It must have happened to you some time or the other. You get up in the morning all very excited. You’re going to start a new life, you tell yourself! You’re going to be a new you! You promise yourself that you’re going to be good and kind to everyone you meet that day. And then, just a few minutes later, something unpleasant happens and you find that you are very agitatedly snapping at someone!
For a short while, you’re terribly upset with that person for what he’s done. But, soon after, you find that the person you’re most upset with is yourself. You hate yourself for breaking your promise so easily, and that, too, so soon after you’ve made it! The guilt and shame at caving in to the temptation of losing your temper just when you firmly decided to behave differently for a change can last for hours, or even for the entire day.
That’s exactly what happened with me earlier this week. I said my prayers that morning, requesting God to bless me that all that I felt, thought, said and did that day should be just as He wanted it to be. I was going to be as good as I could for the whole day, I decided, very pleased at myself.
But you know what happened shortly afterwards? Just half an hour later, Priol, a colleague of mine, said something really smart-alecky. He does that often—I think he desperately wants to be thought of as an ‘intellectual’.
Priol’s comment really got my goat. I didn’t snap at him, though, but I wasn’t all very sugary either. I’m not sure how he reacted to what I said to him, but no sooner was I over with it than I began to feel awful about what I had done.
Why had I yielded to the temptation to react to Priol’s foolishness? Couldn’t I have kept my mouth shut instead?
At that moment, I hated Priol, of course. But, more than him, I hated myself—for putting paid to my morning promise to be good and kind to everyone that day.
Later in the day, I met my friend Maulana Abdul Latif, a middle-aged Islamic scholar, whom I’ve known now for almost 20 years. He’s a quiet, unassuming man, a gentle soul, the elderly uncle-sort of person you know you can turn to for support and guidance when you need it. I related to him what had happened that morning—about how I had wanted to be good all day but, then, how I had lost my temper with Priol.
How, I asked Maulana Sahib, did he handle people whom he found difficult or irritating?
“Generally, what I do in such situations”, he replied, “is to move away from the scene for a while, or else not to say anything at all. That way, you can avoid getting worked up, and you can keep your relationship with the person intact.”
That made a lot of sense, I thought. Had I done this when Priol was being smart-alecky, I wouldn’t have spoiled my day—and perhaps Priol’s, too.
Maulana Sahib then told me a story to illustrate the principle of handling irritating or difficult situations that he had suggested.
In his words:
“My late father worked as a government school teacher. After he retired, he helped out in a madrasa, an Islamic seminary, in a city not far from where we lived. His younger brother lived in the city, and he also had something to do with the seminary. Both my father and my uncle were Sufis. They were disciples of the same spiritual Master.
One day—this was some 25-30 years ago—Father and Uncle were at the seminary. I can’t remember what it was about, but the two of them had an argument, and Uncle spoke harshly to Father. That was something quite unheard of those days—a younger brother being rude to his elder brother. Father, who was a very sensitive person, was so shocked at this that he had a heart-attack!
Father somehow managed to get into a bus and rush back home. When I saw the state he was in, I didn’t know what was going to happen! And, of course, I was very angry with Uncle.
Father stayed in bed for almost two months. Gradually, with God’s grace, he recovered.
When he was back on his feet, one day Father said to me, “Let’s go to themadrasa today. It’s been a long time since I last went there. I wonder how things are.”
And so, we took the bus to the city. As we were nearing the city, Father said to me, “Son, all these years it has been my practice to visit your uncle in his home before going to the madrasa. So, that’s what we are going to do today, too.”
As you can imagine, when I heard that, I was very apprehensive. I had no idea what might transpire if Father and Uncle met. Who knows, they might start squabbling again! I wasn’t at all enthusiastic about the idea. But, then, I couldn’t question Father. That’s how I was brought up—we simply did as we were told by our parents.
“I’m not going to change my practice just because of what’s happened between your uncle and me,” Father explained.
We got to Uncle’s house and rang the bell. My cousin opened the door. He let us in and went to call Uncle.
Uncle was taken aback to see us! Perhaps he had never expected that Father would come to meet him after all that had happened. Since the day they had that altercation, he had made no effort to contact Father, not even to apologise for his behaviour, even though he knew about Father’s heart attack.
“I’m terribly sorry for what I did,” Uncle said as he rushed to my father and hugged him. He bent low, burying his head in Father’s chest. “Please forgive me.”
Do you know how Father responded? It was so amazing! Gently patting his head, he said to him, “Son (that’s what he used to call Uncle, because Uncle was much younger than him), what is there for you to be sorry about? What is there for me to forgive? Neither of us did anything at all. It was Satan who came between us and caused all that trouble.”
I was really touched at how Father had handled the situation. Wasn’t it simply beautiful? No blaming, no accusation, no talk of you-did-this and you-did-that.
You might think that Uncle, not Father, should have been the one to take the initiative to patch up—after all, Uncle was the younger brother, and he had caused Father such pain—but Father didn’t think that way. He didn’t wait for Uncle to take the first step. He didn’t say, “I’ll go to his house only if he asks for forgiveness and says ‘sorry’.”
No, Father wasn’t like that. He was a large-hearted man. He didn’t let pride or ego come in the way of reconciling with his brother. And then, when he and Uncle made up, he didn’t say that Uncle had done something wrong, which he had agreed to forgive. In fact, he didn’t think Uncle had been at fault at all. It was Satan, he said, and not Uncle, who was responsible for the mischief!
The way Father handled the situation was bound to melt Uncle’s heart. Had Father raked up the past, or had he tried to defend himself and point out Uncle’s mistake, things might have got worse than they already were. But Father handled it so beautifully and with such generosity that no sooner had he said the few words that he wanted to than he and Uncle were back to being good friends, just as before—so much so that Father turned to me and said, “Now, son, you go back home. I’m going to spend a few days with my brother. It’s been ages since the two of us were together!”
You can’t imagine how pleased I was!”
“This was how my father handled a very trying situation,” Maulana Sahib concluded. “You might find it useful the next time you’re confronted with the temptation to react to someone whose behavior you find irritating.”
Dealing with difficult situations isn’t easy, of course. It requires great wisdom, patience, large-heartedness and tact. How quickly we succumb to the temptation to react to such situations immediately and unthinkingly, completely forgetting that we’re doing ourselves much greater harm than the person we get angry or irritated with!
The course and quality of our lives are powerfully shaped by how we handle our irritations—and our negative emotions generally. This isn’t something that schools teach children about, though. Even parents often don’t do that these days.
But there’s plenty of literature now easily available on handling difficult situations—from both religious and secular perspectives—that can provide you useful tips if you are tired of constantly getting irritated and agitated and know how damaging it is—for you especially, and for others around you as well.
And, in addition to that, we all know people—relatives or friends like Maulana Abdul Latif—who’ll be only too happy to share with us stories of how they and their loved ones have skilfully handled trying situations, stories that can inspire us to learn to deal with our irritations more gently and sensibly.
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