The Lord of the Rings and the Will to Power

I watched The Lord of the Rings again tonight. I was intrigued by the idea that the reason that Hobbits were chosen to carry The Ring was that they had no desire for power, while humans did. It made us power-hungry humans look pretty bad. But as William Hatcher explains in his book, Love Power and Justice, it is not the desire for power itself, but rather the desire for power over others rather than oneself, that is the essence of all evil. I believe that understanding and recognizing this distinction is of critical importance at this point in the development of the Bahá’í Community. Religion, whose primary purpose is to give us power over our own souls, can very easily be perverted – to be used to exercise power over others. We see this in the rise of fanatical and fundamentalist Christian and Moslem groups who try to control the behavior of believers and non-believers alike. We see it in members of clergy who use their position to abuse and exploit their followers. But we can also see it in our own communities when individuals and/or Assemblies become more concerned about controlling other people’s behavior than in manifesting love, unity and encouragement of others. This desire to control other community members springs from a view of the purpose of religion that is fundamentally different from the one I aspire to.

I believe that the Community may be at a crossroads. Each of us needs to consider which view of religion we wish to encourage. Do we want to use the Bahá’í teachings as clubs to beat other people over the head with in order to force them to behave in certain ways, or do we use them as sources of personal inspiration that change the way we treat other people? Are the Bahá’í laws tools for guiding our own spiritual development, or excuses for looking over the shoulders of our fellow believers? Is the administrative order a structure with which to coerce people into approved behavior, or a fountainhead of guidance and encouragement? When your Assembly meets, does consultation revolve around “how do we get the community or an individual to do XYZ,” or does it revolve around “how can we become more loving “Parents,” more encouraging, better examples?” How much of your time is spent trying to change the actions of other Bahá’ís or non-Bahá’ís rather than loving them? Though the following passage refers to national institutions, I believe it applies just as much to local Assemblies:
He hopes your Assembly will devote special, constant attention to encouraging the friends in their teaching work, and facilitate their tasks. As the new National Assemblies are being formed, he feels it incumbent upon him to issue a word of warning to avoid rules and regulations and tying the believers’ work up in red tape. Over-administration can be even worse for the Faith at this time than under-administration. The believers are, for the most part, young in the Cause, and if they make mistakes it is not half as important as if their spirit is crushed by being told all the time – do this and don’t do that! The new National Body should be like a loving parent, watching over and helping its children, and not like a stern judge, waiting for an opportunity to display his judicial powers. The reason he points this out to you is that constantly, for the past twenty years and more, he has been pointing this out to the old and tried National Assemblies, and he does not want the younger bodies to make the same mistakes.
(Shoghi Effendi: High Endeavors, Page: 35)

The one thing I got out of my workshop with Wm. Hatcher is the realization that, not only is trying to exert power over other people evil, it is almost universally ineffective! Success requires training and encouragement. In a different workshop, I was given a quotation from the UHJ that promised that when training and encouragement are in place, success is guaranteed. Training and encouragement are not the same as control. Control overpowers the other person’s will, while training and encouragement empowers the other person’s will. This, then, is the question that you and/or your Assembly can use when determining whether your decisions are appropriate: does this decision attempt to reduce a community member’s control of their own actions, or does it attempt to increase their control of their actions through training and encouragement? Please note that shaming a person for doing something wrong is not the same as training them in how and why to do it right.

As the world outside gets darker and darker, there will be two kinds of Communities evolving. One will believe that protection comes from purifying, perfecting and controlling the behavior of every active member of their group. They will focus on attacking every sign of darkness they can find. The other will dedicate themselves to serving, adoring and praising one another without distinction. They will focus on shining as much light into the world as possible. They will be applying the Bahá’í teachings to their own lives rather than promoting the Bahá’í teachings to others. I believe that the growth of the national community will be directly proportional to the number of local communities who chose the second path.

Tyranny of the One, or Terrorist Tactics in the Consultative Process.

This article originally appeared in my catalog, addressed to the Baha’i Community, but the points it makes can be applied to any group trying to make a decision.

