By Umm Isam – Writer and human resource trainer
A world famous business and family consultant was in the middle of an important meeting and things were running behind schedule. He received a note from his wife that she needed to speak to him urgently. The counsellor stepped out to take the call. His wife impatiently reminded him that they had invited guests that evening and that she needed him to be home on time.
The counsellor, already facing a tough day at work, gave into the pressure of the moment and rudely told her off. While he was walking back to the boardroom, he realized his mistake. But the curt words had already been spoken and the relationship was stressed.
He tried to wrap up what he could and hit the road to reach home. In the privacy of his car, he stepped back to observe his behaviour without being defensive. As he stood apart from his own life, and replayed the conversation in his mind, he realized he had been wrong. He understood his mistake and prepared himself to make necessary changes and improvements.
He realized his wife had only made a reasonable demand, as she was in a tough social situation. Expectations had been created, and he wasn’t there to help fulfill them. Instead of understanding, he had reacted abruptly.
The more he thought about it, the more he realized that his actions had been off track. This was not the kind of relationship he wanted with his wife. Then, he began to think of what he wanted out of their relationship. It was care, empathy, love and patience. If he wouldn’t have been sucked into his worry for work and would have responded to his wife with more consideration, the results of the incident would have been completely different. As he reached home, his irritation had disappeared. The counsellor didn’t think of his work worries, but about his wife only. His heart was filled with feelings of love and understanding. He immediately apologized to his wife. She reciprocated. The closeness and warmth of their relationship was restored. And they enjoyed a lovely evening together.
Isn’t this a very common pitfall for all of us in our family life experiences? Whenever we are caught in the heat of the moment, we almost instantly explode, instead of responding on the basis of our deepest values. The counsellor suggested that “what we all need is the pause button – something that enables us to stop between what happens to us and our response to it, and to choose our own response”.
As individuals, we have the capacity to develop this ‘pause’ button. It can be done by acting pro-actively, using the ability to act on principles and values, rather than reacting upon emotions or circumstances. The four unique gifts that Allah (swt) bestowed upon all the human beings are: self-awareness, conscience, imagination and will power. These are the gifts that we saw the counsellor apply in his example, too.
Initially, it may take time to develop them and undo the habit of reacting. With time, with conscious effort and constant reminder to oneself, spouse and family, it can be possible to control one’s angry thoughts and choose a more decent response.
These gifts can be developed and used over time to improve the quality of family relationships. The counsellor suggests that some families should even determine a signal to help them cut through or prevent angry responses.
Just as the heat is turned on and an argument is imminent, we can say a chosen phrase or word out loud, switch the lights on and off, gesture a thumbs down with our hand. This could compel all to stop and disengage immediately.
As Muslims, for us, the best guidance comes from the Prophet (sa), who advises us to either recite ‘Aoodhu Billahi min As-Shaitan nir Rajeem’ or hasten to change our position, or get a glass of water or proceed to perform Wudhu. This space gives us time to get a grip on ourselves and understand the circumstances better in the privacy of our thoughts before we respond negatively.
It is said: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”
The marriage counsellor went on to describe how this one paragraph has been so compelling, so memorable and so staggering that it has influenced the rest of his life. In his own words: “I cannot begin to describe the effect that idea had on me. I was overwhelmed by it. I reflected on it again. I revelled in the freedom of it. I personalized it. The more I pondered over it, the more I realized that I could choose responses that would affect the stimulus itself.”
Animals have no space between stimulus and response. They are totally a product of their natural instincts. We need to understand this difference very carefully and behave in a manner that befits Allah’s (swt) best creations in the world – us. May Allah (swt) grant us the strength to be pro-active and help our spouse and families imbibe it, too. Ameen.