Quoting the Bible, a student of mine once said: “The light was in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” The wisdom embodied in these simple words often guide me when, in my work as a professor and practicing psychologist, I encounter people who are suffering what philosophers have called “existential stress.”
Existential stress is specific to humans because of the complex inner world we experience through the reach of human consciousness. Unlike other animals, we experience stress related to events that have never occurred and will never occur; we stress over the things that we have done or failed to do; and we stress over the kind of person that we have become or that we wish we were. It is, perhaps, this form of stress that the world’s spiritual traditions have sought, most deeply, to address. As a clinical psychologist I often meet people who are facing existential stress. Over the course of my career, I have come to appreciate more fully how the suffering that it gives rise to, while potentially devastating, also represents an opportunity for profound development. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá1The eldest Son of Bahá’u’lláh and Head of the Bahá’í Faith from 1892 to 1921. See https://www.bahai.org/abdul-baha/ during His historic travels to the West from 1911 to 1913, spoke about this reality of the human condition:
The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply… so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment… Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most.
Some years ago, a twenty-year-old Caucasian male, whom I will call Daniel, was brought to our outpatient clinic by his distressed parents because we handled cases of suffering that did not respond well to anti-depressive and mood-stabilizing medicines. For this reason, most of my patients were desperate and demoralized and some, like Daniel, were also acutely suicidal. During his first visit with me, Daniel said that he would, indeed, kill himself in two months, on his twenty-first birthday.
Among the many things that I learned from exploring his history was that Daniel suffered from poor impulse control. On several occasions, for example, he had completely destroyed his parents’ home due to a sense of “uncontrollable” rage. And although he had never physically hurt another person, Daniel often did things to inflict pain upon himself. One such thing was to “play chicken,” which consists of placing a lit cigarette in the bridge connecting two people’s forearms; the first person to move his/her arm is designated the “chicken.” When Daniel arrived for his first session with me, he proudly displayed a rather severe self-inflicted burn from a couple of days earlier.
Although Daniel’s cognitive and physical development was that of a mature adult, his emotional and social development was clearly delayed. When I first met him, Daniel continued to throw temper tantrums whenever he was frustrated and appeared to lack the self-analytical abilities that one would expect in a twenty-year-old. But these realities did not tell the whole story. In Daniel, I could also see glimmerings of mature thought, of resolve, and of hope. He had successfully completed a drug treatment program and had maintained sobriety for more than a year. His recent cosmetic surgery indicated a desire for self-improvement. And he attended every session with me—even though our meetings were scheduled early every morning, five of seven days a week. In short, Daniel was the kind of person that caused me to think there was, indeed, “light in the darkness.”
The initial and most pressing goal of treatment was to assess Daniel’s potential for suicide and to take any steps necessary to reduce this risk. I should add that I considered the possibility that Daniel’s frequent suicide threats were attempts to control, manipulate, and hurt his parents. In a sense, he regarded his unhappy condition as their fault, and he wanted them to do something about fixing it. Nevertheless, given the prevalence of suicides among males his age, I took Daniel’s suicide threats quite seriously.
I began my meetings with Daniel by sharing with him, quite openly, my hunch that one of the reasons he wanted to kill himself was that he did not like the person he had become and had little hope that he could be different. It seemed clear to me from his response that this observation resonated with him. As a result, I was very open about the goal of our sessions, which was to explore the possibility that, if he really wanted to, he could change his life in ways that mattered and become the kind of person who would deserve his own admiration and respect. Almost immediately I saw in Daniel a flash of optimism, a ray of light, that could be nurtured.
The insights I gained from our first sessions helped me to decide how to proceed. The theory of suicide I chose to work under was developed by social scientist Roy Baumeister. Baumeister’s research suggests that, oftentimes, suicide does not derive from a desire to die but is animated by a longing to escape painful self-awareness.2Baumeister, R. (1991). Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights from the Burden of Selfhood. New York: Basic Books. Thus, people who do not like the person that they have become and who feel hopeless about the prospects of changing, or who simply have no idea about how they might go about the process of changing, are more likely to have thoughts of killing themselves. This is particularly true when other attempts to escape an undesirable self prove futile.
Before meeting Daniel, I had long felt that the great spiritual and philosophical traditions contain insights that could be of benefit in these conditions. The sacred texts from the world’s great faiths teach us that enduring happiness is not an inevitable by-product of material conditions but is dependent upon the development and exercise of moral and spiritual capacities. In a well-known treatise, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá elaborated on this very point:
And the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.3‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization: www.bahai.org/r/006593911
And Aristotle, in the Nichomachean Ethics, articulated the theory of “eudaimonism,” which posits that, beyond a healthy brain and body, human happiness is conditional upon moral behavior.4In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle wrote, “The good of man is the active exercise of his soul’s faculties in conformity with excellence and virtue.” In describing Aristotle’s perspective, contemporary philosophers Jennifer and Michael Mulnix have written:
…eudaimonism holds that happiness consists in fully actualizing yourself or fulfilling your personal potential as a human person. Your potential is not limited only to your ability to experience pleasures and satisfactions, but also includes your ability to reason, to be morally virtuous, and to exercise autonomy, among other things. So there are things independent of your first-hand experience of life that can make your life go better and that are a part of your happiness, whether you recognize them or not and whether you value them or not. To be happy, then, is to live a complete life that lacks nothing of value – to flourish as a human person.5J.W. Mulnix & M. J. Mulnix (2015). Happy Lives, Good Lives: A Philosophical Examination. Tonawanda, NY: Broadview Press.
Within this theoretical framework, I regarded Daniel’s drug use as an earlier attempt not only to “enjoy himself” but also to reduce painful self-awareness. When the escape provided by drugs proved to be insufficiently gratifying, Daniel abandoned it and began to pursue other options, including suicide and grandiose attempts to demonstrate his worth—like engaging in the game of “chicken.”
In the weeks that followed, Daniel and I explored what it might look like to strive to be noble. We asked ourselves what would be required of us if we wished to feel as though we were becoming the kind of human being who is worthy of respect. In our exploration of these themes, we examined a wide range of ideas. We drew insights from the Western science of psychology that has shown how habitual ways of thinking can prevent us from achieving happiness and from the Eastern traditions that tend to focus on the pursuit of self-knowledge and self-mastery as prerequisites for well-being.
From The Analects, a work of the Chinese sage, Confucius, for example, we reflected together on this:
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the empire, first ordered well their own States. Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.6Confucius, The Great Learning. The Four Books: The Chinese-English Bilingual Series of Chinese Classics, p. 3. (1992 Translation by Publisher) Hunan Publishing House.
What might it mean, we asked one another, to “illustrate illustrious virtue”; to “cultivate” one’s person; to “rectify one’s heart”; to be “sincere” in one’s thoughts; to “investigate” things?
In addition, we considered how our explorations might invite meditation on those aspects of our selves that are, like rare jewels, hidden from us, and thus require effort if they are to be brought forth—a concept conveyed in the following words of Bahá’u’lláh:
Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.7From: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, no. 72., retrieved from: https://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/HW/hw-145.html
What might be meant by the “sheath of self”? How does selfishness render the more beautiful aspects of ourselves dark and invisible? How can pursuing our whims and desires prevent us from manifesting the qualities that we long to embody? What, exactly, are the inner qualities that we find ourselves in search of?
Thus, the first step in changing ourselves, we noted to each other, is in acknowledging the areas in which we need to change. We discussed Daniel’s upbringing and how his parents’ generosity and permissiveness had enabled him to get away with behaviors that he should have long since outgrown; how his drug use had prevented him from feeling and processing the kinds of emotions that can serve as guides that facilitate the development of insight and self-knowledge; and how, although he had the body and capacities of an adult, he was still behaving somewhat like a child. Such behavior, we concluded, kept him in a constant state of inner turmoil and prevented him from developing a positive sense of self.
In order to reinforce the idea that he could change, together we constructed a self-report rating instrument that enabled Daniel to reflect upon himself along several important dimensions of life. We resolved that we would make effort every day to improve in each of the areas of growth that he had identified. We noted that life would provide opportunities for development each day by presenting us with moral, psychological, and spiritual challenges. When these challenges arose, we would, with resolve, meet them confidently and would endeavor to do what seemed to be the right thing, even if doing such a thing felt difficult or even impossible. Sometimes we would be successful, we noted, and other times not; what is important is not so much the outcome, but the sincerity of our effort. I told him that it would probably be very difficult at first, but that with practice, he would soon find himself gaining the power necessary to act in ways that he respected.
We explored some of the prayers that have been part of the spiritual heritage of humankind and that others have used over the ages to clarify their values and seek help from the unseen realm. From the Native American peoples, we called upon this prayer:
O Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to all the world.
Hear me; I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.
Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy – Myself…
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes,
so when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you
without shame.8Anonymous Native American Indian prayer, retrieved from: https://www.worldprayers.org/archive/prayers/invocations/oh_great_spirit_whose_voice.html
From the Buddhist tradition, we searched out inspiration in verses like this: “As Wind carries our prayers for Earth and All Life, may respect and love light our way. May our hearts be filled with compassion for others and for ourselves. May peace increase on Earth. May it begin with me.”9Tibetan Wind Horse Prayer.
To further reinforce Daniel’s belief in his ability to change, we drew upon the power of meditation. In a public talk in London in 1913, long before its many benefits were revealed by researchers in medicine and psychology, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá drew attention to the many benefits of meditation. He said:
… while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed…
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food…Through the meditative faculty…colossal undertakings are carried out…10Address by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the Friends Meeting House, St. Martin’s Lane, London, Sunday, January 12th, 1913, retrieved from: https://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PT/pt-55.html
I also often borrowed illuminating stories about those who had lived lives of excellence by overcoming some great difficulty, fault, or challenge. I engaged with him in breathing processes that helped him to metabolize anxiety and frustration and assisted him to develop a sense of himself that transcended his tendency to think of himself largely in bodily terms.
Finally, on the weekend before his birthday, I recounted to Daniel all the progress that had been made. I told him how proud I was of him but also how I feared that he might make a suicide attempt just to save face—especially because he had promised so many people for so long that he would do it. I told him that this was, perhaps, the ultimate test of his growing maturity, self-respect, and self-control. I closed the session by telling him the following story:
Many years ago, on an Indian reservation, there lived a young Caucasian boy who was known for his mistreatment and disrespect of Native Americans. Whenever he would encounter a Native American, he would make a special effort to embarrass them. One day, with malice in his heart, he went to see an old man who was known among the tribe as a wise elder. The young boy’s desire was to show the elder that he was really a fool — so he caught a bird, cupped it in his hands, and took it to the old man asking: “Old man, is the bird dead or alive?” The old man knew that if he said the bird was dead, the young boy would simply open his hands and let the bird go free; conversely, if the old man said that the bird was alive, the young boy would squeeze it to death. The old man paused for a moment and gently noted: “Young man, the bird is in your hands.”
I said to Daniel that when a person passes through adolescence and comes of age, his life and destiny are largely in his own hands; he alone can decide the ultimate course and quality of that life.
The next Monday, on his birthday, Daniel did not show up for our session but called me from Florida to tell me that he was fine and that he had driven there to spend some time with his favorite aunt and to share with her how much he had been changing. Soon after, he returned and resumed his daily sessions with me. From that point onward, his progress was exceptional. Before he ended the program, he had gotten his own apartment and was going to work regularly. In addition, his depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation had completely disappeared. When I encountered him two years later while walking through the neighborhood grocery store, he introduced me to his wife and said, with a face wreathed in smiles, that they were preparing for their first child.
Daniel’s effort to achieve greater levels of maturity was, of course, not over. As with all of us, his struggle would certainly extend across time and be manifested in a myriad ways. There are recognizable stages on this journey, and it appeared that Daniel had reached an important milestone. He was at least aware, for example, that existential suffering tends to have a cause, that the lessons embodied in such suffering can foster our development, and that this uniquely human form of suffering can be overcome as we bring our lives into conformity with universal principles and values. And while Daniel might have spoken about the work that we had been doing together in terms that are wholly secular, from the perspective of the Bahá’í teachings, no matter our beliefs, the greater the fidelity of our behavior to certain universal principles and values—such as love, forgiveness, service to humankind, humility, patience, and purity of heart—the greater the quality of our life and development.
Indeed, although the moral and spiritual truths that animate reality have been reiterated from age to age by the Founders of the world’s great religions, they are also truths that are being discovered empirically through the sciences of psychology, medicine, and public health. These principles, therefore, are not simply ideas that can be accepted or rejected according to human preferences; they are, rather, associated with powers that are as objective in their influence as the electromagnetic force, the gravitational pull of the planets, and the strong and weak nuclear forces of nature. One might hypothesize that as science and religion—the two most potent epistemic systems—are more deeply integrated in the search for knowledge and wisdom, our understanding of how these universal principles are manifested in the various dimensions of life will be enriched.
One might say, then, that Daniel’s early approach to life was one that did not take into consideration the possibility of growth and development. His attitude and behavior toward himself and his parents were animated by anger and hostility; by impatience and self-righteousness. Thus he behaved in ways that violated fundamental universal principles, undermining his development and inflicting upon himself and others suffering so severe that he could contemplate no remedy but death. As he began, however, to replace old patterns of behavior with a pattern that better reflected his innate nobility, he began, quite naturally, to feel happier, more hopeful and content. In this way did Daniel begin to move out of darkness into light.
The world today is making many discoveries in the realm of phenomena. The greatest of these concerns man himself, the laws which relate to his being and those which govern his relations with his fellow beings. Although many glooms and shadows still sway the minds of men, yet two great lights are shining with increasing splendor. One is science and the other religion. Through these luminous orbs men are coming to know each other better than they have ever known through past ages.
A century or more ago men with few exceptions accepted the dogma of eternal division and separation between various human stocks, which were regarded as distinct human species. This gave to any one of them the right by virtue of its material might to a station of inherent superiority conferred by Divine Power.
A few men of genius saw differently. One of these rare souls was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. It is altogether remarkable that writing at a time when special privilege was enthroned and human slavery was sanctioned by the laws of all lands, he should have declared it to be self-evident that all men were created free and equal. Was this statement an accident? Was it not his intention to imply that all white men were equal?
No, that the great principle declared by the American Commoner was not on his part fortuitous is indicated by a further statement as well as by his personal attitude toward Benjamin Banneker, the Negro astronomer, who was his contemporary and by him was appointed as one of the surveyors of the site of the city of Washington. Writing about his colored scientist to one of his foreign friends, President Jefferson said:
“We have now in the United States a Negro, the son of a black man born in Africa and a black woman born in the United States, who is a very respectable mathematician. I procured him to be employed under one of our chief directors in laying out the new federal city on the Potomac, and in the intervals of his leisure while on the work, he made an almanac for the same year which he has sent me in his own handwriting… I have seen elegant solutions of geometrical problems by him. Add to this that he is a worthy and respectable member of society. He is a free man. I shall be delighted to see these instances of moral eminence so multiplied as to prove that the want of talents observed in them is merely the effect of their degraded condition and not proceeding from any difference of the structure of the parts upon which intellect depends.”
Were Thomas Jefferson living today he might be classed with the school of modern scientists known as the cultural anthropologists. A hundred years ahead of his time he saw and proclaimed a great truth.
The scientific world today records numberless thinkers of like convictions and among the great naturalists a decided and irresistible trend toward the law of one humanity and the equality of all races.
Of old the human family was arbitrarily divided into five races, so-called, growing out of the existence of five habitable continents. Men in their fancies associated a difference race with each continent. But scientific minds, even in the middle of the last century, did not agree upon this. Charles Darwin, perhaps the most famous of them all, records in his “Origin of Species,” the views of a dozen scientists whose classifications of humanity into races in no two cases agree and cover divisions of race varieties ranging from two to sixty-three! Darwin himself freely admits the illusory and imaginary nature of these divisions of mankind, and declares that the way supposedly different races overlap and shade off into each other completely baffles the scientific mind in constructing a definition of race.
Because the term “races” continues to be used as designating distinct stocks or divisions of the human family, we shall here employ it. But it must be understood that its use is popular and colloquial rather than scientific and accurate. Definition implies a limitation. Logically it must be both inclusive of the thing defined and exclusive of all else. The difficulty arises, when we attempt to define race as a limited portion of the human family upon the basis of distinct physical characteristics, that the description invariably applies with equal accuracy to no inconsiderable number of other people not sought to be included in the said category. The divisions of mankind upon the basis of physical features are due to fancy rather than reality. Attempts to describe with any degree of accuracy those designated by such terms as Aryan, Mongolian, India, African, Malay, Nordic, Hebrew, negro, invariably result in cross divisions, because all these groups overlap, and even when we select the most divergent types, as human beings they show vastly more points in common than signs of difference. The term “race” as applied to all mankind has a scientific and logical basis, but no so in its limited sense.
The historical records of mankind cover a very small portion of the vast period during which this earth has been populated. Yet even during that brief period the peoples of each continent have emigrated to other continents, associating with others and invariably mixing their blood. It is now universally known that the products of such admixtures are equally virile and fertile. This is a further indication that all races possess the same potentialities. Asiatics and Australians, Europeans and Africans, North and South Americans, to the ethnologist all present signs of admixture, a process through which all have been broadened and made more rugged and strong. All the so-called races of mankind are mixed races, the mixing being a process which continues more rapidly today than in past cycles and ages.
It is also seen that among the various ethnic groups denominated races, each at some time during the brief period of recorded history, has been in the ascendency. Each has in turn led the civilization of the world and each has at the time of its greatest success assumed that its superiority was fixed.
“Is not this great Babylon which I have built and must it not endure forever?”
The attitude of mind expressed by the words of an ancient king who came to grief through pride is as old as human error and as modern as the latest fashion show. Those who see the common humanity of all groups relieve themselves of a great burden imposed by thoughts of preference. For while it is true that some peoples at various times have advanced further than others, to the eye of reality this implies no inherent incapacity, but only lack of development.
In appearance the child is inferior to the adult, but the future may unfold another story. Wisdom looks with reverence upon the child who has that within his being the unfolding of which may make him the ruler of his kind.
The history of mankind unfolds an endless panorama of change. The most favored of races and nations have often lost their high estate. The most ill-favored of one cycle have sometimes in another period become the salt of the earth. To those who see humanity as one, apparent inequalities have no essential permanence.
However much opinions and emotions and customs may dominate human thoughts, the scientific world of today which reaches conclusions upon the basis of facts, is entirely agreed that there is no proof to establish the superiority of one racial group over another.
The backwardness of races and nations is due to poverty, ignorance, oppression, unfavorable environment, and similar conditions, all of which are subject to removal and change, releasing the forces of true manhood for ascent to the highest plane.
It is perhaps of greatest interest here to let those who speak with authority express their own convictions upon the basis of provable facts.
Sir Arthur Keith, the great English anthropologist, says:
“The expression high and low does not apply to races.”
Dr. Gordon Munroe, lecturer in Tokyo University, Japan:
“Modern anthropologists despair of finding distinctive races and are now generally agreed that difference of race is too illusive for scientific observation. Racial difference is mythical, though each individual – as a distinct expression of cosmic thought – differs in some degree from all his fellows, even to the skin of his finger tips.
“Nothing betrays the darkness of ignorance more than the arrogant assumption that pigmentation of skin brands its owner with obscurity of moral perception or darkened intellect, or in any way implies the co-existence of inferior physical traits… Like all exhibitions of prejudice, that of classification by skin color is illogical and inconsistent.
“It is sounding a discrepant note against the harmony of the spheres to call human color inferior or unclean. Not by darkness of skin but by darkness of soul shall humanity be judged in future ages.”
Dr. George A. Dorsey in his book, “Why We Behave Like Human Beings”:
“All human beings have skin pigment; it is the amount that counts. But high and low skin color is as sound biology as grading planets by color would be sound astronomy: Venus highest because whitest!
“There is no known fact of human anatomy or physiology which implies that capacity for culture or civilization or intelligence or capacity for culture inheres in this race or that type.
“We have no classification of men based upon stature, skin color, hair form, head form, proportions of limbs, etc., so correlated that they fit one race and one only.
“Nature is not so prejudiced as we are. She says there is a human race, that all human beings are of the genus homo species sapiens. She draws no color line in the human or other species.”
Prof. G. H. Esterbrook of Colgate University, considering the question of racial inferiority in a recent number of the inferiority in a recent number of the “American Anthropologist,” states that “there is no scientific basis for any such deduction.
“Again and again” he writes, “we have seen the case of a race or nation being despised, outcast, or barbarian in one generation and demonstrating that it is capable of high culture the next.”
Prof. E. B. Reuter, University of Iowa: “The doctrine of racial inequality is pretty well discredited in the world of scholarship, but in the popular thought of America it is firmly fixed.”
Dr. W. E. Burghardt Dubois, Editor of “The Crisis”: “The increasingly certain dictum of science is that there are no ‘races’ in any exact scientific sense; that no measurements of human beings, of bodily development, of head form, of color and hair, of physiological reactions, have succeeded in dividing mankind into different recognizable groups: that so-called ‘pure’ races seldom if ever exist and that all present mankind, the world over, are ‘mixed’ so far as the so-called racial characteristics are concerned.”
Prof. Edwin Grant Conklin, Chair of Biology, Princeton University: “With increasing means of communication as a result of migration and commercial relations, there is no longer complete geographical isolation for any people and the various races of mankind are being brought into closer and closer contact.
“Man is now engaged in undoing the work of hundreds of centuries, if in the beginning, ‘God made of one blood all nations of men,’ it is evident that man is now making of all nations one blood.”
Prof. Franz Boaz of Columbia University, in his recent book, “Anthropology and Modern Life”: “What we nowadays call a race of man consists of groups of individuals in which descent from common ancestors cannot be proved.
