36. First Grow, Then Become and Then Contribute
Racism has done so much damage to our world. Its pernicious effects are even to the extent that those who would be loving friends may be perceived as enemies. Baha’u’llah aptly describes the world’s present situation:
"We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions. We see it languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned. They that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician. Witness how they have entangled all men, themselves included, in the mesh of their devices. They can neither discover the cause of the disease, nor have they any knowledge of the remedy. They have conceived the straight to be crooked, and have imagined their friend an enemy." - Baha’u’llah
Such is the pain of the victim of racism that, for many a well-meaning friend, the very act of reaching out makes the victim flinch away, as if their emotional skin is so badly burned that even the lightest touch must be avoided at all costs.
An unfortunate consequence can be that unless that friend is extremely pure hearted and long-suffering, they may feel pushed away and rejected.
It is even possible for a sense of alienation to develop. That is a situation we all must avoid. My heart must say: ‘I will love and respect you no matter what, and my friendship will continue in the hope that one day you may be able to respond’.
If we hope to connect with another soul, first we must ‘see’ that soul. We need to reassure them, by our listening ear and our true empathy, that we want to learn what it is to live their life with all its hurts, rejections and worse. This can take considerable time.
First we must learn, only then can we teach. ‘Abdu’l-Baha chose to live amongst the poor and the sick and the lowly, just as Christ did before Him. By living side by side, They too experienced the same hardships. By living alongside with other communities, we will experience more of their reality than by reading an article or watching a documentary.
The world is full of do-gooders who are unable to touch hearts because they are not seen to practice what they preach. Living the life is the first step. Winning trust is another thing altogether. It is a long process and can’t be short-circuited. And there is no nation on earth that is free of its own subgroup of people who are the victims of prejudice.
New Zealanders who wanted to fulfil the hope of the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, by reaching the indigenous Maori, “a people much admired for their noble qualities..”, were advised to leave their own homes and move to communities where many Maori lived.
He said that we could achieve great things if our vision was clear, our purpose unshaken, our zeal undiminished and our hopes undimmed.
He warned of the inevitability of obstacles and disappointments, and advised that whenever faced with trials, we should recall Baha’u’llah’s own, innumerable sufferings.
The word “Arohanui” is a Maori word and, as with many Polynesian words, there is no direct translation into English. The literal meaning is “big love”, or “much love” or “great love”.
In naming his book, “Arohanui: Letters from Shoghi Effendi to New Zealand”, he used it in its more expressive meaning, “enfolding love”, or “that love which binds a community together”, or “that love which creates bonds of mutual trust and loyalty”, or “that love which builds and carries forward culture or civilization”.
It has always been the case with the growth of every religion that some pure soul sows seeds in the hearts of a few who are most pure and most receptive. In this way the purpose of Jesus Christ, the salvation of mankind, was established. And how small the group of His disciples was!
The development of present day humanity is a greater challenge; the evils of material civilization and the negligence of mankind call for greater effort. Divine light must make itself manifest in our daily life and deeds. The three mottoes of education hold true: first grow, then become and then contribute. We in the western world have developed; we have established ourselves, and now it is time to contribute to others. We have inexhaustible capital. The candles of our spiritual lives must constantly weep away their lives in shedding light to the world, and they must never become exhausted.