The Arrogance of Forgiveness

My naivety has often led to prickly situations that didn’t end well. Sometimes the prickiness of the situation resulted in the loss of what I assumed to be a heartwarming friendship. But the thing about conviction is that it makes it impossible to withdraw an unpopular sentiment in order to preserve the illusion of friendship, or any relationship for that matter. I refer to it as an illusion because once its true nature is revealed, we discover that what we held dear was simply a perception that we courted, and not a substance shared by another.

Naivety in this case is the belief that if we saw value in our relationship with someone, then they surely must appreciate the same value in return. This is seldom true because it dictates that the experience and the benefit derived from that relationship is equal for both parties. The reality is closer to the fact that one party is more invested in the relationship than the other. While one is anticipating an endearing endurement, the other may be considering a quick exit. One is naively trusting while the other is naively suspicious. And that’s how relationships break down.

The trusting think nothing of testing sincerity because they do not want to be treated with such suspicion in return, and the suspicious look for evidence of sincerity because their trusting nature was once the cause of their fall from grace. Unfortunately, we are more likely to project on future relationships the lessons learnt from failures than we are to anticipate the beauty that we may have once experienced.

The frailty of human nature is such that we see fit to defend ourselves from potential harm before we are inclined to embrace potential benefit. Some assume this to be our instinct for self preservation, but I disagree. I think it’s simply the result of insecurity grounded in the belief that we are only capable of being broken so many times before it will be impossible to put us back together again. Resilience is a choice, not a limited resource, and therefore we choose to protect ourselves from a self imposed limitation rather than a real threat.

We reduce our capacity to deal with adversity when we live in fear of the future. When we eventually realise that we are gripped by fear more than we are optimistic about the future, it inevitably leads us down a path of introspection in our efforts to determine where we gave up the desire to live joyfully.

Such introspection inevitably leads to recollections of failed relationships and our expectations that were betrayed in the process. The bitterness or disappointment that ensued became the burden that we nurtured to dress our wounds as we focused on our failed expectations rather than the personal demons that led others to betray the trust that we so willingly gave them.

When we reach that point, there is no shortage of people that will advise us to forgive the betrayer, or to forgive ourselves so that we can move on. And that sounds like great advice, so we take it. Along with taking the advice, we also take the assumption of innocence and benevolence that we are gracious enough to forgive which implicitly implies that we are better than them. We are the aggrieved and they were the aggressors. While that may hold true in a court of law, it is far from true in the reality that presented itself.

The arrogance of forgiveness lies in the assumption that we are morally superior and therefore bestow our forgiveness on those that have wronged us. Were we as repentant to those that we may have wronged in the past, or were we also then focused on justifying our suspicion or anger to explain why we behaved in ways that warranted the forgiveness of others?

While the act of forgiveness itself has merit in our efforts to redress the past, we cannot afford to lose sight of the entitlement to moral superiority that it endows on those that are more inclined to justify their own behaviour in the face of someone else’s failure. Acceptance and a desire to understand is infinitely more grounding than forgiveness ever will be. Acceptance and understanding does not imply condoning the offensive or hurtful behaviour, but it allows us to see the human behind the weakness, or the pain behind the anger.

Forgiveness shifts our focus to our sense of benevolence and risks replacing the humility we experienced in betrayal with the arrogance of assuming that we are better than those that betrayed us. As the old adage goes, to err is human, to forgive, divine. When you assume the station of divinity, you automatically assume that you are above being human. If you must forgive, then be sure to recount all the times that you did not go in search of the forgiveness of those that you have wronged through the years.

The Other Side Of Arrogance

This is the story of assumptions. Assumptions that we make about prickly characters and their tender counterparts. Assumptions we make about the motivation of people to act the way that they do, without realising that those assumptions are projections of how we believe we would act if faced with their circumstances, and then we judge them for it while cursing those that judge us under similar circumstances. 

