Letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi – 2
On an email list (May 2010), it was said that the proportion of the Guardian’s correspondence that was handled by secretaries writing on his behalf rose, as the volume of correspondence increased. But while one might get this impression from reading Bahai Administration, simply because few of the secretaries’ letters are published there, other collections of his correspondence show that many letters were written by secretaries even in the early years.
The decision to have something answered in the form of a secretary’s letter, sometimes with a personal postscript, is a choice of medium that tells the recipient what kind of guidance he/she is getting. It’s much more meaningful than just an indicator of how many letters were on the table that day.
I’m not sure that pressure of work did in fact build up, because at first people wrote directly to him on every little thing and he discouraged that:
“the friends should first approach the Local, then the National Assembly and only in case they can obtain no satisfaction should they approach the Guardian on these matters. This way many difficulties will be avoided.” – (To Mrs. Corinne True, Wilmette, Illinois, through Ruhi Afnan, Haifa, November 11, 1932).
As assemblies took more of the load, the proportion of things referred to the Guardian would go down. Moreover correspondence on details was probably not a large part of his total work-load. Dealing with the machination of the covenant-breakers in the Holy Land, relieving the distress of Iranian Bahais who were being persecuted, translation and research, dealing with government authorities in relation to the Bahai properties and the status of the Faith, and developing the World Centre were all part of his work. The first of these was probably most time-consuming during the early years, and the need to explain the necessity of having an administrative system must also have declined after the first 10 or 15 years. Eventually, a lot of things “settled in” – leaving him more time for other things.
My understanding is that the decision to have something answered by a secretary is itself a message, (1) that the contents represent Shoghi Effendi’s (delegated) authority as Head of the Faith, and not his unique function as authorised interpreter of the Writings and (2) that the contents are intended for a recipient who knows that context. The Guardian’s general letters about issues (such as the Ruth White issue, background to the first two ‘World Order” letters), specify the issue that has arisen, and then respond to it, so that readers in other times and places will understand. The letters written on his behalf assume that the receiver will know what has been suggested to the Guardian, or what question was asked. They don’t give a thought to intelligibility for other audiences, indicating that they are not intended for general application at some other time. ..