The vast majority of human beings want to live in a peaceful world.
As the Bible prophesies, “’In that day,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.’” ( Zechariah 3:10)
As that passage suggests, most of us desire to live in that peaceful world with other people—meaning that peace is not a matter of us being left alone to our own devices, or destined to view the rest of the world from the splendid isolation of a lotus position atop a mountain, but as part of functional families within functional communities in a broadly functional global network of nations, where the rights of all are preserved through mutual respect and mutual harmony.
Race unity—indeed, unity of any kind—cannot be legislated, any more than belief or disbelief in God or personal virtue can be legislated. Our reactions to each other, whatever they are based upon, must arise within us. They can be self-protective and blindly visceral reactions, or they can be tempered with the virtues of reason, tolerance, love and respect.
What our nation and, ultimately, our world needs when it comes to interpersonal relations is transformation. That transformation, since it cannot be legislated, must happen at the individual level if it represents real and lasting progress to a new state of being. It cannot be imposed from above. That trick, as Rocky the Flying Squirrel has often said, never works.
If the United States, for example, wants to be a great nation, if we are to live up to the ideals enshrined in our founding documents and even exceed them, then that needs to be a focus of our individual lives, not something in anthems or slogans or that we hear from pulpits and podiums as we sit passively in the audience. Thus, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States addresses its appeal for racial unity to each American who shares the desire for a peaceful, respectful, kind world:
Our appeal is addressed primarily to the individual American because the transformation of a whole nation ultimately depends on the initiative and change of character of the individuals who compose it. No great idea or plan of action by the government or other interested organizations can hope to succeed if the individual neglects to respond in his or her own way as personal circumstances and opportunities permit. And so we respectfully and urgently call upon our fellow Americans of whatever background to look at the racial situation with new eyes and with a new determination to lend effective support to the resolution of a problem that hinders the advance of this great republic toward the full realization of its glorious destiny.
We mention the experience of the Baha’i community not from any feeling of pride and ultimate victory, because that which we have accomplished still falls short of that to which we aspire; nonetheless, the results to date are most encouraging, and it is as a means of encouragement that we call attention to them.
From its inception in 1863 the Baha’i community was dedicated to the principle of the unity of humankind. Baha’is rely upon faith in God, daily prayer, meditation, and study of sacred texts to effect the transformation of character necessary for personal growth and maturity; however, their aim is to create a world civilization that will in turn react upon the character of the individual. Thus the concept of personal salvation is linked to the salvation, security, and happiness of all the inhabitants of the earth and stems from the Baha’i belief that “the world of humanity is a composite body” and that “when one part of the organism suffers all the rest of the body will feel its consequence.”
Guided and inspired by such principles, the Baha’i community has accumulated more than a century of experience in creating models of unity that transcend race, culture, nationality, class, and the differences of sex and religion, providing empirical evidence that humanity in all its diversity can live as a unified global society. Baha’is see unity as the laws of life; consequently, all prejudices are perceived as diseases that threaten life. Rather than considering that the unity of humankind can be established only after other problems afflicting it have been solved, Baha’is believe that both spiritual and material development are dependent upon love and unity. Therefore, the Baha’is offer the teachings of their Faith and the example of their community for examination, convinced that these can make a contribution toward the eradication of racism endemic in American society. We do so with firm faith in the assistance of our Creator, Who, out of His infinite love, brought forth all humanity from the same stock and intended that all belong to the same household. We believe, moreover, that the day of the unification of the entire human race has come and that “the potentialities inherent in the station of man, the innate excellence of his reality, must all be manifested in this promised Day of God.”– The Vision of Race Unity, The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, 1991
Baha’u’llah wrote much of Baha’i scripture in answer to questions from individuals. In one such tablet, Tabernacle of Unity, he addressed ten questions from a well-respected Zoroastrian scholar, who asked which schools of religious thought, philosophies or doctrines were correct in the eyes of God. Baha’u’llah gave one answer to all of the gentleman’s questions:
The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.– Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity, p. 5.
This, then, is the beginning of our transformation: that each of us ask not what we uniquely want or need in this moment in our lives, but ask what the world needs in this age—and then work at individually acquiring the virtues to live up to the potentialities inherent in our human station, and manifesting the innate excellence of our reality.
(This series originally appeared on Bahaiteachings.org. The complete series can be found by choosing Healing Racism from our site menu.)