Psychology of Gheebah, Sorrow and Envy

tumblr_md0m4qVITd1qil46jo1_1280Have you ever tried to find out why, even after working so hard to avoid backbiting or thinking negatively about a situation, we bump into the same thoughts again and again? Are you struggling to leave your habit of negative thinking or trying to look towards the brighter side of the situation? Our reasoning behind events and relationship issues are from automatic thoughts, habits of thinking that come to us so effortlessly and we start assuming they come from outside our own mind.

When the aspiring Muslim woman encounters a situation at family or home, she is often trapped into a myriad of cognitive distortions that lead her to backbite, envy or compare herself to others. 

Recently, faced with an interpersonal conflict, I realized that a venomous self-critic resides inside me which blurs my vision of reality and takes me far away from the purpose which is to please Allah (swt). The Muslimah today can be sensitive and at times very anxious. She undoubtedly has to fulfil many responsibilities at home and in the society. The Muslimah, in her struggle, tends to think negatively about situations, relationships and especially about her own self. At heart, the Muslim girl or woman is emotional and yet very strong.

When the aspiring Muslim woman encounters a situation at family or home, she is often trapped into a myriad of cognitive distortions that lead her to backbite, envy or compare herself to others. This is common especially when the vulnerable Muslimah has to deal with multiple family issues and handle the household chores to her best.

The theory of cognitive distortions has its roots in the work of Aaron Beck and David Burns. They highlighted the errors in our perceptions that we continually make, if we don’t identify them. To actualize the essence of a true Muslimah, a woman has to challenge the erroneous thought patterns so that she can identify the unintentional harm that she is doing to herself and others. Our Deen has all the required remedies for perceptual distortions however, we just need to identify where we lack.

We want the other person to change to suit our peace of mind. In fact, our peace of mind is rooted in the remembrance of Allah and a very strong connection with Deen.

Following are some selected cognitive distortions as outlined in the work of David Burns, that I felt can be applied to the day-to-day contradictory  situations that we face  causing us to automatically start thinking negatively without consciously choosing to do so.

  • Filtering: This means magnifying the negative aspects in a situation or a relationship, leaving out all the positive aspects. For example, in a family gathering, some far relative from the in laws makes a cynical remark over one’s appearance; we automatically start thinking bad about her, without knowing the person completely and without considering their positive aspects.
  • Polarized Thinking: This is the either/or thinking style. We think in yes or no terms, without understanding the situation holistically. We might become so fond of perfection in our kitchen cleaning, that a minor stain somewhere will disappoint us to the point that we start considering it as a malfunction in kitchen cleaning. The kitchen is either all clean or not clean at all; this will disappoint us, affect our habits and the entire day will be spent struggling with a bad mood.
  • Personalization: In the pursuit of comparison of our work, our homes and ourselves with others, we tend to see ourselves as the cause of a situation at odds. For instance, when we consider ourselves responsible for an unhealthy external event such as a guest with digestive trouble; we automatically start thinking that something was wrong in our cooking or food. Such thoughts do occur normally, and they need to be challenged otherwise they might develop into core negative backgrounds that we think alongside. Control Fallacy: One part of control fallacy is that we feel helpless or externally controlled. We try to displace the uneasiness of an event on someone else, feeling controlled. For instance, saying something like “I can’t help it if the dessert doesn’t taste good; I was busy working for mother-in-law, she is so demanding!”
  • Blaming: This has become so common and it can ruin the tranquillity of many relationships especially between parents and children or husband and wife. For instance, a mother might yell on her child, “Your disobedience to me makes me feel so miserable!” We should make a note to ourselves that Allah (swt) has given us free will and control to manage our emotional reactions.
  • Shoulds: Shoulds are the most dangerous of all distortions; the kind which can ruin one’s very own mental health. Let’s say, in a cultured gathering, we automatically start saying to our sister how the sister should have spoken, should have covered herself and what not. This way, we get trapped in the tunnel of Gheebah and don’t realize that we are indirectly eating the flesh of our Muslim fraternity.
  • Fallacy of Change: This is also one of our distorted perceptions and values. We believe that we can make the other person change. Have you ever wondered why? This is because, we believe inside without much toil in our mind that for our happiness and sorrow, we are dependent on these people. We want the other person to change to suit our peace of mind. In fact, our peace of mind is rooted in the remembrance of Allah and a very strong connection with Deen.

