28 August 2009

The Fine Line Between Unity and Co-Dependence

Over the last few years I have reached out to a few different people interested in joining the Baha'i Community. While I do what I can to support them emotionally and spiritually, oftentimes they come to expect too much and become hurt when I can't be there for them. I try and encourage them to pray and establish a spiritual connection with God. I also do what I can to get them involved in community life. But sometimes that isn't enough, their religious connection is dependent on their connection to me, and there is only so much I can do. I cannot take that pressure, and I shouldn't have to.

So my questions are, where is the line between promoting unity through developing friendships, and becoming co-dependent upon each other for spiritual sustenance? Does unity mean that everybody will be best friends with everybody else? If not, then how do we avoid forming cliques and fragmenting according into our most comfortable groups? Is there a way to have a strong group of close friends, but still interact and be unified with everybody in a challenging and meaningful way, in a way that is conducive to personal growth?

I am eager to hear your thoughts and experiences


  1. I think that the way that the Universal House of Justice is currently directing Social and Economic Development in the Baha'i World may have important lessons for this situation. The House of Justice is directing the Baha'is to move away from the idea that Devlopment is about the rich nations helping the poor. It is about everyone coming together in local groups, consulting, identifying their problems and then seeing what are the ways that they can solve them (occasionally it may be necessary for outsiders to assist but this assistance should be peripheral to the plans not central). The idea is for people to increase their human resources in each community and solve their problems themselves. [Of course the activities of the current Five Year Plan are helping the Baha'is to achieve the skills to do this].

    Similarly with your question here, it may be that what Baha'is should be seeking to do is to help people to help themselves. To guide people to the Baha'i teachings and the guidance to be found there. To perhaps even help by consulting with people about their problems. But the aim should always be to help people to grow the capacity to solve their own problems - to become self-reliant instead of co-dependant.

    I know all this is easier to say than to do but at least if we are clear about the goals of our involvement, we are more likely to avoid problems.

  2. If somebody tends to depend on other people in that way, then they need people nearby who can support them in the short-term but help them become more autonomous in the long-term. Developing strong core activities on the neighborhood level, especially devotional gatherings, can I think do a lot to help. When relationships between people are based on a firm foundation of the love of God, especially when integrated into a general scheme of capacity building, then individuals can gradually develop the spiritual strength to rise above the problems they may have once been too difficult to face alone.

    Of course, we can't be best friends with everybody else, but if we develop the habit of always reaching out and forming new relationships, then we can maintain unity. For example, the Baha'i community may be growing rapidly in two neighborhoods on different sides of a city. Baha'i community life in either of those may be quite independent of the other. They may have their own children's classes, their own study circles, their own Feast, etc. But they can make a conscious effort to be more unified by cooperating on common initiatives or merely attending each other's events. Nonetheless, unity doesn't require that we are directly involved in each other's lives. Knowledge that others are laboring in a common cause goes a long way to establish strong connections between individuals and communities, even though they may not see each other very often, or at all.

  3. Instead of fully-fleshed out thoughts to contribute perhaps there are some concepts to consider: sacrifice, magnanimity, justice, generosity, and unity. There are several instances of these concepts being specifically explored in the Writings (singly and jointly). Such an exploration would be useful to explore these ideas. In addition, it would be useful to ponder the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha in order to explore how he developed relationships with individuals and the ways in which he showered loving-kindness on all who crossed his path.

  4. Thank you folks for the wonderful comments. You are right that we can look to the framework given by the UHJ, and the example of 'Abdu'l Baha to find the right balance and approach.

    There is a particular situation right now where a seeker has formed a strong relationship with about three people in our community. Because he doesn't have a vehicle, the three of us take turns giving him rides to Baha'i activities, specifically a study circle, and devotional, and occasional social activities. The tricky thing is, there are some weeks when none of us can make it, and he takes it very personally. We cannot call anybody else to pick him up because he doesn't feel comfortable around people he doesn't know. He is also very offended that I am moving to Oregon soon, he takes that extremely personally.

    We have talked about what we want to do to make the situation more sustainable. We have just decided to suggest and help him start a devotional meeting in his own home. To go with him to invite his neighbors and support him the first few meetings. We feel that if he can take ownership of something, so that he doesn't feel completely dependent on others for his community life, that will go along way in helping him develop an independent spiritual identity.

    And, as Ryan has suggested, the best thing for us to do is study the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha, who seemed to strike this balance perfectly, that is showing unconditional love while at the same time empowering people to take ownership of themselves and their service.

  5. Jason, I've been in situations like that, and just think that some people may have joined the faith for the wrong reasons. We are not slaves, but servants. We are also not counscelors, itleast some of us are not, were just people serving through the writings and teachings of Baha'u'llah. Sometimes you just have to let people be upset or angry. Maybe they will learn to value what this faith really is, a gift to humanity. Be strong, and don't take it personally. God will do the rest.-Darlene Gait.

  6. I agree that it is important to facilitate a person's relationship with God moreso than their relationship with you.

    Also, I don't think there is any need to, in the name of unity, preemptively introduce people who are new to the Faith to other members of the community.

    See Shoghi Effendi's description for how to welcome someone into the Faith: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/ADJ/adj-3.html?query=receptivity|refrain|attained|introduce|fellow-believers|whatever&action=highlight#gr16

  7. Men, even parents and children, are co-dependent on each other, and we all depend on God.
    Nobody can take responsibilty about the destinies of other people; and evidently nobody should expect other people to do so for them. The reason is clear: all are equally great and unique. The disparity is due to lack of divine education. This condition of the world will be changed soon with the apocalyptic events throughout the world.