Thinking past the pandemic: What’s the balance?

July 22, 2020
Thinking past the pandemic: What’s the balance?

Julie Iraninejad suspects the COVID-19 pandemic is going to last a while, so she’s “adjusting to this new normal.” 

Instead of seeing this period as a holding pattern, the Baha’i in San Diego is “really trying to see what opportunities … have been created to advance” the vision for humanity brought by Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith. 

And she is thinking ahead to how she’ll be balancing online and in-person activities to share that vision, once both options are available. 

Before the pandemic, Iraninejad was among Baha’is and friends in the Del Sur neighborhood who were hosting core community-building activities in homes, serving several dozen people.

They carried on to the extent possible after in-person restrictions were put in place in March. Meanwhile, another whole vista opened up as Iraninejad took such activities as study circles, children’s classes and women’s devotionals to a wider audience via Zoom.

“Our children’s class has grown from 10 to 80-plus children, connecting from all over the world,” she recounts. 

“And they’re getting to see Baha’is and their friends from all over the world through this, and hearing and sharing from people of all different backgrounds.”

After consulting in breakout groups during meetings, many of the children have even committed to co-host devotional gatherings with their parents where they live.

Iraninejad says people of varied ages in several time zones are enjoying the opportunity to meet online. 

Several adult participants in a study circle “come at 11 p.m. their time … because that’s the time that their kids are in bed and they are able to finally do this,” she says. 

Making participation simpler 

She tells of a friend who longed to study the courses in the Ruhi Institute curriculum, which prepare people to offer core activities to neighbors. “But the timing just never worked because she had young children.”

Now, says Iraninejad, study circles via Zoom are “allowing her to do it. She told her husband, ‘I’m going to be occupied on Wednesday evenings for the next three years.’ We’re going to keep going through each book. She’s so excited.”

And that kind of interaction likely won’t change once in-person gatherings are allowable again, says Iraninejad: “People just crave that connection.”

For the moment, it helps that at least one familiar online meeting system allows for sharing materials and gathering in breakout groups. Iraninejad expects she will keep using those resources “beyond the necessity of it that we have in the pandemic” — determined that “those faces do not disappear once people are back to interacting in ways that they were used to.”

The use of online meeting methods “has given insight into a whole population that is in need,” she says, and forced her to recognize “the limits we were putting on our own activities based on our own preconceived notions of what and how we would do them.”

A “great support network” also has arisen that should pay dividends down the line. 

Slides for many activities have been created that can be shared, she says. “These things can be downloaded and changed and edited and added to or taken out.”

Beyond that, “we can support each other since we have a common vision and are globally working towards a common goal,” says Iraninejad. 

Stronger sense of common purpose 

“I think that sense of common purpose has been enhanced by this experience. Recognizing that this is all part of the path forward for humanity is, I think, key to our own resilience.”

So the challenge now, as Iraninejad sees it, is to strike a balance going forward between activities for the neighborhood and for the wider audience.

As the global governing council of the Baha’i Faith noted in a May 9 letter, “Flexibility has proven to be an asset, but so has vigilance in ensuring that the primarily local character of community activities is not diluted; efforts to nurture flourishing communities within neighbourhoods and villages and across clusters must continue.”

At the moment, Iraninejad sees an out-of-balance situation with all activities happening online. 

“But going back to nothing online would be foolish, because there are so many opportunities and people we can reach online who wouldn’t be able to attend physically,” she reflects.

“We speak about this message [of Baha’u’llah] being for everyone,” she says. “We’ve made efforts as a worldwide community to spread this into different countries and different neighborhoods.

“And now the online space is also a new territory for us that we need to make sure we are infusing with and permeating with this message.”

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