If I had to choose two of the many Baha’i teachings that stand out clearly from my own perspective, and that lead to a noble life, I would say: tell the truth and love others.
When I read the Baha’i writings and delve into Baha’u’llah’s teachings on how we human beings should live our lives, how we should conduct ourselves, how we should be, those teachings recommend a wide variety of spiritual qualities we should develop – from patience to humility to determination to forgiveness to compassion. But for me, loving and truth-telling lead that list.
Rule #1: Tell the Truth
The importance of telling the truth is paramount in the Baha’i teachings. In fact, it is the one virtue that underpins every other noble quality we may try to develop. Abdu’l-Baha, cited in Shoghi Effendi’s Advent of Divine Justice, said:
Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also be acquired.
Since it is so fundamental to all other positive qualities, the Baha’i teachings encourage everyone to develop this crucial virtue. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, urged us to: “Beautify your tongues, O people, with truthfulness, and adorn your souls with the ornament of honesty.”
Why does this one particular attribute have such importance for Baha’is – and for everyone?
Jordon B. Peterson, the author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, points out that much of the time we avoid telling the truth in an attempt to manipulate the world in order to get what we want. However, in so doing, we falsify ourselves. He reminds us of what the Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler, called “life-lies” – those preconceived outcomes that we try to bring into reality. What makes them a lie is that these notions are based on limited knowledge, so when we attempt to live our life driven by these motives, we limit our experience.
We can learn, from Peterson and Adler as well as the Baha’i teachings, that living life according to our own limited understanding and biased perspective estranges us from our true selves and our true destiny.
If I live my life by trying to bring into fruition my own idle fancies and obsessions, I will block out many of life’s possibilities – and I will also lead an inauthentic life. I will continually compromise my true identity, just so that I can attain my aims.
A more authentic way to live is to be truthful. Instead of trying to shape the outcome in every situation by acting in dishonest ways or telling untruths, I’ve realized, I should just be real and speak the truth. A noble life is one in which I am who I am: I speak honestly and deal with the consequences. This is integrity.
But more than leading to integrity, truth-telling also leads to freedom and possibility. If I just have limited, pre-defined ideas about what I want in life and try to manipulate others to attain them, not only am I using and abusing those people through my words and actions; I am also abusing myself – because I’m denying myself the chance of discovering new possibilities that lie beyond the parameters of my own preconceived notions.
On an even wider social level, truthfulness builds the foundations for social stability. Truthfulness is intimately connected to trustworthiness, the main means to deter and eliminate corruption. Many, if not all, social problems could be either eliminated or lessened through truthfulness and trustworthiness – however, many societal leaders taint their governmental systems through the perpetuation of corruption. There can be no social stability if corruption continues, because there can be no complete trust in the people who claim to lead a society. Rigged elections and the embezzlement of funds would cease to exist if politicians were truthful and trustworthy.
So, being truthful in word, deed and being means we need to speak our truth and be ourselves no matter what.
RELATED: How to Share Our Truth With Others
Rule #2: Love Others
The other important key quality that can help us in life is love. The Baha’i writings are filled with encouragement to love others. For example, Abdu’l-Baha said “… let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.”
Many other virtues exist, but most of them are very much intertwined with love. To forgive others, we need to love them. To care for others, we need to love them. To help others, love gives us the impetus, the strength, and the kindness necessary.
In a word, to live in the world with other people, developing a sincere love for others means not being solely concerned with our own selves. Instead, when we genuinely care about others, it changes both ourselves and those we love. To solve the conflicts in the world, all compounded by differences in political and religious views, we need to genuinely love those who seem different from us. The Baha’i teachings say:
Strive, therefore, with heart and soul that ye become ignited candles in the assemblage of the world, glittering stars on the horizon of Truth and may become the cause of the propagation of the light of the Kingdom; in order that the world of humanity may be converted into a divine realm, the nether world may become the world on high, the love of God and the mercy of the Lord may raise their canopy upon the apex of the world, human souls may become the waves of the ocean of truth, the world of humanity may grow into one blessed tree …
Love is connected to truth. Yes, we need to tell the truth, to be authentic, to be ourselves. But we also need to consider how this affects others. We need to speak with honesty and tact. We need to say what’s on our minds but at the right time. This calls for a deep love for those we communicate with.
A noble life is like a house. Truthfulness is the foundation, the bedrock on which we build all the other virtues – while love is the mortar that holds all those virtues together.