Mankind is gradually developing a more democratic way of life. Not only is democracy as a system of government becoming increasingly widespread throughout the world, but it can be seen more and more at work, at school and at home. Democracy can only work well, however, if people can consult properly together - and consultation is not as easy as one might think. The Bahá'í Faith has its own system and guidelines for consultation. This leaflet is an attempt to explain them so that some of the ideas may be taken up by others for their own use.
The goal of consultation the Bahá'í way is to discover the best course of action to take for the well-being of all. If the individual consultants have any other goal than this - for instance, to gain power, win an argument, or increase their wealth or fame - their ambitions will only get in the way and the consultation will not be completely successful in achieving its goal.
From the above it is clear that, in order to consult successfully, the participants need to have certain qualities. The Bahá'í writings say that they must have pure motives, love God and want to serve humanity. In addition, they should be patient, humble, just and open-minded. Bahá'ís electing their administrative bodies should vote for
"those who can best combine the necessary qualities of
unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-
trained mind, of recognised ability and mature
Above all, those who consult must be united. This means, among other things, that they must set aside personal dislike for the sake of reaching the best decision.
As we look at consultation in more detail, it will be seen how necessary all these qualities are.
This is the procedure for Bahá'í consultation:
establish the full facts;
decide on the principles to be applied;
discuss the matter;
make a decision.
Each of these steps is preceded by prayer, both to invoke the help of God and to remind those consulting of what their attitude should be. If problems arise during the consultation, prayers are said to resolve the difficulties. Other groups of a spiritual nature might like to adopt this approach.
"True consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love."
Establishing the Facts
Often parliaments, committees and so on fail at the beginning of consultation by not being able to agree on the facts. This is not because there are no solid facts to be found, but because the members, if they are only interested in having their own way, may reject the facts which do not suit their case. However, the advances made in data-gathering in this century should ensure that correct information is available. This information must then be viewed objectively. This should be possible for every consultative body.
A pitfall in the consultation within many organisations is not being able to agree on the underlying principles. Bahá'ís are fortunate not to have this problem, since there are Bahá'í laws and principles which may be applied to every situation. In groups which do not have this common understanding, time must be spent reaching basic agreement on the principles to be applied before consultation can properly begin.
Bahá'í consultation calls for unity of purpose - not unity of opinion. The Bahá'í writings say that: "The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions."
Note that it is the opinions which clash and not the people. Everyone should express his or her opinion with the conviction that it will contribute in some way to the discussion. Each should speak frankly, but with courtesy and moderation. No-one should be too shy to offer an idea. On the other hand, after a person has stated a point of view, it should not be repeated over and over again.
"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."
All opinions must be listened to with an open mind and judged fairly. Shouting, sarcasm and name-calling cause feelings of hostility which obscure the truth and make proper consultation impossible. A chairperson must be elected who will ensure that everyone participates; that each opinion is listened to carefully and considered on its merits; that no-one dominates or diverts the discussion.
Each idea must be offered to the group as a gift: it should not be identified in anyone's mind with the person who first suggested it. This means that the idea can be changed and developed, or even rejected, without anyone feeling hurt. If the participants are adopting the right approach, they will be able to see the best course of action to be taken, whatever their own original opinions might have been. It happens quite frequently in Bahá'í consultation that a person will change his or her mind completely during the course of the consultation and even argue against an idea they originally suggested.
Making a Decision
If the consultation has gone successfully through the preceding steps, making a decision will probably prove the easiest part. It is likely also that it will be a unanimous decision. But if unanimity cannot be achieved, a majority opinion must prevail. Each member should respect the consulting body enough to carry out its decision obediently and confidently - even if he or she did not vote in favour of it.
"No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no
well-being can be attained except through consultation."
Unity in itself brings benefits. When a decision is not obeyed, it is never certain whether it was wrong in itself or whether sabotage made it fail. When a decision is carried out wholeheartedly, however, it soon becomes apparent if the decision was wrong and it can quickly be reversed. But if the decision was right the benefits will be felt immediately.
"Take ye counsel together in all matters, inasmuch as
consultation is the lamp of guidance which leadeth the
way, and is the bestower of understanding."
Some Effects of Bahá'í Consultation
No more industrial disputes. Impartial, trustworthy consultative bodies would seek out the terms which would best serve employees, employers and the community at large.
Law would cease to be a battle of wits if justice were truly the object of all legal procedures. Rather than "defence" and "prosecution" there should be a system of consultation aimed at establishing the truth.
Science and medicine would progress. Bahá'í consultation would eliminate professional jealousies and free both science and medicine to forge ahead faster with whatever is beneficial to mankind as a whole.
Party politics would become unnecessary because the representatives of the people would unite to search for the best solutions to the nation's problems.
International Co-operation Leaders of nations would no longer make decisions solely on the basis of national interests. As the peoples of the world see just decisions being made, national hatreds and mistrust will die out, and peace will become possible...
Published by the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Warwick.
Approved by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom,
27 Rutland Gate, London, SW7 1PD.