If we commence to identify these modes of thinking, we can gain the balance between mind, body and soul. Hazy, negative thinking prevents us from getting closer to Allah and seeking His pleasure and love. Also, we should pause and reflect over the signs around us to abstain from negative thinking and break the shackles of anxiety, hopelessness and lack of enthusiasm to completely delve into this beautiful Deen. Consider the following quotes and Ayahs whenever you feel you’re again dripping into that same old mode of thinking again.

  • Yasmin Mogahed: “If you want to kill something, neglect it. It happens in both good and bad. Neglect a relationship, it dies. Neglect your Iman, it dies. But the same principal applies when you want to kill something like a thought or a desire. Neglect it, it dies.”
  • Al-Mutanabbi:“Don’t receive what time brings except with indifference, as long as your soul is a companion for your body, whatever you are happy with is fleeting, and sadness revives not lost loved ones.” (Don’t be Sad, Aid-al Qarni, IIPH).
  • Verily, those who are Al-Muttaqun (the pious), when an evil thought comes to them from Shaitan (Satan), they remember (Allah), and (indeed) they then see (aright). (Al-Araf 7:201)
  • …..and never give up hope of Allah’s Mercy. Certainly no one despairs of Allah’s Mercy, except the people who disbelieve. (Yusuf 12:87)
  • The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend (Fussilat 41:34)
  • Say: “O ‘Ibadi (My slaves) who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (Az-Zumar 39:53)
  • Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our Maula (Lord, Helper and Protector).” And in Allah let the believers put their trust (At-Taubah 9:51)

For a daily reminder, you can ponder over the following Hadeeth:

On the authority Of Abu Malik Al-Harith bin Asim Al- Ashari, The Messenger (sa) said: “Purity is half of faith. Alhamdulillah [Praise be to Allah] fills the scales, and Subhana’Allah [How far is Allah from every imperfection] and Alhamdulillah [Praise be to Allah] fill that which is between heaven and earth. Prayer is light; charity is a proof; patience is illumination; and the Quran is an argument for or against you. Everyone starts his day and is a vendor of his soul, either freeing it or bringing about its ruin.” (Muslim)

[Infograph] Jannah-Focused Muslims

Here is a concise infograph detailing the characteristics of Jannah-focused and legacy driven Muslims. Image is courtesy Islamographic.com and here, it is posted with their consent. Do share with others, also!

JannahFocused

 

Raising Parents

Parents

Fathers and mothers are like shepherds. Their children are like their flocks.

Let us feel the seriousness of this Hadeeth narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar (rtam): Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Everyone of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges. The ruler who has authority over people is a guardian and is responsible for them. A man is a guardian of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is a guardian of her husband’s house and children, and is responsible for them. A slave is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. All of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges.” (Bukhari)

Our pious predecessors made Deen the top priority of their lives. Teaching their children Deen and raising them as good Muslims was a topmost concern. Asma bint Abi Bakr (rtaf) is a shining example, raising a son like Abdullah bin Zubair (rtam). So is Umm Sulaim (rtaf), mother of Anas bin Malik (rtam). In the later years, we have the mother of Imam Shafai, who, despite being a widow, sacrificed a lot to make her son a scholar.

