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How do we respond to turmoil?

Arched doorway in an old stone building
Photo by Nikola Knezevic on Unsplash

With a divisive election year, a nation polarized and public discourse that has disintegrated into contention, we are definitely facing turmoil. But how do we respond to all of this and keep our sanity? Looking for answers, I’ve been impressed by the Baha’i community in countries where they face active oppression. Despite being persecuted for their beliefs, these communities respond with an abiding sense of calm. How do they do it? By choosing a non-adversarial response to oppression, Baha’is have developed a distinctive approach to social change: constructive resilience.

But first, let me give you a little background. Baha’is are a peaceful people, who seek to serve the communities in which they live. Focused on the essential oneness of creation, Baha’is believe that there is one God, one Divine Creator; that all the religions come from this one Divine Source; and that all of humanity is one people, one race, one human family.

Unfortunately, in some countries these beliefs are seen as a threat and the Baha’is there are actively persecuted. Innocent of any crime, individuals are imprisoned and, in some cases, killed. Community governing structures are dismantled. Children and youth are denied access to education and barred from attending school, including university. But despite this harsh treatment, Baha’is view their oppressors with compassion and seek opportunities to help their societies improve.

Putting Constructive Resilience to Work

Guided, by the Universal House of Justice, the global governing body of the Baha’is, these communities have adopted a posture of constructive resilience. In essence, they have chosen to avoid reacting to oppression with anger, for this would lead to taking on the negative traits of their oppressors. Likewise, they have chosen to avoid reacting in fear and falling into a demoralizing victimhood. Instead, they hold firmly to a vision of a united humanity and walk steadily toward it.

One woman, imprisoned for her beliefs, was asked by a fellow prisoner if she was angry at the government for treating her so unfairly. She calmly replied that the government just needs time to mature.

This approach of constructive resilience allows the Baha’is to respond to oppression by taking positive action for social change. But wouldn’t this also be an effective response for turmoil of any kind? As an individual, I can use this approach with my own internal struggles — What is my vision for how I want to be? And as a society, we can use this approach with our current social struggles — How do we want our nation to be?

How could constructive resilience help us? What could this make possible?

  • What if we had a vision for a healthy, just, peaceful society? Wouldn’t we need the input of all sides to get there?

  • What if we started looking for what we have in common, rather than what divides us? Wouldn’t that expand our circle of compatriots?

  • What if we found ways to take action… together? Wouldn’t that generate hope?

Walking Steadily Forward

Regardless of the outcome of this November’s election, we still are one country. Our success or failure will depend on how well we reach across our differences and forge a path together.

So what is your highest, greatest, most audacious dream for the country? For the world? What is the best possible future you can imagine? What can you do today to take one step toward that vision? Who can you reach out to and invite to take the next step with you?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

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