January 27, 2013

raising children..to be like Abdu'l-Baha

O Emigrants!
The tongue I have designed for the mention of Me, defile it not with detraction. 

If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults 
and not the faults of My creatures, 
inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self 
better than he knoweth others.
~ Baha'u'llah

our children have continuously been counseled to heed the principle of Baha'u'llah to focus on one's own faults rather than other people's faults.  it's a very challenging counsel for them to uphold as it is simply too easy for them to see someone else's faults and blame them for what happened instead of looking at their own behavior, attitude or lack of virtue in the situation.

this is what has been happening in our home:  one child comes to us to complain about the other sibling's misconduct; they feel justified in their anger and are very clear about how the other person was rude, or disrespectful, or hurtful, etc.  the other sibling interrupts and defends him/herself, eager to assert how the other sibling was actually wrong in some other misconduct.  the argument then escalates to a yelling match.  this is not the way we have counseled them to behave when they are upset, yet it has been occurring with such increasing frequency after a month home on holiday break from school that it was time for this dynamic to yet again be addressed and changed.

when the screaming ended recently, both siblings walked away very angrily.  they both felt wronged.  they both wanted the other person to admit their misbehavior instead of defend themselves.  i remained silent.  my heart and mind were grappling for a permanent solution to resolve what has reached an unacceptable level of disunity, arguing and mean-spiritedness with their hearts and tongues.

after a half hour of reflecting, i talked with my husband, who was working from home, and expressed my frustration.  as parents we have come together many times over the years to consult, find agreement and put a decision into unified action as to how to address an issue of behavior and misconduct with the children.  this is an ongoing pursuit along the journey of spiritually training them as souls who are upright with a high moral rectitude of conduct for themselves as a soul in this life.
in that moment together, we agreed to have a 'family meeting' with the purpose of upholding Abdu'l-Baha's advice for having a sin-covering eye:
  1. Look only at that which is worthy of praise in another human being
  2. Be silent concerning the faults of others
  3. Pray for them
  4. Lovingly help them to correct their faults
Abdu'l-Baha never shamed anyone.  He most lovingly helped them to see their imperfection, oftentimes without necessarily saying anything, as He poured His love into their hearts.  He taught us through His example that it is essential to see only the good in the other person, even when there may be many 'bad' things to see.  He then insists that silence and prayer will be the necessary tools to heal all the wounds and re-establish a feeling of love between souls as unity will be the force which is released through these two disciplines.  when there is love in the heart again, after silence and prayer, then it may be the time to talk about what happened, with each person acknowledging how they could have behaved better -- using the spiritual powers or virtues that God has given our souls to use in this life in order to grow spiritually stronger.

these 4 steps are lofty and noble.  they are conducive to preserving our dignity and honoring each other as a soul that is loved by God, no matter how aberrant the behavior.  they create space and solitude between people instead of defensiveness and anger.  they offer the peoples of world the highest spiritual standard from which to establish true unity.

as our children sat and listened to this counsel once again, i could sense their resistance to not being able to tell us what the other sibling had done which, in their view, was 'wrong'.  i explained that we were going to concentrate on the first 3 guidelines of Abdu'l-Baha, leaving the 4th one out for now, since the tongue had become a 'smoldering fire' and had repeatedly not been used in a loving way.  anytime they were upset, they could come to us and share what they could have done better, including how to respond to an injustice with a virtue like forbearance or understanding -- rather than getting so upset that someone had made a mistake.  we reminded them that we ALL have faults, we ALL make these mistakes, oftentimes without any intention to hurt the other person but merely because we are all on the path toward perfection and naturally have our own shortcomings to overcome along the way.

we ended the family meeting with the assurance that if there was a situation that was very difficult to accept, that we could listen to each person say what they should have or could have done better.  they knew at that point that this was going to be a serious shift in their old pattern of running to us to magnify the other person's faults.  we asked them to silently reflect on what had been said for a half hour and then to resume whatever they were doing with each other.

after 3 weeks of practicing this principle of having a sin-covering eye and focusing on one's own spiritual development, the yelling and arguing have been reduced to a rare occasion.  with the exception of one time, they have all focused on how they could respond to the situation with a virtue (or many virtues!).  they are still tempted to tell us details of what the other person did but they are resisting their natural tendency to blame the other person.  we have had to come together a few times to listen to what the other person could have done better and it immediately has helped the person who felt 'wronged' feel better without them having to complain about their sibling.

as Baha'i parents, we are on a continual journey of learning as we strive to put into practice the spiritual principles revealed in the Teachings of Baha'u'llah.  we are striving to better ourselves as we strive to nurture their spiritual development.  we make many mistakes but we continue to apologize humbly and try again to do better and be better.  raising children is like climbing a never-ending ladder toward nearness to God -- the only way to climb is through prayer, effort and consultation in a humble attitude toward the glory of God's presence in our lives.  the life and ways of Abdu'l-Baha always serve to direct our efforts toward the highest possible standard of conduct for how to live our lives.

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