A child’s first years of life are critical, as during this time, he absorbs a great deal. His mind and memory are remarkable. How can we capitalize on these years, in order to teach them Deen and raise them as good Muslims? Here are some thoughts:

Be a Role Model

Children don’t listen to what we say. They listen to our every deed. They observe what we do. Be a role-model for them. Acquire the qualities you wish to see in them. Rid yourself of traits and habits that you do not want in your child. Following are some examples:

  • We want our children to be close to Allah (swt). Are we close to Allah (swt)? Do we think of Him often? What’s our first response when something pleasing happens? How do we react when something displeasing happens?
  • Do we model gentle, kind and tolerant behaviour for our kids? Do we keep losing our cool, yelling and hitting often? Then when the kids yell and hit, we become angry and tell them not to do so. If yelling and hitting are bad, how come they find us doing that?
  • If they spoil or spill something, do we lose our temper, or are we patient and forgiving? Our behaviour in these everyday incidents can teach lifelong lessons to our children about patience and forgiveness.
  • Do we tell them not to touch our things? Then when they do not share their things with siblings and others, do we get irritated and advise: “You should share. It’s good to share”?
  • Do we always speak the truth, even when it is difficult? A Mumin (believer) does not lie.
  • Every now and then, we make promises to our kids. When they ask for something, we say: “I’ll give you later, or I’ll take you there, or I’ll show you that.” Now, that’s a promise, and it needs to be kept. If we keep our word, we’ve taught our kids, without lecturing, the importance of keeping one’s word. But if we don’t, we’ve taught our kids that promises can be broken without a second thought.
  • When we make mistakes, are we humble and honest enough to accept them? Can we say sorry, without trying to justify the wrong behaviour?
  • What kind of a relationship do we have with our spouse? Is it based on mutual respect, care and understanding? When children see their father respecting and caring for their mother, and their mother being obedient and caring towards their father, they learn similar good behaviour. For Allah’s (swt) sake and then for our own and our children’s sake, we have to care for and value our spouses. If we have differences with them, we should discuss them privately.
  • Do we fulfill the rights of our relatives? Do we prefer friends over family? Do we have good relations with our parents, siblings and in-laws? What kind of an example are we setting for our children?
  • Do our kids see us caring about others, especially our Muslim brethren? Do they see us giving away our favourite things to others? From as early as two, we can talk to our kids about poor people and together select things for giving away. We can also place things and money in their hands to give to the needy.
  • Adults often tell their little ones: “Say Salam to aunty/uncle.” The Prophet’s (sa) way was different. He used to say Salam to kids. There is a Hadeeth in Sahih Bukhari narrated by Anas bin Malik (rtam) that he (Anas) passed by a group of boys and greeted them (said Salam) and said: “The Prophet (sa) used to do so.” Often, small kids feel shy to say Salam to adults. Following the Prophet’s (sa) way, we should not hesitate to offer Salam to our kids and other people’s kids. Insha’Allah, as they grow up, they will return this goodness to us.
  • How important is Salah to us? Seeing their parents praying on time five times a day would teach kids a better lesson than an hour-long talk on the importance of prayers. (This is not to say that talks don’t have value.)
  • Is learning the Deen a priority for us? Do our kids see us spending regular time with the Quran? Do we attend at least one weekly class to increase our faith and knowledge? Late Khurram Murad (Daee, thinker, writer, and Director-General of Islamic Foundation, Leicester, UK) was educated at home till the primary level. He dedicated his book “Way to the Quran” to his mother, saying: “At her knees, I learnt to read the Quran; upon her insistence that I must learn Arabic, I was sent to the school of Maulvi Sahib, who gave me the rudimentary knowledge, upon which I could build later; seeing her devotion to the Quran, reading it with understanding, for hours and hours, kindled a spark in my heart, which has continued to illumine my way; finally, through her example and silent but solid support, I found my way to a life of struggle in the way of Allah (swt).”

Children learn their real, lasting Islamic lessons by observing us. Our primary effort has to be focused upon practising Islam ourselves. If we succeed, then, Insha’Allah, the supplementary education (through books, talks, etc.) will be more effective.

