of the prohibitions on backbiting and more specifically whether, in moments of anger or depression, the believer is permitted to turn to his friends to unburden his soul and discuss his problem in human relations. Normally, it is possible to describe the situation surrounding a problem and seek help and advice in resolving it, without necessarily mentioning names. The individual believer should seek to do this, whether he is consulting a friend, Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í, or whether the friend is consulting him. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)
The first condition is absolute love and harmony amongst the members of the assembly. They must be wholly free from estrangement and must manifest in themselves the Unity of God, for they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden. Should harmony of thought and absolute unity be nonexistent, that gathering shall be dispersed and that assembly be brought to naught. The second condition is that the members of the assembly should unitedly elect a chairman and lay down guide-lines and by-laws for their meetings and discussions. The chairman should have charge of such rules and regulations and protect and enforce them; the other members should be submissive, and refrain from conversing on superfluous and extraneous matters. They must, when coming together, turn their faces to the Kingdom on high and ask aid from the Realm of Glory. They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views. They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden. The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority. It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced . . . Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 87-89)
If unanimity is not subsequently achieved, decisions are arrived at by majority vote. Once a decision has been reached, all members of the consultative body, having had the opportunity fully to state their views, agree wholeheartedly to support the outcome. (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)
What if the decision the group makes is wrong?
What if the minority view is right? “If they agree upon a subject,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has explained, “even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree, that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity, the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right.” (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)
If estrangement is caused by misunderstandings, what about the role of forgiveness?
The standards of the Faith are very high:
If someone commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453)
To forgive him will not be easy, and this is not something to which either you or the members of your family can force yourselves. Nevertheless, you should know that forgiveness is the standard which individual Bahá’ís are called upon to attain. It is an essential part of the spiritual growth of a person who has been wronged. To nurse a grievance or hatred against another soul is spiritually poisonous to the soul which nurses it, but to strive to see another person as a child of God and, however heinous his deeds, to attempt to overlook his sins for the sake of God, removes bitterness from the soul and both ennobles and strengthens it. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 5 January 1992)
How are we to do it?
If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 315)
Forgiveness is a 3-step process.
- Forgive the other person
Again, the standard in the Faith is very high – we’re to forgive someone a hundred thousand times:
Show ye an endeavor that all the nations and communities of the world, even the enemies, put their trust, assurance and hope in you; that if a person falls into errors for a hundred-thousand times he may yet turn his face to you, hopeful that you will forgive his sins; for he must not become hopeless, neither grieved nor despondent. This is the conduct and the manner of the people of Bahá’. This is the foundation of the most high pathway! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 436)
- Forgive yourself for your part in the problem
Click here to listen to a great meditation to help you forgive yourself.
- Ask God for His forgiveness, both for you and for the other person. If we confess our sins, God will be faithful to His promise:
Wherefore, hearken ye unto My speech, and return ye to God and repent, that He, through His grace, may have mercy upon you, may wash away your sins, and forgive your trespasses. The greatness of His mercy surpasseth the fury of His wrath, and His grace encompasseth all who have been called into being and been clothed with the robe of life (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 130)
He will change our sins into good deeds:
Thy generous Lord will . . . forgive thee thy sins and change them to good deeds. Verily the Lord is the Forgiving, the Merciful (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 89)
Here’s a prayer we can use:
I beg of God to forgive thy sins and to illumine thy face with the light of forgiveness, so that thou mayest conquer the self which desires the earthly world and prevent it from its wishes and appetites. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 80)
And a mantra we can repeat:
Forgive me, O my Lord, my sins which have hindered me from walking in the ways of Thy good-pleasure, and from attaining the shores of the ocean of Thy oneness. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 29)
How has this helped you see things differently? Post your comments here: