Just when you thought you could breathe a sigh of relief that the government did not shut down, Washington is gearing up for yet another “battle." This time it will be about the national debt and some are predicting it will be just as difficult with even worse potential consequences. In this Sunday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof captures the frustration that many of us probably feel in the face of our government’s seeming inability to actually govern. Kristof comments, “This isn’t government we’re watching. This is junior high.”
I always find it amusing when I hear people lamenting political partisanship in Washington. People act surprised that the major parties find it difficult to “come together” and “find solutions”. Why should this surprise anyone? Our democracy works (or doesn’t) based upon an electoral system which encourages and rewards division, competition, and conflict. Yet, we expect that once politicians are elected, they will go to Washington and distinguish themselves for unity, cooperation, and civility. The political paralysis we are witnessing right now is a consequence of a paradox at the heart of our democracy; to win elections you have to divide, to govern you have to unite.
The Baha’i Faith teaches that unity is fundamental for the progress of civilization. Baha’u’llah (1817-1892), the Founder of the Baha’i Faith put it this way:
“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” (Baha'u'llah, <i>Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah</i>, p. 286)
Unity should not be confused with uniformity. In the Baha’i view, governance can and should include a diversity of perspectives and approaches to problems. In fact, such diversity is essential to the process of seeking the truth and applying the truths discovered to problem solving. The issue is the spirit in which diverse viewpoints are expressed, disagreements are resolved, and collective action is carried out.
Opinions should be offered as contributions to the consensus of opinion, rather than as “THE TRUTH” on an issue. Once these opinions are contributed, they belong to the group rather than an individual or party to be explored, adapted, adopted or rejected. When consensus is achieved or a majority view emerges in the absence of consensus, all parties commit to carrying out the decision regardless of their personal views are partisan agenda. If this is done the strengths or weaknesses of the decision will emerge organically in unified action and the process can begin again in light of what has been learned. The Baha’i Faith refers to this process as “consultation”.