Truthfulness – the foundation of all human virtues

While studying Reflections on the life of the Spirit, recently, I came across Bahá’u’lláh’s quote “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”. The next quote was “Without truthfulness, progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul”.

Bahá’u’lláh likens His Revelation to an ocean and encourages us to immerse ourselves “in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths”[1]. No matter how many times we encounter His Words, we are still able to find new meaning. This time, I made new connections to my work.

For the last two decades I have been both a student and a teacher of business. A major dimension of my work has been to find those places where the worldviews of my Faith and the business worldview agree. In the Bahá’í Writings qualities of character are often presented as the primary means for the betterment of the world. Bahá’u’lláh tells of the radiant nature of good character:

A good character is, verily, the best mantle for men from God. With it He adorneth the temples of His loved ones. By My life! The light of a good character surpasseth the light of the sun and the radiance thereof. Whoso attaineth unto it is accounted as a jewel among men. The glory and the upliftment of the world must needs depend upon it.[2]

In an earlier post, I quoted `Abdu’l-Bahá’s prescription for organisational effectiveness, written in 1875 in The Secret of Divine Civilisation:

The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual member, high and low alike, of the human race; and the supreme agencies for accomplishing these two objectives are the excellent qualities with which humanity has been endowed. (page 60)

He stresses human qualities as the “agencies” for achieving the high purpose He envisions for our institutions. Decades later, Shoghi Effendi, on the eve of the Second World War, pointed to qualities of character as essential requisites for community functioning: “This rectitude of conduct, with its implications of justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness, must distinguish every phase of the life of the Bahá’í community.”[3]

Similar sentiments from the world of business

When I find business thinkers who focus on values and qualities of character I take more notice of what they have to say. Business thinkers such as Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Muhammad Yunus, Daniel Goleman and the late CK Prahalad identify the importance of good character and they highlight those companies that exemplify the expression of collective character. As a further example, in this video Tom Peters provides a very direct and powerful message about the quality of respect.

Unfortunately there is a massive character deficit in today’s business environment. And tinkering around the edges, or trying to retrofit qualities of character won’t close the gap. We need to redesign the majority our businesses from the ground up. The heinous abuses of corporate power are abundantly clear to most of us. The worst examples that have been exposed have pursued profit at any cost. We need profitable companies, but profit must not came at the expense of `Abdu’l-Baha’s aspirations mentioned earlier – “human happiness” and the “securing the peace and well-being” of all people. On the firm foundation of these aspirations, fostering qualities of character, in all of our institutions, from pre-school right up to the boardroom must be a priority.

So why is truthfulness, the foundation of all human virtues? Here is another happy convergence between my Faith and business thinking. The concept of the learning organisation, articulated very clearly in this video by Harvard’s Amy Edmondson and David Garvin, outlines a need for truthfulness. There must be congruence between the underlying ethos of the organisation and its behaviour. Employees need an environment where truthfulness is encouraged and rewarded. And the motivations of the enterprise must be clear for all to see.

In the soil of truthfulness, other qualities of character will take root and thrive.

[1] Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 136

[2] Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 36

[3] Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 23