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.

Nine Things Men Gain by Promoting the Equality of Women

This is side one of my pamphlet on the equality of women and men.

From one man to another… Nine Things Men Gain by Promoting the Equality of Women

A New Kind of Power
In the past, power has usually been seen as power over someone else. But this kind of power requires that a great deal of energy be used to push backwards against someone behind or below. There is a very different kind of power that is more efficient, more effective, and much more pleasant to exercise – this is the power of cooperation. This power uses energy to pull upwards, and the more people there are who join in the effort, the higher everyone progresses. Many women are very good with this kind of power, and they make great teammates. The more equal and the more empowered your teammate, the more empowered you become yourself. So it is in your best interest to both invite women onto your team and give them every opportunity to exercise their power alongside you.

A New View of Your Soul
The soul is a reflection of the attributes (or virtues) of God. If you have always thought of yourself as a male soul in a male body, then you may have felt that you should only reflect “masculine” virtues like courage, strength and perseverance. But God is neither male nor female. There is no battle going on between god and goddess, because God is far beyond the limitations of gender. If we are to achieve our full spiritual potential, we must learn to see ourselves and others as souls first, bodies second, and genders a distant third.

New Relationships with Women
Contrary to popular opinion (and the movie When Harry Met Sally), women and men can have friendships that don’t involve sex. But to do so, we have to see each other as souls. As bodies, we relate to women as mothers, lovers, wives, sisters or daughters. These are material definitions that help us feel separate from and often superior to the women in our lives. But soul-to-soul, we become partners, teachers, helpers and friends. While a body can be judged as strong or frail, young or old, beautiful or ugly at just a glance, a soul must be experienced through a relationship in order to be appreciated. When we accept the principle of equality, we are forced to look beyond obvious physical inequalities, and look for spiritual strengths that unite us.

New Relationships with Men
Women tend to experience relationships differently than men. Differently. Not better or worse, just differently. As we learn to relate to women as equals, as friends and as souls, then we will increase our capacity to reflect a fuller range of relationship styles. We can then use these different styles if and when they seem appropriate in our interactions with other men. We may discover that seeing our fathers, brothers, bosses and sons as souls increases our desire for friendships, while having a wider range of relationship styles gives us the skills we need to maintain them.

New Emotional Flexibility
When we begin to see ourselves as souls, and look beyond the socially defined roles of our gender, then we become free to have and express emotions that were previously considered “inappropriate.” We do not give up our strength and courage; we gain sensitivity and compassion.

Reduced Stress
Trying to maintain feelings of superiority and clinging to control are both very stressful. Being the boss; being the protector; being the king of the household; being the one who is supposed to always know best; these are all roles that men are forced to play, and they can give us ulcers. Life is infinitely easier when decisions, responsibility and control are shared with strong, supportive and equal partners. This is true whether you are “in control” of a household or a corporation.

Greater Wealth
Many people imagine that wealth is something that one gathers – and then they struggle to grab their share. In reality, wealth is something we create through intelligence, creativity and effort. If half of the world’s population is discouraged from using their talents and capacities, then the wealth of the world as a whole is diminished significantly. Until recently, almost half of all art and music, half of all scientific discoveries and half of all social progress was lost or delayed because the genius that might have brought them to light resided within a female body. What would your life be like right now if the world were twice as advanced as it is? Can any of us really afford to delay equality?

A Less Violent World
As guys, we know that a verbal insult can often lead to violence. If a man is called a “stupid idiot” in public, there is a good chance that some form of revenge will be forthcoming. What we may not realize is that the non-verbal insult of treating women like stupid idiots creates an undercurrent of anger and resentment that fosters nonphysical forms of violence like emotional blackmail and sabotage. At the same time, feelings of superiority allow some men to feel that they have a right to take what they want from women, even if it requires coercion, manipulation or physical violence.

Increased Self Esteem
Oddly enough, minimizing women does not actually help men feel better about themselves. The simple reason is that, from a spiritual perspective, women and men are both reflections of the same Creator. We are made in the same image. We can’t look in a mirror and say “you’re so weak and worthless,” without feeling a little weaker and less valuable ourselves. The more good we find in women, the more qualities we will find acceptable in our own characters.

Nine Ways Men Can Work for the Equality of Women

Side Two of my pamphlet on equality of women and men.

From One Man to Another – Nine Ways Men Can Work for the Equality of Women

Listen
When we listen to women — without trying to control, seduce or patronize them — we discover that they have much to teach us. We can learn, not just from their words, but from the way they talk to us and to each other, the subjects they find interesting, and the feelings they express. Unless we listen, we may never understand why they care about the things they do, and we may miss out on some of the important things in life. Understanding what women value is a key step in learning to value women themselves.

Invite Women to Join Your Team
You are already good at what you are good at. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have teammates that are good at other things? Different perspectives and different experiences help build different skills. Women often have the skills your project needs in order to succeed. In return, you can provide the opportunity for women to develop the new skills they need — and that your project can teach them.

Study the Art of Consultation
Consultation is a decision-making process in which personalities and private agendas are set aside and everyone in a group is encouraged to offer input concerning a common goal. Letting go of ownership of an idea, and wholehearted support of the group’s decision are two key elements of the process. Women’s voices are more likely to be heard, and their ideas appreciated in this kind of setting.