“If we were to select the most intelligent, imaginative, energetic and emotionally stable third of mankind, all races would be represented. The mere fact that a person is a healthy European or a blond European would not be proof that he would belong to this élite. Nobody has ever given proof that the mixed descendants of such a select group would be inferior.”
These are but a few quotations from scientific sources to illustrate the modern trend. Even a superficial inquiry into the question of human unity and the potential equality of all groups discloses a wealth of thought based upon factual values.
To conclude that people because uneducated cannot be educated, is a rash presumption indeed. When Julius Caesar conquered Britain he found the most revolting forms of savagery, including the practice of cannibalism; yet these people in part form the background of one of the most enlightened nations of today.
It is quite easy to imagine a Roman statesman of two thousand years ago saying, “Rome is the Eternal City! All other peoples from their inherent incapacity for rule must forever be her servitors and slaves!”
But what can intelligence tests prove of inherent capacity unless those subjected to them have had equal advantages in the way of environment and preparation? Where dollars are spent upon the education of one race and pennies upon that of another, obviously all such tests are misleading.
In a recent number of the “American Anthropologist,” Dr. G. H. Esterbrook remarks the extreme difficulty of measuring the intelligence of groups other than ourselves due to differences of culture, customs and language. This he illustrates by certain tests applied in the Philippine Islands in which it appeared that “the Filipinos were three years behind Americans in verbal tests (obviously due to the Spanish speaking natives being under the disadvantage of grappling with English), practically equal to the Americans in nonverbal tests and actually ahead of them in certain forms of mathematical ability.”
Apropos of the intelligence tests a question which may not be impertinent is, what value has intelligence in the absence of moral stamina? In the application of the intelligence tests what test is applied to determine this necessary concomitant of success?
The belief current in some circles that a long period of time, perhaps a thousand years, must elapse before people deprived of civilization can truly respond to its urge is unfounded in fact. Orientals whose background is different in numberless ways from that of the West appear in numbers at many of our great universities and with equal readiness with American youth acquire the arts and sciences. Youth taken from the African jungles with an age-long heritage of savagery have not only held their own in schools with students of light hue, but have ofttimes won high honors. The writer has met many native Africans whose virtues, attainments and polish do credit to the human race. It is clearly our duty to encourage people of all races to the end of making their contributions to the symposium of world culture.
Religious and Spiritual Aspects
The nineteenth century saw human slavery, as an institution sanctioned by law, banished from all civilized communities. The twentieth century sees the evolution of a new kind of freedom, one of which liberates minds from hoary superstitions and ancient dogmas, one which vibrates with the consciousness of a common humanity. Men now see as never before that class tyranny brings unhappiness to the aggressor no less than to the victim.
The spread of the social sciences is bringing enlightening contacts among people of all races and nations. All the races of mankind, no matter how delayed their development in some cases may be, with encouragement, opportunity, sympathy and understanding, may attain the heights.
The colored philosopher and educator, the late Booker Washington, in his autobiography, recalled that during his boyhood he sometime engaged in wrestling. On such occasions he observed that if he threw another boy to the ground, if he held him there he would be compelled to stay down with him; but if he arose the other boy would also rise. So his motto was, “All men up! No one down!” Such is the true philosophy of life.
Among the early white settlers of America was at least one group that regarded the red aborigines as being worthy of the treatment of men. In Pennsylvania under the guidance of William Penn, white and red men entered into a bond of mutual trust that was not to be sundered as long as the sun should give light. This colony was thus saved from the bloodshed which disgraced most of the others. It seems a natural sequence that today the largest school supported by the American government for the training of Indians should be on the soil of Pennsylvania, a commonwealth through upholding its standards of justice to men of all races.
In the memoirs of General U. S. Grant he relates how once when visiting the outposts of his army on Southern soil, a call was raised, “Make way for the commanding general of the army, General Grant!” To his surprise he saw himself surrounded by Confederate soldiers who had raised this call. Although these men were a part of an army with which his own was constantly fighting, yet these troops saluted him and made no attempt to capture him or do him bodily harm.
It had so happened that for some days the outposts of the two armies, Federal and Confederate, had touched each other and the soldiers on both sides, free from rancor, had become entirely friendly, exchanged what they possessed of the comforts of life as well as its amenities and were accustomed to salute each other’s officers when they appeared. In the early days of the great war a similar condition of friendliness appeared among the soldiers of the contending armies in France.