Education and Tarbiyah

It’s amazing how children learn so much through everyday conversations, book-reading and story-telling. Here are specific things I did with my children, all below the age of seven then. The following is not to portray myself as an exemplary mother. I’m far from that and make mistakes every day:

  • I starting reciting Duas for different occasions right from the time they were born, for instance, I would say Salam to them when they woke up, and recite the Dua when waking up and going to sleep, when going to the toilet, when leaving the house and returning, when sitting in the car, during illness, when getting up from a gathering, when sneezing, when seeing someone in a hardship, when it rained and so on. Often, after saying the Dua, I would further say out loud its meaning in simple words. This way, they would pick the meanings and realize that all these (Arabic) words have a meaning. For example, when saying the meaning of the Dua for boarding a vehicle (Subhan alladhee Sakhkhara lana…), I would say: ”Allah (swt) is Paak (glorified), Who gave this car in our control; otherwise, we could not have controlled it, and to Allah (swt), we are going back.” I would break up the Duas for my son to repeat after me, for example, Al-hum-du-lillah, as it was difficult for him to say it in one go.
  • When they were babies (and also when they were older), I would recite the Quran to them. I didn’t fix a time or place for this. I would do so when putting them to sleep or while working in the kitchen, or when on the go. Children pick up a lot this way. My elder daughter could recite Surah Fatihah when she was 2 ½ but my son could not. Each child is different, and we should understand and respect that. When reciting the Quran, I would sometimes say its meaning in simple words. My daughter understood that these words have meanings, and often she would stop me during my recitation and ask what this or that word meant.
  • I would refer to the Quran or Ahadeeth, as the situation arose. For example, once we were outdoors. It was cloudy. My daughter asked when it would rain; I replied: “I don’t know. Only Allah (swt) knows. He has mentioned in the Quran five things that only He knows (rain being one of them; see Surah Luqman, verse 34)”. If the child yawned and didn’t cover the mouth, I would tell them to do so and mention the Hadeeth about it.
  • Learning the Deen must be a daily activity for Muslims. We read Islamic books and stories almost every day. If we want our children to follow the Prophet’s (sa) footsteps, then we must regularly tell them stories of the Prophet (sa), his companions and other prophets of Allah (swt). Children love stories, and these are the best stories. Avoid telling them nonsense stories because story-telling is not just for fun – it shapes their character.

When my son was a toddler, I told him the story of Prophet Yunus (as) in simple words, using actions (for instance, of the fish swallowing him). I’ve told him the ‘doggy’ story about a thirsty man who, after fulfilling his own thirst, gave the water also to a thirsty dog, for which Allah (swt) forgave his sins. My son loved this story and wanted to hear the ‘doggy’ story again and again. I would tell him about Prophet Musa’s (as) miracle. To explain this, I would take his hand, put it in his armpit, take it out and say that it would be shining. I’ve told him about Prophet Sulaiman (as) and the ants and about the Prophet’s (sa) grandson riding on his back when he was leading the prayer (and that the Prophet (sa) loved children).

Once, when I was telling my daughter about the Prophet’s (sa) stay in the cave of Thawr during the Hijrah, I showed her a picture of Mount Thawr. My son got curious. I showed him the picture and told him a little about it. There will be such spontaneous moments every day for children to learn something. I don’t tell them fairy tales which contain such incorrect ideas as Shirk, pre-marital friendship, magic, lies or plain stupidity.

Our Deen differentiates between beneficial and non-beneficial knowledge. The Prophet (sa) has taught us Duas for seeking beneficial knowledge and Duas for seeking Allah’s (swt) protection from non-beneficial knowledge. Through personal example and guidance, we have to encourage our children to seek beneficial knowledge, and not to waste time and pollute the minds with non-beneficial knowledge. By refraining from junk literature, we set a good example for our children.