Facebook is a social experiment for many, including its investors. More importantly, I experiment with it by occasionally mixing in populist sentiment with principled viewpoints that I know will make many people awkward or even infuriated. And every single time, it proves true that people only polarise towards those that make them feel good about themselves, and rarely towards those that force them to think critically. Everyone wants to have their struggle recognised, but no one wants to emerge independently from their struggles because most often, their struggles grow to define their significance. The arrogance that is reflected in this approach is not one that most would relate to because we assume by default that arrogance is only an attribute of those that live selfishly, abruptly, or obnoxiously. Most are incapable of separating arrogance from passion or conviction, much to their own detriment. 
Those that appear meek or subdued are often considered humble or downtrodden because of their apparently pitiful state, but there is an arrogance that runs deep in them as well. That arrogance is based on the belief that their state is so grave or overwhelming, that they should be celebrated for persevering, and they deserve all the compassion and assistance that their circumstance calls for. However, we’re too often so focused on the circumstance that we fail to consider their contribution towards enabling or causing their circumstance to arise. 

The arrogance sets in when we assume that we simply cannot be responsible for our woes. The unpleasant experiences of life must have been imposed on our soft and kind nature by other arrogant or selfish ones, and therefore we are the victims of their oppression long after they departed from our lives and left us with enough opportunity to choose differently. That arrogance is the belief that life owes us more, as if life is independent of our choices and our efforts to improve our state. 

The other side of arrogance emerges when we feel entitled to compassion, or we demand indulgence because we need an age old account to be settled before we let go of what’s holding us back. The other side of arrogance shows its ugly face when we define ourselves as damaged because we think someone else damaged us, while not realising that we subscribe willingly to being damaged and then abdicate responsibility for such a heinous choice. 

Arrogance is not the absence of humility. Instead, arrogance is the assumption of humility, and similarly, it is the assumption of feeling entitled to a kindness that is not yours to demand or expect. The moment you impose your expectations on others, regardless of how justified it may be, before you are willing to let go of a sour experience, you become arrogant, because what should be an act of conviction now becomes a transaction of emotional blackmail. 

Sadly, too many don’t realise this, and continue to live in self-constructed prisons while blaming the world for being cruel. 

Trinkets of Distraction

As I walked through the ‘sacred relics’ chamber of the Topkapi Palace, I was mesmerised by the melodious recitation of the Qur’an. At first I thought it was a recording because of the consistency of the tone and pitch of the recitation, until I walked past the booth where the reciter set and continued reciting as if there was nothing around him that mattered. It was just him and his recitation of those beautiful verses. But as I walked through those chambers my attention was drawn to the common trend I noticed on so many artefacts. These artefacts comprised of various personal effects of the prophet (peace be upon him), his closest companions, and immediate family. It was a collection of impressively ornate pieces alongside some really rudimentary looking items.

The embellished ones had two dates indicated, whereas all the more simplistic items that included actual garments worn by some of the earliest luminaries of Islam had only a single date. The difference was painfully clear. In its original state, all those items were plain and practical. They weren’t embellished in gemstones, or silver mouldings, nor gold detail. For example, the drinking bowl of the prophet (pbuh) was a regular wooden drinking bowl that he used for water. The second date I noticed confirmed the period during which the silver embellishment on the outside was attached to the bowl. The differences between the two dates were generally 7th century for the original item, and 13th to 17th century for the embellishment.

The 7th Century was when the prophet (pbuh) lived, and the 13th Century was when many recognise the end of the Golden Age of Islam. Whether or not that was a coincidence, I don’t know. But what is striking for me is that it does coincide with a period that marks the eventual slide of the Muslims from being at the forefront of progress across almost every sphere of human development. While my views are largely conjecture (since I lack any inclination to conduct a formal study of the subject) the important point that stands out for me is that the embellished and ritualistic way of life that we see among Muslims today was not evidenced in these early artefacts of the greatest personalities of Islam.

At some point, being so accomplished, we lost our grounding and became obsessed with demonstrating to the world, internal and external to the Islamic empire, the extent of our success. The substance of what we knew or practiced was no longer sufficient. It’s almost blasphemous in my mind.

