The influence begins on the first day: "Go around the circle and say your name, your age, and your ... favorite vegetable."
This is an icebreaker. It's supposed to help us get to know one another. But is this really a message worth sending? "I want to know about your personality, your individuality, your uniqueness. I want everyone here to know how special you are, and see where they stand in relation to you."
How much can we learn about a creation of God from its career ambitions or favorite school subject? How does this knowledge help the group to serve?
"Today the confirmations of the Kingdom of Abha are with those who renounce themselves, forget their own opinions, cast aside personalities and are thinking of the welfare of others.... Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. The 'Master Key' to self-mastery is self- forgetting. The road to the palace of life is through the path of renunciation."
('Abdu'l-Bahá: star of the West, Vol. XVII, p. 348)
Why not lay this habitual focus on the self aside? Why not:
- What motivates you to walk this path of service?
- What does it mean to be noble in the world today?
- Who is a hero of yours? What are three qualities in this person that you most admire? How can these qualities be used in your path of service?
- If you could transform this into a perfect neighborhood, what would it be like?
I've used these with high school students who are training to be animators. They were difficult questions, even for me. But they provided an atmosphere of spiritual connection, of mutual respect, and critical thought. They gave us insight into one another's values, communication styles, and life experiences, without emphasizing the self. They also alluded to the habit of reflection that must become a regular habit of any path of service.
- What is something kind you've seen someone else do this week?
- What does it feel like when you pray?
- What is one way the world would be different if everyone were loving?
It takes more time to talk like this. More time to plan, more time to reflect silently, more time to speak, and more time to respond. But like many spiritual processes, it's an investment that could certainly bear fruit.