United States: Social Action and Public Discourse Course Suggests Filters for Choosing Ways to Participate in the Discourses of Society

Nona Simons, a Bahá’í from Orangevale, California,USA, who is taking her first Wilmette Institute course, has found that the course on Social Action and Public Discourse has enriched, deepened, and focused her participation in the discourses of society. Here she shares how she selects causes in which she participates:

Joining a “like-minded” organization needs to be done with thought and to be based on knowing something about the group. When a Bahá’í takes individual initiative to participate in the discourses of society, he or she is faced with deciding which specific causes to affiliate with. In my case, I have used more than one benchmark to determine which cause I want to support. Knowing something about the causes that various civic groups support is crucial in deciding which ones will be most receptive to Bahá’í ideas.

In order to be effective in promoting Bahá’í solutions to social problems, I have gravitated toward causes that I already care deeply about. For example, I believe that all people should have access to high-quality health care. There are many civic groups in the United States that are working to develop a better health-care system, and the ones I work with need to focus issues without engaging in partisan politics.

Another group that has caught my interest is the United Nations Association (UNA). The UNA is strongly supported by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States (NSA) and by the Bahá’í International Community (BIC). The UNA promotes activities of the UN on policy issues that are under review. A friend of mine and I chose to work with the UNA in Santa Rosa, California, for over ten years. At first, the Faith was barely recognized by that group. We attended meetings, contributed flowers for conferences and other events. We came to be known as committed, trustworthy people that they could count on. Eventually, UNA coordinators made sure that the Bahá’í Information Table was located in a place that provided the best possible exposure. Occasionally, during an event where audience or group participation was required, I had a chance to introduce Bahá’í ideas in the conversation. With patience, we were consistent in attendance and dependability for the UNA. This led to cordial relationships that lasted for several years.

I am currently taking a course in becoming a Peace Ambassador that is offered through the Shift Network (the Shift). The Shift is very proactive and offers education in the skills of nonviolence, personal transformation, and running a socially responsible business. Skills taught in the Peace Ambassador Class include personal transformation work, effective listening, and skills in diplomacy and arbitration. They have also posted a website that lists like-minded organizations. This course will allow me to continue to enlarge my circle of potential contacts.

The internet is another area that has provided me with unlimited opportunities to engage in the discourses. On my Facebook (FB) page, I promote a wide range of causes that focus on human rights, the advancement of women, the elimination of poverty, and creating fair-working conditions; advocate for persecuted minorities; promote free education for all; provide information about UN activities; and promote the arts, science, and archaeology (my husband is an archaeologist). Upon perusing my FB page, all kinds of people have befriended me. I have established contacts with Bahá’ís from all over the world, and people interested in social change.

The two FB groups I interact with most are Bahá’í Human Rights Defenders (her page has many FB “albums,” which display beautiful pictures with Bahá’í quotations) and Safe World for Women (Safe World Community), which advocates human rights, reports on human-rights violations around the world, reports successes in the area of human rights, has development projects in third-world countries. Their development projects are located in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and villages in Africa and India. Women affiliated with the Safeworld Community often risk their lives to operate free schools for women and girls. They recently received the Katerva reward from a UN NGO. Participants in this group are dedicated to social action and are very supportive and friendly.

Also of importance is reflecting on the best ways to interact with members of such groups. Here, we can look to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to provide an example for us to follow. Following is a list of some of the things that ‘Abdu’l Bahá did in order to build and nurture associations with members of groups who are trying to change society for the better:

1. Expounded on teachings in every social space.

2. Was truthful and tactful at the same time.

3. Found spiritual solutions for problems in society (the exigencies of the age).

4. Demonstrated by word and deed, compassion and generosity.

5. Was always wise, loving, and comforting to people: “No one was turned away. . . .”

6. Expanded consciousness, challenged assumptions, reoriented perspective of people.

When being involved with the discourses, it is important to pray, take action, reflect, consult, and study. This is something I do with my teaching team partner. Following is a list of processes I use in participating in the discourses of society and introducing the Faith to people:

1. Enlarge circle of contacts with one or more of the following: friends, neighbors, civic groups, churches, schools, universities, clubs, public transportation.

2. Speak out against injustice without name calling, acting resentful, or being vindictive.

3. Find ways to introduce Faith in whatever activity in which I am engaged.

4. Keep in contact with friends and acquaintances.

5. Do not let myself get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT).

6. Expand consciousness by having posts about happenings and problems all over the world. Share stories of heroines, heroes, “getting it right” recovery successes (for example, alcoholism, mental illness, codependence).

Setting personal goals and evaluating them is just as important when being involved with the discourses of society as it is for teaching. Following are some of the goals I have set for myself.

1. Attend Health Care for All meetings (nonpolitical group that supports Obamacare because this is a start towards a single-payer plan).

2. Attend Organizing for America meetings. They give training in how to speak out about health care.

3. Pay ACLU membership fee, when able.

4. Join National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, when able.

5. Blog more about various issues on Safe World for Women.