  • We don’t have a T.V. We used to have a small TV set that was used sparingly for watching videos (Islamic or scientific). The harms of TV far, far outweigh its benefits, and given what Allah (swt) has said about alcohol and gambling’s sin exceeding their benefits, it’s best to say ‘bye bye’ to the TV set.
  • Children learn much more by asking questions, than by answering them. I take my children’s questions seriously. This often means stopping what I’m doing to answer them or to look up the answer. They feel satisfied and their curiosity stays alive and grows. Once, before going to sleep, my daughter asked me who a Shaheed (martyr) was. I told her what I knew and asked her to remind me in the morning to look up more. In the morning, we found a list of possible Shaheeds: one who drowns, dies under a wall-collapse, dies due to plague, etc.
  • From an early age (between the ages of 1 and 2), I informed them about the difference between our things and other people’s, for example, if they’d pick up an object belonging to someone else, I would tell them: “It’s not ours. We can’t use it without their permission.”
  • I would encourage them to make Dua (though I need to do more of this). We had kept food for birds on our window-sill. Sometimes, the birds would come and sometimes not. My toddler son liked them very much and felt upset when none would come. I would say: “Oh Allah! Please send birds for him. Ameen.” As time went by, he got used to this, and when no birds would come, he would say to me: “Ameen,” which was his way of asking me to make Dua.
  • I would try to link events to Allah (swt)’s Will and Qudrah. Once, when it rained, my son asked why, and I responded: “By Allah’s (swt) command.” I also told him about the water-cycle in simple words.
  • I would tell them: “Allah (swt) would be happy, if we do such-and-such”, instead of: “He will punish us if we don’t do it.” Don’t mention hell-fire excessively when they are small (say, under 7). Present Jannah in a way they understand and feel attracted to. I tell my kids that the toffees and chocolates in Jannah would be such that they won’t spoil our teeth, and that we could eat as much as we want. I tell them about the Bazar held every Friday in Jannah. I tell them that we will see Allah (swt) there.
  • I would attend Islamic classes (as a listener as well as a teacher). My kids would accompany me. While teaching the ladies, I would attend to the children’s needs, too (peeling an orange for them or nursing the baby). Somehow, adults in Islamic classes and Masajid often deal with children in a surprisingly harsh and cold way, which bears no resemblance to the Prophet’s (sa) way of dealing with them. Why don’t we consider this aspect of Sunnah as applicable to us? For shaping their Islamic character, it is important for Muslim children to attend these gatherings from a young age. In the Prophet’s (sa) time, children were a part of these gatherings and were not cut off from the lives of adults, as they are today. It would do the Ummah a lot of good, if Muslims studied and emulated the Prophet’s (sa) dealing with children. If children are welcomed in Islamic gatherings, they would turn out to be mature and better Muslims, and more loving towards their elders. Insha’Allah, we wouldn’t need to complain later that the youth is not interested in Islamic gatherings or the Masjid!

Parenting is hard work. We want this hard work to pay off in the Akhirah. Let raising our children as good Muslims be the focus of our parenting endeavours. Let pleasing Allah (swt) be the Niyyah in our journey. I pray Allah (swt) accepts the efforts Muslim families are making. Ameen.

Character versus Personality

character-traits

In “The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking”, author Susan Cain writes: “We moved from what cultural historians call a culture of character to a culture of personality. During the culture of character, what was important was the good deeds that you performed when nobody was looking.” Prophet Muhammad (sa) symbolizes the culture of character, where he was only cognizant of the fact that he was answerable to Allah (swt) alone.

Today, our kids are personifications of the new ideal person. “…we suddenly had the rise of movies and movie stars. Movie stars, of course, were the embodiment of what it meant to be a charismatic figure. So, part of people’s [our kids’] fascination with these movie stars was for what they could learn from them…” (Susan Cain) They learn about being popular and getting ahead. Welcome to the culture of personality!

We wonder why our children are disobedient, do not listen, are rude towards others and give tart replies. The answer is obvious. It is the prevailing culture and model of success that has made them so. What can we do to counter it? After a survey of 8 to 15 year olds (boys and girls across 3 continents), we have compiled a practical guide.

