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Acts of Service, Wildflowers...and Honey

When we look at the state of the world today, we can’t help but feel deeply saddened, disturbed and disheartened by the devastating suffering that so many people are experiencing. Whether it is due to the horrific wars and conflicts that are currently happening in different parts of the world, or the plight of those suffering due to oppression, injustice or poverty, or the harrowing effects of climate change.

Yet we know that it doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it be this way.

Baháʼu’lláh emphatically stated that we are all created “from the same dust”[1]; that we are all members of one human family, and citizens and co-stewards of one planet. He taught that “the well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established”[2], a unity which embraces diversity, and is not confined to uniformity.

With this vision in mind, all over the UK, and the world at large, Bahá’ís and their families and friends, communities, and institutions are striving to translate these principles and beliefs into practice. Each are concerned for the well-being, prosperity and unity of the whole human family.

The Bahá’í approach places great emphasis on education, both spiritual and material, for bringing about social transformation. This is an enduring spiritual education that addresses the root causes of many injustices facing humanity and focuses on fundamental social change. It is an “…education in spiritual values…[that will] foster respect for all people, so that human honour and dignity may be preserved and a global ethos may evolve in which all human rights are upheld”.[3]

Individuals and institutions working towards building a more peaceful, prosperous and equitable world know that building unity requires tremendous effort, collaboration and time, as well as an ever-increasing number of people who share in this vision.

I recently had an experience that highlighted to me the importance of these principles.

I live in a small neighbourhood in East London, with my husband and two young children. For the past five years, my children have been participating in a children’s class with children from other families in the neighbourhood, all from different faiths and beliefs. These classes, which are inspired by the Bahá’í spiritual educational programme, take place throughout the United Kingdom, and indeed throughout the world, and seek to cultivate within children spiritual qualities, such as love, kindness, generosity, and courage.

One of the key aspects of this educational programme is service: that is, children are encouraged to identify ways in which they can put these spiritual qualities into action, for the benefit of others. So, through the process of consultation – which the children were learning about – the children decided that our local city farm needed a clean-up. One sunny Saturday morning, some 20 families from our neighbourhood came together with gloves, bags and litter pickers to clean up the discarded bottles, plastic bags and rubbish that had been littered around the farm. But, instead of just picking up litter, we decided to also scatter wild flower seeds to beautify the farm. It was hard work, but an extremely unifying experience that brought great joy to our neighbourhood.

At dawn the next morning, my four-year-old son came charging into the bedroom, adamant to head out to the farm to see the flowers! Of course, much to his disappointment, I had to explain that there wouldn't be anything to see, as growing flowers takes time. He waited patiently for a week…a month…and yet nothing seemed to change on the farm. I too felt a degree of disappointment that the children couldn't see the tangible results of their service project.

Fast forward two years. Not only is the farm now beautified by wild flowers, but there is a big sign hanging over a paddock that reads, “The bees are back! Local honey for sale!”

Now of course I don’t know if we can take full credit for the return of the bees, but I like to think that our little service project had something to do with it, and that it no doubt supports the work of those bees and our ecosystem.

I wanted to share this story to illustrate how change takes time. As much as we would like to bring unity and justice to the world now, it doesn’t happen overnight. And because true and lasting change is about transforming and connecting human hearts, it requires persistent effort and will over time. When we work together for the betterment of the world, we can’t imagine what the results might be. We set out to beautify our local farm and, in return, not only did we get an abundance of wild flowers, but the bees came back!

When I look at the state of the world – the suffering, the injustices, the conflicts, the grief – I sometimes think to myself, if only it were as easy as clearing up the litter and scattering wild flowers seeds.

Yet, every individual action that we take towards peace, every conversation or dialogue that we have towards greater understanding, every community initiative that we take towards building social cohesion, every decision an institution makes towards justice – are not each of these a seed that we are planting? And even if we don’t see the wildflowers, or can even imagine the honey, we have to trust and believe that each of these actions can and will contribute to the betterment of our world.

"Acts of Service, Wildflowers...and Honey", thoughts by Shirin Taherzadeh (Social Justice Trainer and Facilitator) made at the Parliamentary Reception for the APPG on the Bahá’i Faith.

[1] Baháʼu’lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic no. 68 [2] Baháʼu’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baháʼu’lláh, CXXXI [3] Bahá’í International Community, The Greatness Which Might Be Theirs: Protection of Women's Rights. Reflections on the Agenda and Platform for Action for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women: Equality, Development and Peace, 26 August 1995

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