If men engaged in deadly conflict can pause long enough to discover and act upon the basis of their common humanity, certainly the forces of peace should strive for the means of making it durable, and in this nothing is more desirable than a farewell to class tyranny and the banishment of what the sociologist calls the superiority complex from all the world. The light of science powerfully aids this.
Among the youth of the world there is a great and continuous awakening to the need of friendliness and co-operation among all races and nations. Recently, among many incidents of a similar nature, the writer had the pleasure of mingling with an inter-racial and inter-national group of students made up of representatives of John Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, the University of Delaware, Morgan College and Howard University.
Their faces shone with happiness as from the standpoint of biology, sociology, anthropology and genetics they discussed, almost without dissenting voice, the potential equality of all races and the desirability of their mingling freely without prejudice in all the activities and amenities of life.
With the usual naïveté, charm and courage of youth, they seemed to care nothing about what their elders, who were wrapped up in the traditions of the past, might think of their present acts and attitudes. And they had summoned to their gathering three modernist and learned scientists to confirm them in their thoughts. Thus the orb of science beams with increasing brilliancy upon a growing world of thought and discovery.
This light of science is but the reflection of a far “greater and more glorious Light” that has appeared with majestic splendor in the world today. This second light is Religion pure and undefiled from the Throne of God, or Temple of Manifestation.
The Bahá’í Revelation is the divine intervention in human affairs. Its ideals, teachings and principles will remove the superstitions that pall, the hatreds that blight, the prejudices that becloud, and that preparation for the slaughter that now threatens the existence of all humanity.
Clearer than the deductions of science, weightier than the might of princes, wiser than the councils of statesmen, kinder than the hearts of philanthropists, and sweeter than the songs of seraphs is the Voice of God, calling all mankind to the unity of the human family, the oneness of the world of humanity. This is the true guidance of all men in their relationship with their fellows, whether they be of the same race or nation of others. The great law of universal well-being and happiness is set forth with a simplicity, purity, majesty and power which leaves no one in doubt.
“Verily the words which have descended from the heaven of the will of God are the source of unity and harmony for the world. Close your eyes to racial differences and welcome all with the light of oneness.”
Those who move in the direction of the Divine Will as expressed by the Manifestation of God, His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh, have the mightiest confirmation to support their efforts and are assured of victory, no matter how difficult the way may seem. A distinguished Southern educator who heard the Servant of God, His Holiness ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, address the Lake Mohonk Peace Conference in 1912, quotes Him as opening His luminous address by saying:
“From time immemorial we have been taught the Unity of God, the Unity of God, the Unity of God! But in this day the divine lesson is the unity of man, the unity of man, the unity of man!”
Dr. Samuel C. Mitchell declared that from listening to this holy man whom he recognized as a Prophet, he had decided for himself never again to draw a vertical line upon his fellow-men. The great horizon line which covers all mankind, is sufficient for him. How happily does this illustrate the power and penetration of the Creative Word, that it should raise up from a single utterance one who has declared and reechoed it upon many platforms.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá says: “God has made mankind one family: no race is superior to another…God is the Shepherd of all and we are His flock. There are not many races. There is only one race.”
Although the Sun of Truth is still largely hidden, “veiled by its own splendor,” yet its rays are penetrating the remotest corners of the earth, creating in souls a consciousness which binds all hearts together. Common sense and reason are explaining away the barriers of color which are caused by adjustment of people to climatic states over long periods of time. Scientists in many fields of research are thrilled by the discovery of a common human heritage which they sometimes boldly declare in words similar to those found in the sacred text. Statesmen, national and international, are making the Divine Spirit the foundation upon which they are striving to build a new social structure with justice to all, while in growing numbers people who take religion seriously are finding heart balm through their helpful interest in other people’s affairs.
Some years ago the venerable Bishop of Georgia, Rt. Rev. Atticus G. Haygood, amazed his followers by boldly declaring in his book, “Out Brother in Black,” that no attainment of the white race was impossible for the colored.
Governor Charles Aycock of North Carolina inaugurated a policy of large expenditure for education that would help white and black upon this basis:
“We hold our title to power by the tenure of service to God, and if we fail to administer equal and exact justice to the Negro we shall in the fullness of time lose power ourselves, for we must know that the God who is love, trusts no people with authority for the purpose of enabling them to do injustice.”