There are many things that an individual can do to make sure that his or her opinions and desires prevail over the combined good sense of the other eight people in a consultation.  Don’t think that I am aiding and abetting the manipulative by explaining them here – those who use them are quite aware of their effectiveness, even if they are used subconsciously.  It is those who cave in under their tactics that need to be forewarned and forearmed.  These tactics include:

  1.  The one who talks the loudest wins
  2. The one who is the most restrictive wins
  3. The one who claims the moral high ground by being the most narrow-minded, puritanical or judgmental wins
  4. The one who is most fearful and can imagine the most dire consequences for the alternate path  wins
  5. The one who is the most emotional wins

These techniques are often played like cards, with restrictive trumping loud, emotional trumping restrictive, and, of course, a loud, emotional, fearful expression of the dire consequences of not following the most narrow-minded puritanical path being the highest trump of them all.

Since any action offers more potential problems than no action at all, a person who wants to maintain control of a community can easily use these techniques to guarantee that many hours of consultation result in absolutely no movement in any direction.

It is too much for anyone to expect these petty tyrants to change their ways.  It is up to the rest of the believers to simply learn to recognize these techniques for what they are, and simply walk around them.  If a person is loud, simply thank them for their contribution and then make sure that all other voices are heard – even, perhaps, asking other people to speak up when they share.

If a person is being narrow-minded and restrictive, thank them for their perspective and remind them that the Faith includes a wide range of cultures and perspectives, and that we may have to travel a middle path in order to let everyone feel comfortable.  Not everyone is ready or able to walk the path of perfection just yet.

How many times have I heard the phrase “the Cause deserves the very best” as a way of making sure that the Cause got nothing – whether it was a Bahá’í Center or fun activities for the youth.

If they are fearful, ask if the community wants to make decisions based on fear rather than trust in God.

One community had to completely reorganize a race unity event because one person tearfully expressed the fear that if the entertainment took place before the potluck, then someone might bring some food with eggs in it, and it might get hot, and that extra 20 minutes might be just enough to poison everyone there.  We might as well start holding our meetings over the phone, because someone might get hit by a car on their way to the meeting.

Emotional blackmail is one of the most difficult things for a community to overcome.  We are so uncomfortable with emotional expression, that we are willing to cave in to any request just to get it to stop.  The first thing we can begin to do is to become more intimate with each other.  When we are intimate, we share emotions.  When we become comfortable with people sharing a wide range of emotions, then we will not panic when it happens during consultation.  The second thing we can do is simply say “Thank you for that piece of sharing.  Emotions are important tools of perception to tell us about the virtues and principles involved in a situation.  But they are only one of several mutually supportive and mutually fallible tools.  Would anyone like to address the rational and writings-based evidences that would be pertinent to this question?”  Emotions then become one tool in the process rather than the trump card that blasts away the seemingly cold, hard intellectual perspectives.

The one-step cure for Community disunity:

I have outlined several of the techniques that people use to hijack consultation, and the responses you may use for each of them.  But ultimately, you cannot control the response, behavior or votes of other members of your Community or Assembly.  What you can do is simply make sure that your own vote always follows the path of love, rather than the path of least resistance.  When an issue is raised, and two or more “camps” immediately take positions, simply ask yourself which position, if either, is motivated by love rather than fear; love rather than control; love rather than perfectionism; love rather than tyranny.  Then support love – even if the specific proposal is does not impress you as being the “best.”  If neither “camp” is motivated by love, then choose neither.

Love is always the best, even when it is less logical, theological or perfect.  In always choosing love, you slowly drain the power away from all other motivations, and the community will then be guided entirely by love.

This same perspective can be used during annual elections.  Instead of looking for the most knowledgeable, most charismatic, hardest working, most visible people, vote for those whose actions, not their words, always seem to be motivated by, and expressions of, love.  Instead of electing people who are good at telling other people what to do, we can fill our administrative order with people who are good at doing what we have been called to do – loving each other.