The principles of consultation were laid down in Bahá'u'lláh's writings, and, as a procedure for building consensus and investigating truth, they have the potential for wide application. Indeed, Bahá'ís have found them to be useful in virtually any arena where group decision-making and cooperation is required. These principles are used not only by the Faith's own institutions, but in Bahá'í-owned businesses, in Bahá'í-operated schools, and in day-to-day decision-making of Bahá'í families.
In essence, consultation seeks to build consensus in a manner that unites various constituencies instead of dividing them. It encourages diversity of opinion and acts to control the struggle for power that is otherwise so common in traditional decision-making systems.
Bahá'í consultation is based on the following principles:
- Information should be gathered from the widest possible range of sources, seeking a diversity of points of view. This may mean making special efforts to seek the views of specialists--such as lawyers, doctors, or scientists. It may also mean looking for information outside traditional specialties or making a special effort to consider the views of community members from diverse backgrounds.
- During discussion, participants must make every effort to be as frank and candid as possible, while maintaining a courteous interest in the views of others. Personal attacks, blanket ultimatums and prejudicial statements are to be avoided.
- When an idea is put forth it becomes at once the property of the group. Although this notion sounds simple, it is perhaps the most profound principle of consultation. For in this rule, all ideas cease to be the property of any individual, sub-group, or constituency. When followed, this principle encourages those ideas that spring forth from a sincere desire to serve, as opposed to ideas that emanate from a desire for personal aggrandizement or constituency-building.
- The group strives for unanimity, but a majority vote can be taken to bring about a conclusion and make the decision. An important aspect to this principle is the understanding that once a decision is made, it is incumbent on the entire group to act on it with unity--regardless of how many supported the measure.
A Bahá'í group in Guadalajara, Mexico, consults.
In this sense, there can be no "minority" report or "position of the opposition" in consultation. Rather, Bahá'ís believe that if a decision is a wrong one, it wlll become evident in its implementation--but only if the decision-making group and, indeed, the community at large, support it wholeheartedly.
This commitment to unity ensures that if a decision or a project fails, the problem lies in the idea itself, and not in lack of support from the community or the obstinate actions of opponents.
The principle, again, harks back to an understanding of the power of unity. Bahá'u'lláh's Son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, said that Bahá'ís should strive always to seek agreement on an issue:
If they agree on a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right.