Although the strongholds of prejudice seem invincible, the clouds of superstitions lower, the veils of ignorance overshadow and the resources of rancor prepare for the strife, yet upon the plane of being the Sun of Truth is radiant and will remove in time all dust from minds and all rust from hearts, to the end that the true Glory of God and the brightness of man may appear in the unity of the world. The shadows of the sunset and the glory of the dawn are both revealed in the Words that follow from the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
“It is very strange to see how ‘illusion’ has taken possession of the hearts of men while ‘Reality’ has no sway whatsoever. For example – racial difference is an optical illusion! It is a figment of imagination, yet how deep-seated and powerful its influence! No one can deny the fact that mankind in toto are the progeny of Adam; that they are offshoots of one primal stock, yet the optical illusion has so radically misrepresented this plain truth that they have divided and subdivided themselves into so many tribes and nations… Although many intelligent men amongst them know that this racial difference is an optical illusion, yet they all confess their inability to stand firm before its uncanny, invisible power.
“The world of humanity is like unto one kindred and one family. Because of the climatic conditions of the zones through the passing ages colors have become different. In the torrid zone on account of the intensity of the effect of the sun throughout the ages the dark race appeared. In the frigid zone on account of the severity of the cold and the ineffectiveness of the heat the white race appeared. In the temperate zone the yellow, brown and red races came into existence. But in reality mankind is one race. Because it is one race unquestionably there must be union and harmony and no separation or discord.
“The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the breaths of the Holy Spirit which create men anew. Personal amity, both in private and public, is emphasized and insisted upon.
…Bahá’ís believe that mankind must love mankind; that universal amity must be practiced; that dead dogmas must be thrown away; that we are at the threshold of the Era of Interdependence; that we must forget prejudice and that universal love must become the dominant note of the twentieth century… The tree of humanity is one and is planted by God. The origin is one and the end must also be one.”
Thus it is clearly establish through both religion and science that the only race is the human race. The illuminati of all groups today, upon the basis of divine principle of the oneness of humanity, are working to build a new order in the world. Their ranks are widening day by day and among them are included all branches of the human family. They have crossed the borderland of separation and view with delight the world of unity. With reverence and appreciation they perceive the descent of heavenly guidance. In the sacred books of the past this divine favor is pictured as the Holy City.
The cities of the world today present to the gaze of the traveler striking contrasts between old and new. In days of yore the construction of homes was in the nature of a castle. Each house was defended by a high fence or wall, behind which dogs barked furiously at all who approached, who were presumably foes until otherwise proven. Such places did not lack beauty. Nor were passers-by always wanting in charm. But in each case the beauty and charm were hidden by defensive battlements. Such are the cities of hearts when their love is concealed by the battlements erected by superstition and fear. In many of the new cities the absence of walls reveals velvet lawns and the varied charm of flowers. The adornments of the home, the sport of the children, the family co-operation in simple toil, create impressions of friendliness and accentuate the joy of life.
Those who visualize the City of God have faith in the final outcome of human destiny through a love that transcends all boundaries of race. Herein lies joy to the worker whose toil is linked with heaven as he serves mankind en masse as well as singly. Peace to the nations when ready to pursue those ideals that guide the people of splendor. Perfection in education when the youth are allowed to treasure the jewels of minds and hearts despite the obstinate barriers of caste. Wealth for governments when the huge sums now given to armaments are by common consent turned into channels of construction. Solace for the needy when deserts are irrigated, waste places reclaimed, slums removed, the deep yields its coffers and the earth its fruits. Illumination to humanity when every man sees in his neighbor a garment in which God has clothed the reflection of the Manifestation of Himself. Glory for the whole world when receptive to divine civilization which descends through the majestic revelation of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh, the Shining Orb of His Covenant and the protection of His laws by which all races are banded together in the exaltation of service.
The story runs that a youth long absent from home in pursuit of education returned and was overjoyed to find that he now had a younger brother, born during his absence. He eagerly and lovingly embraced the newcomer. But alas! That child of immature years seeing in his brother only a stranger and all unaware of the relationship made a great outcry, wiggled out of his arms and even scratched his brother’s face.
Such is all too often the attitude of people of one group toward those of another when uninformed of the divine law which makes all men brothers. Such immaturity in a time of rapid changes must soon happily pass as that which is real comes more and more into view.
That reality is the co-operation of all mankind in productive enterprises, the awakening of spiritual life, the assurance of the way of God, and the enkindlement of the flame of divine love which removes all clouds. To forsake prejudice is better than to amass wealth. The conquest of animosities is far greater than victory over one’s foes. The struggle for universal good is far nobler than the desire for personal success.
The Glory of the rising Sun reveals the way. Victory and joy to those who strive!