Two Approaches in Life
We are well aware of two approaches in life. One is positive and the other is non-positive. I won’t use the term “negative”. To call the second approach “negative” is constraining the range of diversity that is found in non-positive domain. The result is we continue to follow the “negative” line without realizing that is “non-positive”. We must, therefore, classify one approach as positive and whatever is not positive as the other approach.
The question is what is positive approach and what is it that is not positive. To my mind, the positive approach is well described in the words of the Holy Qurán: Sabr and Shukr. My claim is not that the Holy Qurán has stated that Sabr and Shukr is the positive approach. My claim is that the Holy Qurán has enjoined us to observe Sabr and Shukr and, to me, observing Sabr and Shukr is the positive approach in life. Sabr is the foundation and Shukr is the pinnacle of positivity. Whatever comes our way and upsets us, to say the least, is a test of Sabr. When we observe Sabr, we remain calm, composed and self-possessed; we do not react; neither abuse nor fight.
Sabr is also needed when one is not happy with oneself – one’s persona, one’s achievements, one’s financial conditions, one’s parents, wife and children. Whatever is the reason for not being happy is a separate question. The reason is valid or invalid – we must not debate. When we debate the reason, the reason is normally valid, at least to our minds. Here is the catch: We get into the circular loop. It goes on, infinitely. Allah has not distinguished between valid and invalid reasons for not being happy. When we don’t have valid reasons for not being happy and we are not happy, it is all the worst. There is no valid reason and still we are not happy. Why? It is fundamentally wrong. On the other hand, when we have valid reasons for not being happy and we are not happy, it is all the worst as well. Because Sabr was enjoined to be observed in such circumstance. If ever we are asked to observe Sabr, it is more so on occasions where we have valid reasons for not being happy. Thus, we must observe Sabr whether there are valid reasons or invalid reasons for us to be unhappy. As humans, we may fall prey to notions of valid/invalid reasons. Yet we need to remind ourselves that it is not the right line of thinking. We must stop whenever we are aware of such thought process.
Shukr is the height of positive approach. When the base for Sabr is laid well, Shukr gets the strength to rise above. Shukr presupposes Sabr. Without Sabr, there cannot be Shukr. He who is thankful is already accepting what he or she is and what he or she has. We know there is no limit in this world. Whatever we have, there is always someone better than us. For the Pharoan, where there was no one better than him, he thought about God and aspired to be God. This is the extreme example. In case of us, there is always someone better than us in terms of looks, intellect or wealth; they might have more favourable circumstances, more success in their ventures, higher recognition in their domain of interest and much loved by their family and friends. They may have all these privileges in reality or in our perception alone. This is beside the point. We need to understand that we thank Allah for what we are and what we have only when we observe Sabr; thankfulness follows Sabr. We cannot thank Allah properly unless we observe Sabr. A person who says “Thank you Allah” but continue to envy others has not learnt the meaning of Shukr. Sabr and Shukr go hand in hand. Sabr leads to Shukr and Shukr reflects Sabr.
The non-positive approach has been discussed much within the discussion about positive approach. In this discussion salient aspects of non-positive approach were highlighted. Non-positive approach goes much beyond. One such example of non-positive approach is to give-up. Not to make efforts for what one intends to achieve is sheer reflection of non-positive approach. To stop making efforts for what one intends to achieve is another clear indication of non-positive approach. It stems from not observing Sabr and not being thankful. Putting an end to efforts is not Sabr. Sabr is to bear the burden of efforts. Sabr is to see results not coming and still tolling. Sabr is to take steps when the destination is not seen around. It is wrong conception that when there is no light at the end of the tunnel, stop walking. You have to keep walking; fatigue, hopelessness and despair should not take the better of you. This is Sabr. This is Shukr. And this is Positive Approach.
Positive/non-positive approach extends to our outlook on life and on people around us. Positive approach sees meaning in life in whatever form it is and non-positive approach finds fault with it. For positive mind, being born in Pakistan is as wonderful as being born in, let’s say, the USA. For positive mind, life is ever bloom with lots of opportunities, for others it is bleak, dreadful and evil per se. Life thrives on positivity; hence positive minds take full advantage of this. They grow big, dream high and achiever nobler goals. Life dries out due to negative approach. Negativity is retrogressive. It puts an end to life: first stage is stagnation, then retrogression and then finally death. It is painful. Slowly but surely, the pain goes on and then brings everything to a dead end. Positivity is growth, happiness, delight and satisfaction. Negativity is the opposite side: anxiety, stress, pain and self-destruction.
Positive approach looks at the bright side of the relationships. Non-positive thinking rejoices in undermining other people and takes pride in reviling them and making personal attacks on them. Criticism is not prohibited. There is a difference between positive criticism and negative criticism. Positive criticism is constructive. Negative criticism is destructive: the destruction of someone’s personality, someone’s professional or academic stature. When views are criticized, it paves the way for better opinion. When personality is reviled, it leads to break-up of relationships, invokes us-against-them battle and ruptures social fabric of the society. The only gainer is the negative mind: it is pleased to see the opponent down. This is the not the real gain. It is illusion of the gain. It is indeed a great loss: loss of all stakeholders: us, theirs, our friends and relatives, colleagues and society at large.