When I see a Baha'i who is doing the right things – following the divine teachings, serving the Cause, spreading the divine Message – I observe that my first tendency is to praise the person, to encourage her to do more. I don't mean that I flatter her; I mean that I make sincere efforts to provide spiritual encouragement to her, so she does more of the right thing. I want to see more of that in the world, so I try to give some spiritual sugar, some impetus, something that will help that person to continue to strike that chord.
But on reflection, I am not so sure this is an honest response on my part. A higher, more sincere response is depicted in these passages from the Baha'i Writings:
O people of God! Righteous men of learning who dedicate themselves to the guidance of others and are freed and well guarded from the promptings of a base and covetous nature are, in the sight of Him Who is the Desire of the world, stars of the heaven of true knowledge. It is essential to treat them with deference. They are indeed fountains of soft-flowing water, stars that shine resplendent, fruits of the blessed Tree, exponents of celestial power, and oceans of heavenly wisdom. Happy is he that followeth them.
(Baha'u'llah, Tablet of the World, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 96)
An authoritative Tradition states: "As for him who is one of the learned: he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord. It is then the duty of the people to pattern themselves after him."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 34)
In both of these admonitions, we are urged to “follow” people who live exemplary lives, to “pattern ourselves” after them. This does not mean to become their followers, but to emulate them. We are called to respond in deeds, and with a higher and nobler spirit. That is, not all sincere response on our part will in the form of deeds; some is in the form of traits, of a holy inner life. Attainment to a nobler spiritual state is also a worthy means of emulation.
So I'm striving to learn from my sisters and brothers, and to translate the wonderful feelings I get from watching their spiritual successes, into deeds and inner spiritual attainment on my own part. Words on my part are cheap, even words of encouragement. They aren't enough. When I realize that someone else is doing something worthwhile, I need to do more than pat her on the back. The world does not yield that easily; change is very hard of accomplishment in this world.
Words must be followed by deeds; words without deeds are as bees that yield no honey, as trees that bear no fruit....
(Bahá'u'lláh, The Bahá'í World 1926-1928, Volume II, pp. 62-63, "Excerpts from Bahá'í Sacred Writings" translated by Shoghi Effendi)