Individual Initiative

Arise ye, under all conditions, to render service to the Cause, for God will assuredly assist you through the power of His sovereignty which overshadoweth the worlds.

Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶74

It is incumbent upon everyone not to take any step without consulting the Spiritual Assembly, and they must assuredly obey with heart and soul its bidding and be submissive unto it, that things may be properly ordered and well arranged. Otherwise every person will act independently and after his own judgment, will follow his own desire, and do harm to the Cause.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 42

It is the bounden duty of every American believer ... to initiate, promote, and consolidate, within the limits fixed by the administrative principles of the Faith, any activity he or she deems fit to undertake for the furtherance of the Plan.... Let him not wait for any directions, or expect any special encouragement, from the elected representatives of his community, nor be deterred by any obstacles which his relatives, or fellow-citizens may be inclined to place in his path, nor mind the censure of his critics or enemies.

Shoghi Effendi, Unlocking the Power of Action

The principle of consultation, which constitutes one of the basic laws of the Administration, should be applied to all Bahá’í activities which affect the collective interests of the Faith, for it is through cooperation and continued exchange of thoughts and views that the Cause can best safeguard and foster its interests. Individual initiative, personal ability and resourcefulness, though indispensable, are, unless supported and enriched by the collective experiences and wisdom of the group, utterly incapable of achieving such a tremendous task.

Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities

This challenge, so severe and insistent, and yet so glorious, faces no doubt primarily the individual believer on whom in the last resort, depends the fate of the entire community. He it is who constitutes the warp and woof on which the quality and pattern of the whole fabric must depend. He it is who acts as one of the countless links in the mights chain that now girdles the globe. He it is who serves as one of the multitude of bricks which support the structure and insure the stability of the administrative office now being raised in every part of the world. Without his support, a once whole-hearted, continuous and generous, every measure adopted, and every plan formulated, by the body which acts as the national representative of the community to which he belongs, is foredoomed to failure. The World Center of the Faith itself is paralyzed if such a support on the part of the rank and file of the community is denied it. The Author of the Divine Plan Himself is impeded in His purpose if the proper instruments for the execution of His design are lacking. The sustaining strength of Bahá’u’lláh  84  Himself, the Founder of the Faith, will be withheld from every and each individual, who fails in the long run to arise and play his part.

Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 83

We should avoid confusion on one hand and maintain efficiency on the other, and lay no unnecessary restrictions that would fetter individual initiative and enterprise.

Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Funds: Contributions and Administration, p. 15

A new burst of energy would accrue to the operation of the Three Year Plan if the friends, both individually and collectively, could feel a greater sense of freedom to engage in a wide range of activities originating with themselves. Even if you are doing nothing deliberately to discourage such freedom, their accumulated impression of institutional disapproval, however derived, and their fear of criticism are, to a considerable extent, inhibiting their exercise of initiative. At this exact time in history when the peoples of the world are weighed down with soul-crushing difficulties and the shadow of despair threatens to eclipse the light of hope, there must be revived among the individual believers a sense of mission, a feeling of empowerment to minister to the urgent need of humanity for guidance and thus to win victories for the Faith in their own sphere of life. The community as a whole should be involved in efforts to resolve such issues. A single answer would, of course, be inadequate, there being so many diverse elements and interests in the community. These matters require not only your own independent consultation but consultation with the Counsellors as well. Although Spiritual Assemblies are good at specifying goals, they have not yet mastered the art of making use of the talents of individuals and rousing the mass of the friends to action in fulfillment of such goals. Removing this deficiency would be a mark of the maturation of these institutions. May your Assembly lead the way.

The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA

Even if you are doing nothing deliberately to discourage such freedom, their accumulated impression of institutional disapproval, however derived, and their fear of criticism are, to a considerable extent, inhibiting their exercise of initiative.

Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action

Even so, it soon became apparent that individual initiative alone, however inspired and energetic, could not respond adequately to the opportunities opening up. The result was to launch Bahá’í communities on a wide range of collective teaching and proclamation projects recalling the heroic days of the dawn-breakers. Teams of ardent teachers found that it was now possible to introduce the message of the Faith not merely to a succession of inquirers, but to entire groups and even whole communities. The tens of thousands became hundreds of thousands.

Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p. 97

In the human body, every cell, every organ, every nerve has its part to play. When all do so the body is healthy, vigorous, radiant, ready for every call made upon it. No cell, however humble, lives apart from the body, whether in serving it or receiving from it.

The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 42

Individual initiative is a preeminent aspect of this power; it is therefore a major responsibility of the institutions to safeguard and stimulate it. Similarly, it is important for individuals to recognize and accept that the institutions must act as a guiding and moderating influence on the march of civilization. In this sense, the divine requirement that individuals obey the decisions of their Assemblies can clearly be seen as being indispensable to the progress of society. Indeed, individuals must not be abandoned entirely to their own devices with respect to the welfare of society as a whole, neither should they be stifled by the assumption of a dictatorial posture by members of the institutions.

Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action

Shoghi Effendi underscored the absolute necessity of individual initiative and action. He explained that without the support of the individual, "at once wholehearted, continuous and generous," every measure and plan of his National Spiritual Assembly is "foredoomed to failure," the purpose of the Master's Divine Plan is "impeded"; furthermore, the sustaining strength of Bahá’u’lláh Himself "will be withheld from every and each individual who fails in the long run to arise and play his part." Hence, at the very crux of any progress to be made is the individual believer, who possesses the power of execution which only he can release through his own initiative and sustained action. Regarding the sense of inadequacy that sometimes hampers individual initiative, a letter written on his behalf conveys the Guardian's advice: "Chief among these, you mention the lack of courage and of initiative on the part of the believers, and a feeling of inferiority which prevents them from addressing the public. It is precisely these weaknesses that he wishes the friends to overcome, for these do not only paralyze their efforts but actually serve to quench the flame of faith in their hearts.

The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, 1996

The authority to direct the affairs of the Faith locally, nationally and internationally, is divinely conferred on elected institutions. However, the power to accomplish the tasks of the community resides primarily in the mass of the believers. The authority of the institutions is an irrevocable necessity for the progress of humanity; its exercise is an art to be mastered. The power of action in the believers is unlocked at the level of individual initiative and surges at the level of collective volition. In its potential, this mass power, this mix of individual potentialities, exists in a malleable form susceptible to the multiple reactions of individuals to the sundry influences at work in the world. To realize its highest purpose, this power needs to express itself through orderly avenues of activity. Even though individuals may strive to be guided in their actions by their personal understanding of the Divine Texts, and much can be accomplished thereby, such actions, untempered by the overall direction provided by authorized institutions, are incapable of attaining the thrust necessary for the unencumbered advancement of civilization.

Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action

The Bahá’í World Community, growing like a healthy new body, develops new cells, new organs, new functions and powers as it presses on to its maturity, when every soul, living for the Cause of God, will receive from that Cause, health, assurance and the overflowing bounties of Bahá’u’lláh which are diffused through His divinely ordained order.

The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 42

The Cause is not so fragile that a degree of mistakes cannot be tolerated.

Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action

The individual alone can exercise those capacities which include the ability to take initiative, to seize opportunities, to form friendships, to interact personally with others, to build relationships, to win the cooperation of others in common service to the Faith and society, and to convert into action the decisions made by consultative bodies.

The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, 1996

The individual initiative of the friends should be carefully nurtured and encouraged so that they may, guided by the spiritual principles of our Faith, arise to fulfil their spiritual responsibilities.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 556

The power of action in the believers is unlocked at the level of individual initiative and surges at the level of collective volition.

Universal House of Justice, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities

Therefore, in this organic, divinely guided, blessed and illumined body the participation of every believer is of the utmost importance, and is a source of power and vitality as yet unknown to us.

The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 42

Ultimately, the call to action is addressed to the individual friends, whether they be adult or youth, veteran or newly-enrolled. Let them step forth to take their places in the arena of service where their talents and skills, their specialized training, their material resources, their offers of time and energy and, above all, their dedication to Bahá’í principles, can be put to work in improving the lot of man.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 546

While many will be inspired, after reading the compilation, to cast aside their fears and misgivings and their sense of inadequacy, and will arise to speak forth announcing the glad-tidings of the Kingdom to their fellow-men, many more will still be in need of loving education and more detailed guidance on the part of the institutions of the Faith, and patient and wise prodding before they are aroused to action.

Universal House of Justice, The Individual and Teaching - Raising the Divine Call, p. vii- viii

First, it is necessary for all to realize that the primary means by which victories are won is the degree to which individual initiative is exercised. So important is individual initiative that the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice protects it. Institutions of the Faith can guide, but great teaching successes are attracted through individual resolve to arise enthusiastically and persist. Ideally, Local Spiritual Assemblies and teaching committees would be relieved of the burden of excessive planning if individuals were coming to them offering themselves and their teaching projects. The first concept of this plan to work in groups is the conviction that individuals will arise.

International Teaching Centre, 1989 Jul 05, Encouraging the Formation of Teaching Groups

For the most part this proliferation of community activities was the expression of individual initiative by believers who translated into action what they had internalized from their training institute courses.

ITC, Building Momentum - ITC 2003-04-23, p. 4

The multiplication of core activities in well-developed clusters, growing out of increased individual initiative, has been identified as an important step in advancing toward a program of intensive growth.

ITC, Building Momentum - ITC 2003-04-23, p. 8

The National Spiritual Assembly has concluded that this level of growth is due primarily to individual initiative stimulated by the training institute courses.

International Teaching Centre, 2000 Feb, Training Institutes and Systematic Growth, p. 11