Rethink Your View of Motherhood
Being a mother is not what women do when they have rich husbands or can’t find a better job. Nor is it the sappy idealized image on a Mother’s Day card. Just as the womb provides the physical nutrients needed for healthy development, a mother provides the physical, emotional and spiritual “food” for an awakening young soul. If the mother lacks food, education, serenity, self esteem or love of God, then how can these essential needs be passed down to her child?

Value Children
We will never value mothers until we value children and understand the critical importance of the first few years of our lives. For centuries we have pretended that children were “resilient” and would “get over” whatever pain, suffering and humiliation they might experience. Now we are discovering that what we have forgotten from our childhood may have a stronger influence on our habits and fears than those things we remember. The importance of healthy, happy, and empowered mothers is clear. Our future depends on them.

Be a Good Father
Support your daughter’s dreams. Make sure she receives the education and inspiration she needs to be a loving parent and a contributing member of society. In doing this, you will also be setting a good example for your sons, who need to see your respect for women demonstrated in action.

Be a Supportive Husband
Give your wife time for prayer, meditation and rejuvenation. This is a polite way of saying do your share of housework. Whether your wife works outside of the home or rears children, these are both full-time activities that are just as demanding as what you do. So set aside some time to cook, clean, do laundry, and grocery shop so that your wife will be able to recharge her batteries and be a fully empowered partner.

Stand Up for Women
This may be the most difficult act of all, because it forces us to step outside of our comfortable circle of friends, risk our own position of status, and support someone else. The process is even more challenging when we realize that we must do it with love. We are not taking sides in the battle of the sexes. We are trying to bring the sides together in greater understanding and cooperation. This is best accomplished when we focus on how much we have to gain rather than what we are giving up; how much we love unity rather than how disgusted we are by sexism.

Listen Some More
Not only to women, but also to comments by other men, advertisements, jokes, media portrayals, and (most importantly) your own soul. Become sensitive to the subtle ways in which both men and women are limited by habit, tradition, expectations and prejudice. Then practice thinking, acting and feeling differently than you have in the past.

Now, find a safe place to practice.
The Bahá’í Community is a safe place to practice developing new attitudes towards women. In it you will find men and women of all educational, racial and social backgrounds working together to understand each other better without using blame, anger or guilt as tools of manipulation. You will see women in positions of power, and find men who welcome and learn from them. It is not a utopia, but it is a safe place to start.

The Bahá’í Community is an international group of people united by their common faith in the unity of the human family. We believe that there is only one loving Creator, Whose Spirit is reflected in the hearts of both men and women of every race and nation on earth. We look at the world’s great religions—Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and the Bahá’í Faith—as progressive chapters in the unfolding book of God’s love and guidance. If that makes sense to you, then give us a call or visit our web site to find out more.

Nine Reasons to Work for Race Unity

This is the other half of a pamphlet I wrote 18 years ago. It still applies today.

1) Because racism hurts everyone. It is not just the occasional race riot or hate crime that hurts us. Rather, it is the daily dose of tension, suspicion and distrust that crosses racial lines in both directions and eats away at human potential from every side.

2) Because these tensions raise the over-all level of violence and aggression in our country, which, in turn, increase stress, depression, domestic violence, drug abuse, and a host of other social and spiritual ills.

3) Because our children deserve the chance to live in a world free of prejudice.

4) Because, “All humanity are the children of God; they belong to the same family, to the same original race.”

5) Because the belief that some people are better or more valuable than others is a spiritual cancer that can consume our souls and destroy our relationships.

6) Because love between black and white Americans will set such a powerful example that it will encourage peace and cooperation around the world.

7) Because treating everyone with dignity and respect is the spiritual essence of the Golden Rule.

8) Because making friends and feeling comfortable with people from diverse backgrounds is so much fun and feels so good.

9) Because it is God’s Will – and it is always smarter to be with God than against Him.

Nine Ways to Work for Race Unity

This is one half of a pamphlet I wrote 18 years ago.
1) Promote education – both your own and other’s, because ignorance and blind imitation are the root causes of prejudice.
2) Recognize the essential nobility of the Human Soul – Many of the symptoms of racism are the result of either projecting or internalizing feelings of unworthiness. When we like ourselves, we feel less need to hate or fear others
3) Practice the qualities of “genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom, and deliberate, persistent and prayerful effort.”
4) Become sensitive to forms of prejudice and oppression that you might experience from a different perspective, (like sexism or ageism) and apply what you learn to your own racial attitudes.
5) Develop a personal awareness of the Oneness of Humanity as a spiritual and scientific reality.
6) Read the Holy Writings of the world’s religions – including the Bible, Koran and the Bahá’í Writings – and pray for guidance every day.
7) Contemplate the mortality of your body and the immortality of your soul.
8) Develop a thirst for justice because “The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice….” and “The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity amongst men.”
9) Make lots and lots of diverse friends so that you have many opportunities to study unity and practice virtues.
“We work and pray for the unity of mankind, that all the races of the earth may become one race, all the countries one country, and that all hearts may beat as one heart, working together for perfect unity and brotherhood.
“Only have faith, patience and courage – this is but the beginning, but surely you will succeed, for God is with you!”