October 2013

Follow the Instructions — for Life


The eager owner of a new techno-gizmo, I put the packaging aside, started using it, and almost immediately was frustrated by not knowing how to turn on some of the features. In fact, I didn’t even know what some of the features were.

Then it occurred to me to read the instructions. This may sound silly to some people, but I’m probably not the only one who doesn’t read instructions. Similarly, when I cook something new I don’t follow the recipe very closely.

In the larger scheme of things, how I operate a new gadget or cook a new dish may not be important. But there are instances where instructions are perhaps even life-saving. Traffic laws; safety precautions; CPR and first aid; health and sanitation practices; these are some of the more obvious ones.

When it comes to how to live my life as a contributing member of society, there are instructions for this, too. I can be guided by moral standards, as found within religious teachings. As a Baha'í I follow the teachings of Baha’u’llah. And since He affirmed the spiritual truths within previously-established religions, I am in harmony with the followers of other faiths.

Beyond that though, He also brought “social laws.” These are teachings, relevant to our times, that will eventually bring peace and unity to our world. They include the equality of men and women; universal education; world-wide auxiliary language; standard weights and measures; elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty; spiritual solution to economic problems; authority shifted from clergy to the people; elimination of all forms of prejudice; and the harmony of science and religion.

When Baha’u’llah first taught these principles in the mid-1800s, they were advanced for their times. But gradually these ideas are being articulated elsewhere and are gaining acceptance. One example is the United Nations document “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (1948). We needn’t go beyond the Preamble to find statements that are consistent with the principles listed above.

Regrettably, even in the so-called “developed world” we fall short of fulfilling many of them. How much more is this the case in countries and regions where tyranny, prejudice and injustice are the prevailing conditions? However if we regard these principles as the “instructions” for building a peaceful society, then we can work toward taking them from theory to practice.

We humans have been blessed with free will, and that allows us to direct our own life path or at least to choose how to react to what happens to us. This also means that we can make plans for the future by seeking advice and following instructions offered by trusted experts and friends.

So the next time I buy something, I might read the instructions first — or maybe not. What is more important though is that I follow the instructions for living a good life. And here’s one I can use every day: I can ask myself “What can I do today to promote unity?” And then I’ll know what to do.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2013