Public Discourse

Participation in Public Discourse

Compilation of guidance
on contributing Bahá'í perspectives on current issues

“two interconnected, mutually reinforcing areas of activity: involvement in social action and participation in the prevalent discourses of society.”
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

The need for public discourse

Passivity is bred by the forces of society today. A desire to be entertained is nurtured from childhood, with increasing efficiency, cultivating generations willing to be led by whoever proves skilful at appealing to superficial emotions. Even in many educational systems students are treated as though they were receptacles designed to receive information. ...the Bahá’í world has succeeded in developing a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service….
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010, §10)

Learning as a mode of operation requires that all assume a posture of humility, a condition in which one becomes forgetful of self, placing complete trust in God, reliant on His all-sustaining power and confident in His unfailing assistance….
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010, §20)

Bahá’u’lláh's Revelation is vast. It calls for profound change not only at the level of the individual but also in the structure of society…. Only as effort is made to draw on insights from His Revelation, to tap into the accumulating knowledge of the human race, to apply His teachings intelligently to the life of humanity, and to consult on the questions that arise will the necessary learning occur and capacity be developed.
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010, §25)

...every human being and every group of individuals, irrespective of whether they are counted among His followers, can take inspiration from His teachings, benefiting from whatever gems of wisdom and knowledge will aid them in addressing the challenges they face. Indeed, the civilization that beckons humanity will not be attained through the efforts of the Bahá’í community alone. Numerous groups and organizations, animated by the spirit of world solidarity that is an indirect manifestation of... the principle of the oneness of humankind, will contribute to the civilization destined to emerge out of the welter and chaos of present-day society.
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010, §26)

Progress at the technical and policy levels now needs to be accompanied by public dialogue—among rural and urban dwellers; among the materially poor and the affluent; among men, women and young persons alike—on the ethical foundations of the necessary systemic change. A sustainable social order is distinguished, among other things, by an ethic of reciprocity and balance at all levels of human organization.... Within such an order, the concept of justice is embodied in the recognition that the interests of the individual and of the wider community are inextricably linked. The pursuit of justice within the frame of unity (in diversity) provides a guide for collective deliberation and decision-making and offers a means by which unified thought and action can be achieved.
(Bahá'í International Community, Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism, 2010)

Principles of public discourse

• Independent investigation of truth and reality
• Certitude in Baha’u’llah’s revelation
• Avoiding extreme relativism and fanaticism
• Humility, our understanding is far from complete
• Continually gain fresh insights into spiritual and social reality
• Pursue knowledge with others, towards unity of thought
• Make distinction between dogma, superstition and prejudice, and the truth
• Reality or truth is one
(based on Ruhi Book 14: Participating in public discourse)

At the level of the cluster, involvement in public discourse can range from an act as simple as introducing Bahá’í ideas into everyday conversation to more formal activities such as the preparation of articles and attendance at gatherings, dedicated to themes of social concern—climate change and the environment, governance and human rights, to mention a few. It entails, as well, meaningful interactions with civic groups and local organizations in villages and neighbourhoods.
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010, §30)

The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world’s misery would very soon be changed into comfort.

A man who does great good, and talks not of it, is on the way to perfection.

The man who has accomplished a small good and magnifies it in his speech is worth very little.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks 1, The Duty of Kindness and Sympathy towards Strangers and Foreigners, 16 October 1911)

In this connection, we feel compelled to raise a warning: It will be important for all to recognize that the value of engaging in social action and public discourse is not to be judged by the ability to bring enrolments…. Sincerity in this respect is an imperative…. The watchword in all cases is humility. While conveying enthusiasm about their beliefs, the friends should guard against projecting an air of triumphalism, hardly appropriate among themselves, much less in other circumstances.
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010, §31)

Preparing for public discourse we are to understand and analyze social issues so that our contributions to the conversations in which we take part are increasingly aligned with the teachings of the Faith. increasingly involved in the life of society, knowing well that the enormous global transformation envisioned by Baha’u’llah will not come about through the endeavors of Baha’is alone.
(Ruhi Book 14: Participating in public discourse)