  1. Be decisive: When you make a decision, stick to it. If something is off limits and not allowed, then under no amount of pleading or duress will it be permissible. Granted there are certain grey areas, but define those. For example, missing Salah is a straight ‘not to be done’. However, completing homework right now can be negotiable.
  2. Say it like you mean it: Kids of all ages have this uncanny sense of knowing, when you can be persuaded. They detect weakness in resolve and then move in with their innocent faces to plead till you relent. If something is non-negotiable, then mean it when you forbid it. Do not use “I’ll tell Abbu/Ammi” or “let your father/mother come and then we will see”, or any other such statements. You are the parent. You have the authority. Use it.
  3. The Rubric: A rubric is a tool used by teachers to assess a particular task given to students. Often, the students are given these criteria, so they know what areas they will be assessed in. Allah (swt) in His infinite mercy has given us such a tool; sadly, we rarely use it. Make a copy of the rubric below, personalize it and sit with your kids to decide, where each task falls and then hold them to it.
  Fard

(obligatory)

Mustahab

(recommended)

Mubah

(permitted – neither good nor bad)

Makruh (disliked but not forbidden) Haram (forbidden)
Parent’s expectations non- negotiable discussion Negotiable discussion but probably not allowed or limited access not allowed – non- negotiable
Parent’s Reaction thrilled pleased concerned dislike angry
Tasks Salah (all the time and on time) studying and homework email friends Facebook/social media/TV going to clubs/movies that have Haram content
  reciting Quran everyday helping siblings/ taking out the garbage cell phone usage going out to the mall with friends reading books that have Haram content

Be as specific as you can be. Try not to generalize – that way there is no room for a: “I wasn’t sure what that meant” reply, which has become oh so popular.

  1. Islam as a Deen, not only rituals: Prioritize and schedule your activities and day according to Islam. If you make Deen a part of daily life, so will your kids. This is, of course, common sense, but we, as parents, do digress and as a result give our kids mixed messages. The most common example is lying on the phone about being busy, etc. Kids are confused: lying in any form is a sin, so why is what the parent just did acceptable, but when she/he lies it is not? Be the role model, do not let others (movie stars/singers/sports personalities) usurp that spot.
  1. Be fair: A rule that applies to one child, by default also applies to the rest. For example, if you do not let one child snack between meals then you cannot allow the others either. For most rules, age/gender does not play a factor. Treat them equally, so they know they are loved equally.
  1. Be a friend: “Most parents want a mutually respectful and loving relationship with their children, (…) this means giving in to their harmless pleasures, saying yes to the little things, so when you do say no to things that are absolutely unacceptable, they trust that you are not trying to control them but are ‘raising’ them. Parents need to know that kids are hitting puberty earlier, but we do not let them become adults until much later in life. Psychologists tell us that the reward centers of the adolescent brain are much more active than those of either children or adults.” (MuslimMatters.org) So, let them have their absolute moment of joy, as long as it is permissible. Communicate with them, enjoy their exuberance. Do you remember how it felt to win?
  1. Responsibility and choices: Teach them that if they want choices, they will have to be responsible for the consequences. We do not teach them how to think critically. Let them make mistakes, nurture their hurt and teach them to become stronger after the fall. A mistake is not a failure – it is a learning situation.
  1. Be tech savvy: In the social media, super-connected world of today, parents really do themselves a disservice, when they do not educate themselves about gadgets and technology. Don’t give your child a smartphone, if you do not know how to use it yourself.” (Muslimmatters.org)
  1. Be informed: All kids are good; however, be vigilant. This is not a trust issue but a smart parenting move. Know who the friends/peer groups are. Check up on them unexpectedly. Have access to his/her phone, Facebook account, etc. Know what their daily routine is, ask them what they did that day. Communicate! Show them that you care enough to be there when needed.
  1. There is a connection between sensitivity and conscience. The more sensitive a person is, the more moral choices they will make. Guide your child to be sensitive to others’ needs and views, and not to criticize. The ‘cool’ of today is insensitivity. We need to cultivate kids, who think before they act/speak. To do this, programme yourself with this new line of action – your kids will follow.

Subhan’Allah, and may the odds be ever in your favour.

Personality Ethics vs. Character Ethics

lzm037

Reaping benefits out of the Quran and Seerah, I always notice, how they place absolutely uncompromising emphasis on the value of character integrity. But what really took me by surprise was reading Stephen R. Covey’s bestseller “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The book was so much in line with the core Islamic values. The author narrates his personal experience of the middle seventies, when he was required to review 200 years of success literature published in the USA as part of a doctoral program.

