“The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude. …” —’Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in Baha’i Administration
Consultation. Baha’is believe it is fundamental to building a just, peaceful world.
Ascertain the facts. Identify applicable spiritual principles. Discuss frankly but courteously. Detach from any view you offer — it now belongs to the group. Arrive at a decision, unanimously if possible or by majority vote. Support the decision wholeheartedly and work for its success — that will ensure an honest evaluation. Make any needed changes.
What’s not to like about such a process?
Which is why individual Baha’is, having seen its potency in the operation of their Faith’s administrative bodies, humbly offer it in all the spheres of their lives — family, work, community involvement — as a way to potentially transform the way decisions are made and carried out.
The folks whose stories are told here are but a few.
No problem too big to solve
Jacquie Richards of Meridian, Idaho, says flat out, “Consultation is, and has been, how we solve every crisis since my son was 14 years old.”
Considering he’s now 44, that’s quite a statement. Here’s how she tells the story:
“Some years ago when I was a single mother raising a teenage son, we had our first major argument that escalated into a strong disagreement.
“I didn’t know how to handle it at all. I took the car keys and went out driving, praying, and thinking. When it was clear to me what I should do, I went back home.
“When I walked in to the house I told my son to look up in the Writings anything he could find on a parent’s responsibility to their children. I wanted to know where I was failing him and what I could do better. While he did that, I looked up everything I could find about a child’s responsibility to his parents.
“When we both felt we had time to find what we needed we came together and read to each other what we had found. We both ended up crying and hugging each other and finding many things we could do better and differently.
“That was the one and only big problem I ever had raising my son. After that, we could solve anything with the writings and consultation in a loving manner.
“He is 44 today and I am 65 and he has a wonderful 11-year-old Baha’i son. We are all much closer than the average family and our ties are wonderful.”
A team, even in retirement
Relationships outside the home can evolve into something akin to family, too.
At the time Ken Jasnau retired in 1995 he was a field manager in Milledgeville, Georgia, with the state Department of Human Services.
He supervised 27 county offices of the Division of Family and Children Services and their more than 1,000 employees.
That’s a lot of people, and a need for a lot of communication and shared understanding.
“In order to accomplish my mission, I formed a management team of 27 county Division of Family and Children Services directors,” says Jasnau, who now lives in Eatonton.
“We met every other week and I introduced them to Baha’i consultation and we utilized it in every meeting. And they loved it.
“Most of them also utilized Baha’i consultation skills and techniques with their own local county management teams.”
That’s cool enough. But here’s the kicker:
“Now this may be hard to believe,” says Jasnau, “but this management team, although all members are now retired, has continued to meet on a quarterly basis, generally with 18 to 20 members present.
“And I attribute this to the impact that the principles and techniques of Baha’i consultation had on them and how it brought about such a group cohesion which has continued to have an impact on the individuals of this management group.”
Turnaround on a dime
Jacquie Osborne of Florence, Alabama, had a similar experience.
“In 2002 I was hired as Head Start director for Florence City Schools in Alabama. Head Start is reviewed by a federal team once every three years,” she explains.
“At the previous review, deficiencies were found in the program that filled two notebooks each three inches thick and the program had done nothing to address them. Our next federal review was in six months.”
Osborne immediately kicked into high gear.
“I have been a Baha’i for a long time, and know the power of consultation. Using those principles I worked through the program with the managers and staff. And when we had the review the team found only three items that still needed to be addressed, [and they] could be listed on one page.
“When members of the federal team asked me how this miracle had been accomplished I was not shy about giving all the credit to the consultative skills taught by my religion.”
Modeling the peace they seek
An online discussion group on furthering global peace had need of guidelines that would ensure its internal peace.
Enter Alexander Zoltai, a Baha’i in Kettering, Ohio.
Zoltai began the group in Second Life, a site that allows people to inhabit three-dimensional animated worlds related to their interests, as an extension of a novel, Notes from An Alien, he wrote that portrays Baha’i principles.
“There came a time, about 40 weeks into the initiative, when it became important to help the group shape itself into a coherent entity, learning more about methods of furthering global peace and creating its own agenda for discussion and possible action,” says Zoltai.
“I introduced guidelines based on Baha’i consultation for the group’s consideration and found ready acceptance of the principles. Those not yet members of the Faith deeply appreciate the non-adversarial nature of the guidelines.”
A website was created to share group members’ “feelings, thoughts, concerns and questions,” he says, and he included many Baha’i resources among the array of material available for further study.
“It is extremely heartening to realize the potential for acceptance of the principles of consultation by people from many different countries who … are eager for methods that can help them in their exertions to further global peace,” says Zoltai.
Knocking down barriers
Dora Garcia’s daughter is the lone registered Baha’i in her junior youth group in San Antonio, Texas.
Doesn’t seem to matter a bit. All the families have grown close over the year since the group was formed.
“We’ve gone camping a couple of times. All of the parents go,” says Garcia. “Most of the moms are really supportive of all the activities, and we’ve grown to really know and love each other.”
Those bonds paid off when the children’s Montessori school closed.
“Obviously, the likelihood of all of the group finding a school where we could all move together was very low,” says Garcia.
It became immediately clear, however, “that no one wanted to let our group [suffer] the fate of splitting up unless we had tried our absolute best to keep our ‘little family’ intact.”
“Intense consultation began — both in person and even via conference call. A decision was made to contact a nearby Montessori school as a group.”
Some parents had already tried individually but were unsuccessful because of limited space at the school. So even when the school principal agreed to meet with the parents, hopes weren’t high.
That all changed as the meeting was about to break up.
“As we left the principal asked the group if we were always this close, or were we united because of what we were going through,” she recalls.
“Two of the parents responded that we were like family, and that over the past year our kids have been involved in this youth group, and all of the parents participate, and because of this we had become very close.
“He seemed impressed with this and said he would be OK with our kids attending but the truth was it wasn’t totally up to him. He would have to bring this to the school board and also ask the parents of the children already attending the school.”
Five long days later the principal called back with good news.
“He said it was unanimous,” says Garcia. “The parents of the school … all had deepest empathy for what we were going through and agreed make room for our group.
“Their plans included knocking down a wall in the school so that there will be enough room to accommodate all of the children, and the school is to hire an assistant teacher to help with the extra student population.”