How do we go about understanding and analyzing issues of social import in light of the Baha’i teachings? How did I develop the perception I have of this or that issue? To what extent are my views on social issues influenced by informal conversations with friends, neighbors, and co-workers? Given that I am constantly exposed to a wide range of convincing arguments, often stemming from conflicting ideological perspectives, each aggressively propagated by the media, how do I go about separating truth from propaganda? What criteria do I use to distinguish between facts and opinion? How do I avoid presenting as the Baha’i view on a particular issue a set of ideas in vogue that are superficially akin to certain beliefs of the Faith?
(Ruhi Book 14: Participating in public discourse)

Implications of the oneness of humankind

• that the rational soul has no gender, race, ethnicity or class, a fact that renders intolerable all forms of prejudice, not the least of which are those that prevent women from fulfilling their potential and engaging in various fields of endeavour shoulder to shoulder with men;
• that the root cause of prejudice is ignorance, which can be erased through educational processes that make knowledge accessible to the entire human race, ensuring it does not become the property of a privileged few;
• that science and religion are two complementary systems of knowledge and practice by which human beings come to understand the world around them and through which civilization advances;
• that religion without science soon degenerates into superstition and fanaticism, while science without religion becomes the tool of crude materialism;
• that true prosperity, the fruit of a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual requirements of life, will recede further and further out of reach as long as consumerism continues to act as opium to the human soul;
• that justice, as a faculty of the soul, enables the individual to distinguish truth from falsehood and guides the investigation of reality, so essential if superstitious beliefs and outworn traditions that impede unity are to be eliminated;
• that, when appropriately brought to bear on social issues, justice is the single most important instrument for the establishment of unity;
• that work performed in the spirit of service to one’s fellow human beings is a form of prayer, a means of worshipping God.
(Universal House of Justice, To the Baha'is of Iran, 2 March 2013, para. 9)

A more accurate understanding of human nature would encompass qualities and attitudes such as trustworthiness, mutual support, commitment to truth, and a sense of responsibility, that are the building blocks of a stable social order. It would give rise to models which would avoid or ameliorate the ills of reductive materialism, ensuring that our pursuit of prosperity includes the many other facets of individual and collective well-being.
(Bahá'í International Community, 2022, One Planet, One Habitation, §21)

To redefine progress is not to dismiss any legitimate accomplishments of the past, but to expand the boundaries of achievements yet to come. From new approaches to ownership and usership, to new forms of urban organization, to new methods of agriculture, power generation, and transportation, the possibilities before humanity are vast. Seizing them will require a far fuller expression of the stores of human potential latent within every individual and the combined efforts of humanity as a whole. But the coming decades hold the prospect of being an exceptionally rich and rewarding period of human history. Daunting as the unprecedented scale of transformation needed in numerous sectors of society might sometimes seem, it opens possibilities for a great flourishing of human creativity and initiative.
(Bahá'í International Community, 2022, One Planet, One Habitation, §22)

Discourses related to peace

The friends are also developing their capacity for engaging those around them, regardless of creed, culture, class, or ethnicity, in conversations about how to bring about spiritual and material well-being through systematic application of the divine teachings. One gratifying result of this growing capacity is the community’s increased ability to make meaningful contributions to various important discourses prevalent in society; in certain countries, leaders and thinkers striving to address the challenges confronting their societies increasingly show appreciation for the perspectives offered by Bahá’ís. These contributions articulate insights derived from Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, draw on the experience being generated by the believers around the world, and aim to elevate the discussion above the acrimony and contention that so often prevent discourses of society from progressing.
(Universal House of Justice, to the Baha’is of the World 18 January 2019…)

