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.

9 thoughts on “Tyranny of the One, or Terrorist Tactics in the Consultative Process.

  1. Your summary brings back many memories of Assembly meetings where these tactics were used. Assemblies or any council/committee is wise to begin with prayer or some focus reading. It helps for the group to deepen together on the rules of consultation they will follow. This helps the chairperson guide the discussions. I have often called on the “silent ones” who withdraw when the discussion gets heated or individual take over (with one of those tactics). Even if I am not the chair, I can ask for a poling of all members. Often it was the silent ones who had the best perceptions… or had a way of getting us back to basics. I like your review here of group dynamics and how to move forward.

  2. Interesting. Emotional blackmail of any kind is petty and immature and can be very difficult and unpleasant to deal with. I have to wonder how common this really is however? I have to say that in my 40 years as a Baha’i in different parts of the world I have rarely come across the type of bad behavior you describe. Indeed I am usually struck by the wisdom and humility of those I consult with. I believe we can all be a test to each other and that sometimes great forbearance and patience is required to weave the different strands of unity and diversity but love and kindness usually prevail in my experience. I think it is good to explore the shadows and acknowledge failures when they occur and humor helps too don’t you think.

  3. All of the Baha’i Principles and Teachings are ONLY useful when they are practiced in a POSITIVE way motivated by the:

    Energy and Science of Love, Grace, and Equality, aligned with the Divine Will.

    Otherwise, the Teachings with a negative spin become Administrative Monsters that could undermine the good that is operating in the world.

    For instance a Baha’i ‘World’ Commonwealth that does not think people who aren’t Baha’is should receive inheritance as they are the heedless, and women are not fit to serve on the UHJ, etc would be harmful to Social Justice and a progressive Civilization.

    Indeed, there are so many NEGATIVE SPINS on the Teachings today that it often works for evil rather than good. Grown men serving on a House of Justice while discriminating against Women participating – is an Evil practice by the men.

    Beware of how the Teaching is spun.

  4. Spiritual consultation is not an easy task. In the process of learning how to do it well a lot of people will end up getting hurt and or disappointed. But we should not give up. The road will eventually smooth out. Right? So, how do we get better at it? One part of the answer: Study the Baha’i Writings that are concerned with spiritual consultation and speech. Maybe you’ve read them before, read them again and again and again. Memorize them if you please. Another part of the answer: Baha’is should become aware of their own individual shortcomings when it comes to relating to one another when they are consulting in groups. After each group consultation, take time to consider what occurred. We should ask ourselves questions like: Was I too passionate in my comments? Did I misunderstand what someone else said? Could I have used a better choice of words? Was I kind and tactful? Did I follow the guidelines that are provided to me through the Baha’i Writings? This subject (spiritual consultation) is of deep interest to me. I have my own faults and wish to get better at it just as I’m sure lots of other Baha’is do. In the meantime, in areas of the world where spiritual consultation is not flowing too well, it goes without saying that it helps to be patient and kind and loving. Right?

  5. I loved this article, Justice. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for writing this. I was a member of an assembly in which a person utilized all of the tactics mentioned, and more, and it was one of the most mentally/emotionally/spiritually exhausting experiences of my life.

    The Assembly in question ultimately caved to this person’s desire for control, threw anybody who “challenged” them under the bus, which eventually led to some people officially leaving the Faith or moving to different cities, which ironically caused the physical Assembly they were willing to sacrifice other people’s well-being and reputation to preserve, to dissolve, because the community no longer had at least nine adult Baha’i members.

    There is no guarantee in the Baha’i Writings that says, “so long as people attach the label “Baha’i” to their personalities, their communities will live long and prosper.” In fact, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote the opposite:

    “The first condition is absolute love and harmony amongst the members of the assembly. They must be wholly free from estrangement and must manifest in themselves the Unity of God, for they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden.

    Should harmony of thought and absolute unity be non-existent, that gathering shall be dispersed and that assembly be brought to naught. The second condition: They must when coming together turn their faces to the Kingdom on High and ask aid from the Realm of Glory. They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views.

    They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden. The honored members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority.

    It is again not permitted that any one of the honored members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness….

    If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One…. Should they endeavor to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the center of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit.” (broken up into paragraphs for an easier reading experience)

    Thus, some Baha’i Assemblies can and do dissolve into “darkness upon darkness” due to the estrangement created by its members (or one person in particular), which can simmer for years, even decades, before imploding over petty issues that have little to no importance to Baha’i community life, but everything to do with fragile egos and control issues of some of its members.

    None of us are perfect, but if there is a person or people on an Assembly who continue to seek dominance over everybody else on the Assembly and the community at large, something needs to be done to minimize this person’s influence and impact on others. I’m not suggesting that they should be “fought” or “opposed”, but they can not be allowed to run around and ruin everyone else’s life under the mantle of “unity”, or “tolerance.” I think Justice has done a good job addressing this issue, and I thank him for that.

    • My wife and I are new in a community and were elected to the LSA. The Spiritual Assembly is unable to function because of opinions on function and procedures of the assembly meetings not consistent with the Spriritual Assembly guidelines. The individual members of the local assembly tried to suggest using the Spiritual Assembly Manual but were frustrated by the intransigence of one member. The answer to these problems which are very common is personal deepening on the Administrative order with emphasis on the Spiritual Assemby Manual. That does not seem to solve the problem if the spirit of love and respect is absent in the person or persons that express antipathy to other members of the assembly or of the community. Some problems cannot be solved by reason and logic when even one person is unwilling to listen to any other ideas. I offer this comment knowing assemblies are often unable to resolve this type of problem because there isn’t the requisit number of Baha’i to hold an election; bringing about formation by declaration. Without judgement or criticism one must choose to sacrifice feelings and be patient and long suffering to help offset hard feelings. Unltimately one has to resign oneself to finding ways to continue on the path of service, teach, deepen and focus on developing oneself with quiet resignation. Contention is forbidden so focusing on service becomes the best solution outside of consultation with ABM for protection if the problems warrant it. It ultimately becomes a personal test of ones faith. I take for example the life of our beloved Master, ‘Abdu’l=Baha’ when confronted by covenant-breakers during the early years of His ministry. My goal: bring new people to this Cause and move on. We have been believers since 1965; seen it all but nothing will discourage me nor cause me to abandon this most holy Cause. In one of the comments the statement was made that some abandoned their faith. Not much love of God; to flee when things get tough!

  6. Pingback: Newsletter – on Consultation | Susan Gammage: Bahai-inspired Author

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