The dysfunction that I’ve witnessed in Baha’i institutions is both tragic and awe inspiring. Like many Baha’is I assumed that the institutions were there to help, protect and to serve the community. Had I not been witness to them, there was a point where I would simply not have believed the things that I saw. In the second stage, I grasped at the hope that the dysfunction was isolated to the lowest rung (LSAs) or to a geographic area. But soon, I saw that this was not so. I won’t go into the details now because I’ve already talked about it a few times. Needless to say, there is something very wrong here. And it is hurting the Baha’i community severely. Yet we trundle along, managing to ignore it for the most part.
I often think about why things are as they are. Part of it is our propensity to not take cold hard looks at ourselves as a community to evaluate the results we are achieving. Part of it is the culture that prevents any and all feedback, especially if it is remotely negative. Such feedback is seen as criticism and an attack on the institutions – no matter that it be truthful and delivered with loving intentions.
Part of the problem is that the same people are elected to the same positions year after year. This causes a host of problems from feelings of entitlement, to rigid group think, to the creation of little fiefdoms. Part of the problem may be that we haven’t been able to counter a social framework that has a bias for incompetent but loud members. I read this article in Times magazine and was immediately struck by how much of it reflected what was going on in the Baha’i institutions:
“Dominant individuals behaved in ways that made them appear competent,” the researchers write, “above and beyond their actual competence.” Troublingly, group members seemed only too willing to follow these underqualified bosses.
The only way I can think of to counter these harmful built-in biases is to create a culture of transparency (something which is completely lacking in the Baha’i Faith right now), to create a sense of accountability, to institute term limits that would bring in new faces and ideas to the table, to ask the community to give feedback to the institutions and to respond to it adequately – even if it means admitting mistakes.
On the other hand, if you can’t beat them, join them!
Michael Scott of The Office
How to Get Elected to Baha’i Institutions
Wear nice clothes and be clean-cut.
Attend every single Baha’i function and meeting. When you do, go around the room shaking hands and greet everyone by name. You should attend every single Ruhi book course – even if you’ve already taken it 4 times before.
Kick things into high gear when the new year rolls around. From January to April, you should be seen and heard by every single Baha’i in your community.
Try to get on a high-profile committee that would give you as much public exposure as possible. Don’t toil away in the background doing actual work where no one can see you. For example, become a tutor and then get on the institute board. Or get on the feast committee so you can get face time with the whole community.
As you walk around, casually carry with you a well-worn Baha’i book at all times –Creating a New Mind is trendy. Or try a Ruhi book. If anyone asks you about it, look away wistfully and say you’re re-reading it and every time you do, you get something new out of it.
Speak up whenever there is a remote chance of an audience. Give mini-speeches, suggestions, pontificate or just ramble. Always have an opinion. And share it. It doesn’t matter that it is completely wrong. Just be forceful and revel in your own ignorance.
Can’t think of anything to say? Don’t worry. Just memorize some Baha’i-speak. Blurt out that “we need to prioritize capacity building and share learnings to implement the framework for action so that our pyramid advances us into A-cluster status”. It doesn’t matter that what you just said makes no sense. All that matters is that you use the vocabulary of the International Teaching Center. And say it with confidence. In other words, channel Paul Lample.