Further, the ideas and lines of reasoning advanced by Bahá’ís are reinforced by their practice of consultation. Sensitized as they are to the importance of harmony and the fruitlessness of conflict, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh seek to cultivate those conditions that are most conducive to the emergence of unity in any setting. We are heartened to see the believers expanding their efforts to participate in the discourses of society—especially those friends who, in their professional capacity, are able to contribute to discourses directly related to peace.
(Universal House of Justice, to the Baha’is of the World 18 January 2019…)

Beloved friends: The devoted efforts that you and your like-minded collaborators are making to build communities founded on spiritual principles, to apply those principles for the betterment of your societies, and to offer the insights arising—these are the surest ways you can hasten the fulfilment of the promise of world peace.
(Universal House of Justice, to the Baha’is of the World 18 January 2019…)

Public discourse on environment

One of the pressing concerns of humanity today is how the resources of nature can be utilized in a way that safeguards the health of the environment, and there is a large community of people around the world who are giving attention to the many dimensions of this challenge. Some are, for instance, scientists investigating the causes of phenomena such as climate change or searching for means to curb pollution. Others are working to raise consciousness about the effects of the systems and processes of present-day society on the natural world. Still others are associated with endeavors aimed at establishing environmentally sound policies.
(Ruhi Book 14: Participating in public discourse)

In short, the question of environment is being addressed by a diversity of groups and in numerous ways. And all these efforts require engagement in ongoing interconnected conversations, of different degrees of formality, from the local to the international level. We can refer to the totality of what is being expressed about this concern of humanity – in books and articles, at summits and conferences, in the media, in classrooms and so on – as the discourse on the environment. Like any other significant discourse of society, it has a direction, and it is, to an extent that may vary, rigorous. It is public in the sense that it aspires to reach everyone who wishes to follow its unfoldment.
(Ruhi Book 14: Participating in public discourse)

One of the most pressing problems of humanity in the current century is how a growing, rapidly developing, and not yet united global population can, in a just manner, live in harmony with the planet and its finite resources…. The limited availability and inequitable distribution of resources profoundly impact social relations within and between nations in many ways, even to the point of precipitating upheaval and war [and] devastating consequences for the environment. The question of the impact of climate change... is today a major aspect of this larger problem. The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh directly and indirectly touches on a range of such concerns in a manner that speaks to a harmony between society and the natural world.
(Universal House of Justice, letter of 29 November 2017…

Public discourse in the Nine-year Plan 2022-2031

A clear sign that the society-building power of the Cause is being released in a cluster is that efforts are being made by a growing band of its inhabitants, inspired by the teachings of the Faith, to help improve the spiritual character and social conditions of the wider community to which they belong. The contribution made by Bahá’ís is distinguished by its focus on building capacity for service; it is an approach founded on faith in the ability of a population to become the protagonists of their own development.
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §16)

...within clusters, expansion and consolidation, social action, and contributing to prevalent discourses are dimensions of a single, unified, outward-looking endeavour carried out at the grassroots of society.
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §17)

Closely connected with the capacity for engaging in social action is a capacity for contributing to the discourses of society. At heart, this is simply a capacity for participating in a conversation about a matter that affects people’s lives and offering a perspective grounded in Bahá’í principles and Bahá’í experience. Viewed in this way, it is a skill which many Bahá’ís have the opportunity to practise almost daily, for instance in their studies or occupations, and which is cultivated through involvement in institute courses; in its more formal expression, it is central to the work of the Bahá’í International Community and national Offices of External Affairs.
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §19)

However, in relation to the release of the society-building power of the Faith at the grassroots, it is a capacity that comes into greater demand as closer association with a population, brought about through the work of expansion and consolidation, leads to increased consciousness of an area’s prevailing social problems, as well as of the aspirations of its people to overcome them. As the number of those participating in community-building activities rises, so does the need for the Bahá’í community to offer, as a unified body, its considered perspective on obstacles to social progress and on issues that weigh on the minds and spirits of those with whom it interacts….
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §19)