He scanned hundreds of books on self-improvement, popular psychology, and self-help. A startling pattern emerging in the content of the literature was noticed. Much of the success literature of the past 50 years was superficial. It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes with social band-aids and aspirin that addressed acute problems and sometimes even appeared to solve them temporarily, but left the underlying chronic troubles untouched to fester and resurface later on.

It was after the World War I that the trend of focusing on the personality ethics emerged. According to Covey, “success became more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques that lubricate the processes of human interaction. Some of this philosophy was expressed in inspiring and sometimes valid maxims such as ‘Your attitude determines your altitude,’ ‘Smiling wins more friends than frowning,’ and ‘Whatever the mind of man conceives and believes, it can achieve.'”

It also focused on clearly manipulative, even deceptive tactics, such as using techniques to make others like us and to fake interest in the hobbies of others for achieving what we want. The personality ethic approved of intimidating others and wearing the ‘power look.’

However, some elements of the personality ethics are essential for success, such as personality growth, communication skill training, and education in the field of influence strategies and positive thinking. But they are secondary in greatness. It is like constructing a building, whose foundation is the character ethics, or reaping a harvest, whose seeds lie in our character strength.

Now, let us have a look at the character ethics. In 1776, thinkers and social scientists of United States believed that the foundation of success lied in such values as integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the golden rule. Everything that the Quran has ever taught us – that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can experience true success and enduring happiness only as they integrate these principles into their characters. These are the principles of character ethics.

If we were to use human influence strategies and tactics to get work done, to be more motivated, or to make others like us, while our character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity, then in the long run, we cannot be successful. Once the charm disappears and the real face appears, all techniques will cave in. Frustration will build, relationships will become sour, and in spite of efforts, results will be far from desirable.

Lessons to Learn

As the West compartmentalized the character ethics, rather than recognizing it as a foundational and catalytic ingredient of success, they have paid the price. It gave birth to a ruthless and self-centered perception of life. This can be very blatantly observed in the media campaigns they broadcast and through the behaviors of an entire generation, which skipped the core values to cram in quick-fix solutions into their lives.

But as the saying goes, it is not a pity to sight someone making a mistake but to experience others repeating that mistake, rather than learning from it. Pakistan regretfully is treading the same path.

Last year, when I experienced the ordeal of getting my 3 and ½ year old son into school, my shock knew no bounds. Every reputed school was interested in an extrovert and outspoken child. Every mother wanted her kid to be the most eloquent voice box in town, mainly because that was in demand. God forbid, if the child failed the school entrance test – the parents went into mourning, self-pity, and envy.

I wondered if ever any of these parents went to that length to teach their children the significance of honesty, compassion, or other basic values in life. Instead, at this tender age of learning, they were being conditioned to a whole set of superficial traits, which would mould their mindsets into believing that this is the ultimate key to achievement. Later in life when they fail, they would be left devastated and confused.

Steven Covey has presented his case with a strong example of the law of harvest. If we forget to sow in the spring, play all summer and try to cram in the harvest in autumn, what will happen? Can we expect a shortcut? No. It is a natural system. The price must be paid and process must be followed. This also works for human relationships, whether at work or at home. If marriages are contracted on the pretext of false pretence and a flimsy veneer bringing two families together, when the charming tactics and techniques begin to crack up, relationships will break up, too.

There is an extremely powerful and critical lesson to be learnt here, something that every single one of us can relate to. We need to develop, change, and even train ourselves inside-out. Basic goodness gives life to technique. Once the values are in place, additional tactics can lead us to success. In Islamic terms, we can relate this to Tazkiyah-e-Nafs (self-accountability). Attempting to correct our own faults and constantly trying to improve ourselves by following the primary values (character ethics) and then developing the secondary principles (personality ethics). Once we have sown the seeds of a strong character upholding core values, success is bound to follow in our personal and professional lives and even beyond – in our lives in the Hereafter.