Characteristics of Clusters that show Progress  by Mr. Donoval

These are personal notes taken while listening to this talk. They do not reflect the whole talk, may very well include misunderstandings, for sure does not cover all that was said during the talk, conveys the subjects and his reasoning in a much more condense form than the talk itself, and the text is my text reflecting what I understood to have been conveyed.

Mr. Donoval (member of the International Teaching Centre) talked about a few things successful clusters share. In other words, he elaborated on what clusters that have shown progress have in common. These are:

1. Learning as the Mode of Operation

We are engaged in building a divine civilization, that is our purpose. Such an enterprise cannot be achieved without plans, systematic effort, coordination and guidance. We have all that we need to build a new civilization (writings, guidance, instruments etc.) but at the same time, we have no pre-defined and set formulas for success. We have to learn this. What we are engaged in is very complex, but following the guidance, we are learning and will continue to learn bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece.

Clusters that are adopting “learning as the mode of operation”, are experiencing progress and success. In the Ridvan 2014 message, the Universal House of Justice says;

“Yet whatever the level of activity in a cluster, it is the capacity for learning among the local friends, within a common framework, that fosters progress along the path of development.”

All realities are different and as such, it is the dynamic interaction between “guidance” and “experience”, that allows for everyone to become active agents of learning.

Operating in a learning mode requires humility. Humility is about understanding that we are in the beginning of a huge spiritual enterprise. When we think that we know, we do not learn anymore. We benefit from constantly bearing in mind that there will always be more that we don’t know compared to what we actually know.

In this regard, learning how to read the reality in which we are operating is part of this and what we learn, adds to the body of knowledge.

Humility also means we need to listen much more. For instance, in one cluster, the friend saw the need to learn more about the reality in neighborhood. They set out to have conversations with the people living in their neighborhood. They engaged in distinctive and meaningful conversations and found out that most of those they talked to, wanted to change their society but that they did not think it was possible, they did not see hope. The friends consulted and reflected based on this experience and realized they need to deepen more about the concept of hope and how they could help instill more hope in those who want to see a change but consider it to be impossible.

2. Unity and Collaboration

We only learn when we work together. In clusters where there is friendship, there is success. The Master was invited several times to visit the American Continent. He responded that when you are united, I will come. So unity is needed for attracting divine assistance.

Unity is not the mere absence of conflicts but more than that. It is a culture of mutual support and assistance. One of the instruments for building unity is consultation and we need to learn to use consultation in our communities. Sometimes friends are frank and open but they hurt other when they speak. Others are very kind but does not express or say what needs to be said. We need to learn to consult in a way that is frank, open and kind.

Unity is not that all do the same thing. Each one of us can be a builder of unity by our actions and behavior. For instance, let say a Bahá’í enters a gathering. She can contribute directly to causing conflict and disunity and this is not good at all. She can also be neutral, that is, neither causes any disunity nor unity. This is better than the first alternative but there is better way. She can, through her action and behavior, enter a space and elevate the level of unity in that space. This can be through praying for the others, helping them and so on. So each one of us can be a builder of unity by elevating the unity of the space we are in.

In one cluster, two pioneers lived together but they were very different. One was very social and outgoing and the other much more calm and structured. If for instance, the more structured one would say, I am taking out the trash and ill be back in 3 minutes, she was back in 2 minutes. If the outgoing one said the same thing, she would be back in 3 hours and tell how she met the grandfather of a kid, and then talked to his wife and so on. They were very different. In fact, the outgoing one got the nickname “expansion” and the structured one got the nickname “consolidation”. They were telling that it was very difficult and at times, one of them wanted to go back home. But they worked with this issue, realized the importance of unity and after conscious effort, they learned to appreciate each other’s strengths and work together in unity.

We should remember that what we are engaged in is very different from what we see in the world around us. Many of the concepts and ideas around us, such as judgment, complaining, criticizing, or even constructive criticism, does not have any place in the Bahá’í system.

3. Idea of Capacity Building

We believe that every human being has the capacity to recognize God and to be a promoter of a better world. We “[r]egard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value”. In the Ridvan Message of 2013, Bahaullah is quoted with the following words:

“With the utmost friendliness and in a spirit of perfect fellowship take ye counsel together, and dedicate the precious days of your lives to the betterment of the world and the promotion of the Cause of Him Who is the Ancient and Sovereign Lord of all.”

We have well proven instruments to achieve this, but we need to exercise in using them. It is like a violin player, who has the perfect violin as instrument. This is not enough, the violin player need to put in time and effort to learn to play the violin. It is like an artist, who has to learn to master the tools she has at her disposal.

In one of the clusters, the friends went out to talk to parents about children classes. They all had the same experience that the parents were very suspicious and not positive to the idea and concepts being presented. They could have concluded that the area is not receptive and leave it at that. They did not do so, instead they asked themselves, how can we explain the children classes in a way that goes beyond the initial suspicion? In posing this question and reflecting on it, they build capacity.

4. Time and Effort

When we do might effort for a noble goal, we get confirmations. Intensity is conducive to progress and success. Intensity means doing more, going out of our comfort zone and sacrificing. Intensity will bring confirmations and progress but not always where we thought it would come.

In one cluster, two friends had been working there for five years and were about to leave as pioneers. When asked about their cluster, they said that they never, during these five years, felt that it was ok or good in their cluster. However, they were asked to document their experiences before leaving and once they had documented all their experiences, they realized that so much had changed and the progress they had made during these five years.

5. Prayers and Faith

Finally, clusters that have shown progress, have also relied on the power of divine assistance, and have had faith in growth.