Over time, efforts to contribute to societal discourses become more systematic, and Bahá’ís become adept at helping those around them to engage constructively in a discourse and find consensus. Opportunities are sought out to share the perspectives of the Faith with community leaders and figures in authority, and spaces are created in which representatives of various groups and interests can be assisted to reach a common point of view through consultation….
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §19)

We wish to stress that, historically and now, social action and efforts to participate in the prevalent discourses of society have emerged not only in the context of growth, but also as a result of individual Bahá’ís striving to contribute to society’s progress in ways available to them. As a personal response to Bahá’u’lláh’s summons to work for the betterment of the world, believers have variously chosen to adopt certain vocations and have sought out opportunities to support the activities of like-minded groups and organizations.
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §20)

Projects, both large and small, have been started in order to respond to a range of social issues. Numerous Bahá’í-inspired organizations have been established by groups of individuals to work for many different objectives, and specialist entities have been founded to give attention to a particular discourse…. We rejoice to see these diverse, harmonious expressions of faith by the devoted followers of the Blessed Beauty, in response to the tribulations of a perplexed and sorely agitated world.
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §20)

As the contribution being made by the Faith to the progress of society in different parts of the world gains greater visibility, the Bahá’í community will increasingly be called upon to explicate the principles it advocates, and to demonstrate their applicability to the issues facing humanity. The more the intellectual life of a community blossoms and thrives, the greater its capacity to answer this call. It will be up to the followers of Bahá’u’lláh to provide, in the world of ideas, the intellectual rigour and clarity of thought to match their commitment to spiritual and material progress in the world of deeds.
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §27)

Public discourse can contribute to objectives such as:

• to help previously antagonistic groups find unity through pursuit of a common goal;
• to learn to put aside inherited customs and attitudes that belong to humanity’s period of adolescence, and to overcome prejudices of all kinds;
• to guard against any tendency to view matters with cynicism or an eye for faults, and instead sustain an eager and constructive outlook;
• to put the equality of women and men into practice;
• to cast off inertia and apathy through the exercise of individual initiative;
• to put one’s support of plans for collective action before feelings of personal preference;
• to harness the power of modern technologies without succumbing to their potentially enervating effects;
• to prize the sweetness of teaching the Faith and the joy of serving humankind above worldly interests;
• to reject the opiate of consumerism;
• to turn away from materialist ideologies and the worldviews they aggressively promote, and fix one’s gaze upon the bright beacon that is the laws and principles of God.
(Universal House of Justice, 30 December 2021, §36)

• how to bring people of different backgrounds together in an environment which, devoid of the constant threat of conflict and distinguished by its devotional character, encourages them to put aside the divisive ways of a partisan mindset, fosters higher degrees of unity of thought and action, and elicits wholehearted participation;
• how to administer the affairs of a community in which there is no ruling class with priestly functions that can lay claim to distinction or privilege;
• how to enable contingents of men and women to break free from the confines of passivity and the chains of oppression in order to engage in activities conducive to their spiritual, social and intellectual development;
• how to help youth navigate through a crucial stage of their lives and become empowered to direct their energies towards the advancement of civilization;
• how to create dynamics within the family unit that lead to material and spiritual prosperity without instilling in the rising generations feelings of estrangement towards an illusory “other” or nurturing any instinct to exploit those relegated to this category;
• how to make it possible for decision making to benefit from a diversity of perspectives through a consultative process which, understood as the collective investigation of reality, promotes detachment from personal views, gives due importance to valid empirical information, does not raise mere opinion to the status of fact or define truth as the compromise between opposing interest groups.
(Universal House of Justice, To the Baha'is of Iran, 2 March 2013, para. 10)

The efforts of the friends to build communities, to engage in social action, and to contribute to the prevalent discourses of society have cohered into one global enterprise, bound together by a common framework for action, focused on helping humanity to establish its affairs on a foundation of spiritual principles.
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2022)

Last updated 14 July 2022