Identity through osmosis or through action
What prompted my thoughts on how to shape one’s identity was the realization that without action all we could do is absorb — through osmosis — whatever the environment has to offer. And if we don’t like what the environment offers — if we want change — we need to be prepared to swim against the tide, to be ready for action and work, systematic and tireless.
As any parent, the question of what identity I want for my kids is on my mind quite often. As a Bulgarian living in the U.S., naturally I want them to speak Bulgarian thus I want some of their identity to be Bulgarian. I’ve been taking them to a Saturday afternoon Bulgarian school but I realize that this alone cannot guarantee their knowledge of Bulgarian. The reality is, they live in an English-speaking, American culture and if left alone, all they will learn is whatever they hear and see, and that will not be Bulgarian — not that the environment is hostile to the Bulgarian language, it just does not take proactive role of supporting Bulgarian language. So, my resolution, as the new school year begins, is to use every opportunity I have to teach them some Bulgarian and practice with them, in the hope that one day when they visit Bulgaria, they will not be totally clueless.
Similarly, the question of shaping a Baha’i identity — for myself and for my kids — is one of swimming against the tide, and making proactive effort to counter the materialistic osmosis with spiritual action.
As much as I want my kids to have a Bulgarian identity, I want them most of all to be raised as Baha’is; to have a Baha’i identity. The Universal House of Justice in one of its messages from 1996 has a very specific take on the benefits of having a Baha’i identity: “the capacity to look upon the world and its conditions from the point of view of the Teachings rather than from the standpoint of one’s nationality or non-Bahá’í background“.
When my daughters grow up, of course, they will make their own choice if they want to be Baha’is or not, but for now as they are very little, it is my responsibility as a father to provide the best for them; and the best, as I understand it today, are the Baha’i teachings.
I became a Baha’i 18 years ago and even though my path has not been straight at all, and my practice of the Baha’i teachings has not always been consistent, I have no doubts of my personal commitment to the Baha’i Faith. I firmly believe that the Baha’i Faith can offer my kids the best spiritual defense they would need to deal with life’s challenges as they grow. For we live in a society so materialistic and so confused about its priorities (I know it from my own multiple trials and errors), that unless provided with clear guidance and principles that are practiced on a daily basis, it is so easy to lose one’s bearings. Not that our society is proactively hostile to spirituality — on the contrary, America is significantly more religious than Europe — but to foster spirituality in my children’s (and my own) identity, I need to dedicate time for spiritual education. Thus my commitment to persist in offering spiritual education for my children (and others when appropriate).