Just a couple of weeks ago, Bahá’í communities around the world elected their national administrative bodies in a unique electoral process. One of its aspects is, as I personally understand it, that each elector has to make the effort to get to know all the members of one’s community.
I also understand that to build strong communities, we have to take the time to develop strong bonds of friendship, the kind within which we can have frank and honest consultations about our personal reality, the reality of our community, and what we can do to help both ourselves and our community improve.
This is a situation ripe for a dichotomy! Should you take the time to get to know everyone in your community of a couple hundred individuals? Or should you take the time to deepen your friendships with those you serve the most closely with?
After all, community-building is dependent on two things: our efforts to better our own selves, and our efforts to better the community. This is our two-fold moral purpose. On the one hand, spending a lot of time with the same few people does help us gain unique insight into who we are, which helps us in our pursuit of personal moral excellence. On the other hand, we can’t build a vibrant community if we do not engage every person that composes it!
The first hint of an answer came to me as I realised that to deepen a friendship doesn’t take as much time as one would think; rather, it takes quality. One hour-long quality conversation can go a long way, longer than a couple of hours of idle hanging out.
This leads to another glimmering of an answer: we can get to know a lot about our fellow community-members just by participating in community activities. While we have to be careful not to make assumptions or judgments, we can tell if someone has a consistently listening ear or not within a few hours or quality interactions with them. The trick here, then, is not just the quality of the interactions, but the efforts that we make to be outward oriented—that is to say, the effort we make to be aware of others during community activities rather than lost in our own thoughts (or checking our phones…)
Another path that seems worthy of pursuit is to take a step back and think about our friendships: why we are engaged in them? What effects do these friendships have on each person involved? What effects do these friendships have on others? Do these friendships bring joy to those inside the relationship as well as those outside it?
In other words: do these friendships help us fulfill our two-fold moral purpose?
It seems to me that to fulfill this purpose, we have to be happy and joyful beings living in happy and joyful communities. This helps us individually go through the arduous steps of figuring out how we can contribute to the betterment of our communities, as well as helps us as a community figure out what structures and systems are needed to create vibrant communities.
In light of all this, I feel like it’s already easier to decide what to do. Both types of friendships—limited number of close friends and all community members—are important. But not all friendships help us fulfill our two-fold moral purpose.
One final thought: I feel like any decision about which friendship to pursue and which to let go of that is made based on one’s ego is a wrong decision. Similarly, any decision based on laziness is also wrong. But on the flip side, any decision solely based on one’s desire to serve to one’s fullest capacity will be the right one, sometimes in surprising ways.