For many, our lives equate to a string of games where we either win or lose. Whether it’s winning a basketball game at school, being the most popular girl in college, being ranked the best student at university, getting promoted to the top job – we are all fighting. We continually compete against others and pat ourselves on the back when we’ve done better than someone else or drown in misery and resentment when we lose. It is an unfortunate pattern of egocentricity that has molded itself into norm and become the fabric of this world. This has a profound effect on our relationships, which are in an essence the building blocks of the wider world and this leaves us running around in vicious circles.
And we wonder why it is so difficult to find a true, sincere friend amongst the people we share this planet with.
The idea of fighting and a need to be better than everyone else has become ingrained into society’s psyche. Growing up, we become trained to behave this way and even in our closest relationships, we find ourselves fighting for the trophy. So when someone hands over that trophy, without us having to put up a fight against them it’s…overwhelming. We see something as rare as a blue moon today: selflessness. They are those who willingly lose the fight, in humility and sacrifice, because they value the relationship in concern. Those that forgive before apologies surface, give without expectation and listen for the sake of understanding the other person. And we find that these are the few who are truly content; not the superficially-basking-in-joy-after-you-have-put-others-down-to-have-your-way kind of contentment but the freedom of the heart that comes in the lack of expectation from others other than Allah (swt). It is not unusual to come across people waiting for an apology, expecting gratitude for generosity or fearing they will ‘lose’ an argument. And since for many of us this runs in our veins, we know how much these can suck us into a quicksand of anxiety and it certainly is not nice. It becomes painful and restrictive in every way, until you can physically feel all this. But for the selfless, the losers – they have learnt to let go. They have unshackled themselves from any human expectation – and these are the people who have been praised by Allah (swt).
In a Hadith we learn of the people who will be respected by the Prophets and martyrs for their high status with Allah and these are the “people who loved each other for Allah’s sake, without being related to one another or being tied to one another by the exchange of wealth. By Allah, their faces will be luminous and they will be upon light. They will feel no fear when the people will be feeling fear and they will feel no grief when the people will be grieving.” (Abu Dawud) The Hadith continues to mention the following verse of the Qur’an where these people have been considered as Allah’s friends sA:
“Behold, on the friends of Allah there shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (10:62)
What further meaning lies behind these words I do not know, for I am no scholar, but just my reflections make me wonder about the fear and grief mentioned here; whether that may also be in any way related to the fear and grief of anxiety felt by those who have not yet adopted selfless virtues as mentioned. Once we let go of the pressures we’ve built up inside ourselves of wanting to win the dunya, we begin to discover true freedom and touch the edge of greatness.
There is no doubt in the beauty of the act of selflessness, even the selfish would agree, and of course the tranquillity it brings to the heart of the perpetrator but not only that, it makes society healthy. If every person, every organisation, every idea were to be embedded in selflessness then I should think many difficulties and crises would be avoided, from the very little things in our daily lives to world-scale transformation.
Clinical psychologist Dr Kelly Flanagan, writes wonderfully in his article about this concept. Though written about marriage in particular, I believe there’s a lot to learn generally to better ourselves as individuals:
“Maybe marriage, when it’s lived by two losers in a household culture of mutual surrender, is just the training we need to walk through this world—a world that wants to chew you up and spit you out—without the constant fear of getting the short end of the stick. Maybe we need to be formed in such a way that winning loses its glamour, that we can sacrifice the competition in favor of people. Maybe what we need, really, is to become a bunch of losers in a world that is being a torn apart by the competition to win. If we did that, maybe we’d be able to sleep a little easier at night, look our loved ones in the eyes, forgive and forget, and clap for the people around us.
I think that in a marriage of losers, a synergy happens and all of life can explode into a kind of rebellion that is brighter than the sun. The really good rebellions, the ones that last and make the world a better place, they are like that, aren’t they? They heal, they restore. They are big, and they shine like the sun. And, like the sun, their gravitational pull is almost irresistible.”
On the topic of the sun, I’ll finish with these Persian gems:
“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”