Four months ago, 1 February 2014, we embarked on a journey. One where we promised to attempt to put into words the love, respect, and gratitude we felt for our families. We opted to share stories, experiences, sentiments, and lessons learned from our sisters, our mothers and most recently our fathers. Our goal was to express, from the deepest recesses of our hearts, sincere appreciation for each member of our nuclear family and to honor them for assisting us in the acquisition of the positive attributes that are guiding us throughout our daily lives as we do our part to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization. In part, we have we reached our goal, but the journey continues.
We know there is much to celebrate given the strengths of our nuclear families. In an attempt to build on these strengths, we reflect on the additional aspects of family life that contribute to an environment conducive to the growth of an individual. However, before doing so, it seems fitting to take a deeper look at the nature of family life itself. The United Nations definition of family published in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that family is “the natural and fundamental group unit of society…”. Family is indeed the most basic unit of organization. Not only does a family serve as a model of how society structures itself and interacts with others, it also serves as the space where habits and ideologies (healthy and unhealthy) are formed. These same habits and ideologies are then carried into society—either contributing to that which is beautiful or detrimental—the world over. At a gathering in New York in 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Baha said:
Compare the nations of the world to the members of a family. A family is a nation in miniature. Simply enlarge the circle of the household and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations and you have all humanity. The conditions surrounding the family surround the nation. The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation. Would it add to the progress and advancement of a family if dissensions should arise among its members, all fighting, pillaging each other, jealous and revengeful of injury, seeking selfish advantage? Nay, this would be the cause of the effacement of progress and advancement. So it is in the great family of nations, for nations are but an aggregate of families. Therefore, as strife and dissension destroy a family and prevent its progress, so nations are destroyed and advancement hindered.
If you pause and reflect for a moment you will no doubt recognize that the advancement of the nations is hindered. The world appears to be stuck in stage of adolescence, striving for selfish gains through needless wars, the oppression of women and children, wealth in the hands of few while the masses can barely provide for themselves. If a “family is a nation in miniature” as ‘Abdu’l-Baha says, and the nation is in trouble, then so must be the family. Therefore, if humanity is to come of age it will require that family life, in addition to many other institutions of society, undergo a transformation.
One aspect of this transformation is the need for the nuclear family to be further united with extended family in their efforts to acquire and practice principles that guide both the material and spiritual development of a human being. When the nuclear and extended families share in this vision of acquiring and practicing principles—such as justice, the freedom from all forms of prejudice, the equality of men and women and education for all people—all the members of the extended family contribute to, and gain from, the collective. Consider, for example, the principle of justice. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says in The Promulgation of Universal Peace,
According to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh the family, being a human unit, must be educated according to the rules of sanctity. All the virtues must be taught the family. The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered, and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed. The rights of the son, the father, the mother—none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary. Just as the son has certain obligations to his father, the father, likewise, has certain obligations to his son. The mother, the sister and other members of the household have their certain prerogatives. All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved, yet the unity of the family must be sustained. The injury of one shall be considered the injury of all; the comfort of each, the comfort of all; the honor of one, the honor of all.
The same is true for the nuclear family as it is for the extended family, the community, the nation and the world. That is, that each person’s, family’s, community’s and nation’s “rights and prerogatives must be conserved, yet the unity of the family [extended family, nation and the world] must be sustained.” The task before us is recognizing the oneness of humankind. In the world today, humanity sees itself as having a hierarchical structure, one that divides us and pits us against one another (e.g., class and caste systems, party politics, tyranny, racism and sexism). Unless and until humanity awakens to the reality of our inherent oneness, the structures destine to support the prosperity of humankind will not shift. Herein lies the remaining portion of our goal—to awaken ourselves, our families, communities and nations to our inherent oneness. After all, we are one human family.
Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, page 138)
In every Dispensation the light of Divine Guidance has been focussed upon one central theme…. In this wondrous Revelation, this glorious century, the foundation of the Faith of God and the distinguishing feature of His Law is the consciousness of the Oneness of Mankind.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, page 36)
Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve—is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope…. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family…. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced…
It represents the consummation of human evolution—an evolution that has had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations.
The principle of the Oneness of Mankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, carries with it no more and no less than a solemn assertion that attainment to this final stage in this stupendous evolution is not only necessary but inevitable, that its realization is fast approaching, and that nothing short of a power that is born of God can succeed in establishing it.
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, page 206)