I find it difficult to process the arrogance that would go along with the decision to take a humble water bowl of the prophet of Islam and turn it into an ornate mantel piece presumably out of love for its owner? Surely such love should be the preservation of the way of life of the prophet himself, rather than to indulge in excess that he specifically and boldly opposed in everything that he did? But this was no longer the case. Even their swords we encrusted in jewels and gold. Why?

I found this disturbing to the point where I worked my way hurriedly through the chambers and left. My longest pause was at the display that contained two simple garments, one that belonged to the daughter of the prophet, and another that belonged to one of his companions (may peace be upon them all). These remained in their original humble states, with visible patchwork where it was mended, and a natural wear from its use. This resonated with me. This reflected the simplicity that epitomises the humility with which they lived, despite having the resources of an empire at their disposal.

Ostentatious displays of religiosity has become the hallmark of many Muslim communities. This is not an echo of the origins of Islam, but rather of its downfall. But this is not a flaw limited to Muslims. Every religion, and every culture I encounter these days has similar failings. The world is full of indulgence and selfish promotion. Even in charity we find ways of promoting ourselves or our businesses. Sincerity comes a distant second place to self-promotion.

The same is true for life in general. We’re so easily distracted by how we’re wanting to be perceived that we spend more time developing that appearance than investing in the substance that makes the real difference in our lives and the lives of those around us. Islam and Muslims are under attack because we’ve largely departed from this path of simplicity and sincerity in our application of Islamic principles and practices. The same is true for those that are more ostentatious than they are sincere. They are also despised by the people that don’t subscribe to such elitism, so it stands to reason that the same would be true for religious zealots. It’s just a pity that those zealots are the ones defining the perception of a way of life that offers immense peace and moderation for a world steeped in self-indulgence and excess.

Obliviously Resilient

I’ve always taken comfort from my sense of resilience, but noticed recently that it appears to be waning. I seem to be more sensitive than before to the emotional jarring that goes with betrayal, and this concerns me. Well, at first it did, but now I’m simply afraid of reflecting any further on the subject. There have been times when in the moment, I found myself unfazed by the abrasiveness or abuse being meted out towards me. It always appeared to be black or white for me. Something was either right, or it was wrong, and the underlying principle that supported my observation or perception was all that I cared about. It was such an easy way to live.

Life isn’t as simple anymore. Principles still drive me, but they’re not as defining as they used to be. The reason I’m afraid of reflecting further is because I’ve realised that the more I grow to understand my weaknesses, my needs, or my flaws, the more I relate to the flaws and weaknesses and failings of others. Unfortunately, this also implies that the reverse is true as well, not in them knowing me, but rather in me also being able to grow more familiar with the arrogance, the aloofness, and the smug condescension that lurks behind the smile that dresses the words of so many I meet. It is in this realisation that I start doubting my past resilience and wonder if it was in fact resilience based on strength of character, or was it resilience grounded in obliviousness.

The net effect remains a beneficial one, so the concern I feel must be an indulgence in my own ego. Anyone claiming to be free of their ego is in fact driven by it. I guess that is the obvious sibling to the realisation that the proclamation of humility is in fact arrogance. I’m so easily distracted from the point of my ramblings these days. Being oblivious, not by choice, therefore appears to be a blessing. It’s what causes us to appear resilient, but it also causes us to appear grounded and uninterested in things that don’t concern us. Strangely enough I am once again reminded of the parallels between this and humility. I’ve previously argued that humility can only be observed and not practiced. I guess in some way, the same applies to resilience.

The same way that I may appear humble when in fact I am too jaded to acknowledge the superficial praises of others makes me jaded, not humble. Similarly, being oblivious to the true repercussions of the events I am experiencing results in a resilience that is unintended, although mostly beneficial. I think there is a point in here somewhere. I think my distracted state is a source of inspiration. I’m just too distracted to figure out how to put it to good use.

Perhaps distraction and naivety are the precursors to obliviousness. Such obliviousness, where its roots are not conscious choices, contributes to our sense of resilience. Questioning that resilience appears to be akin to looking a gift horse in the mouth. So perhaps I should be grateful for my inclination to be unconcerned about the fickleness of society, and instead of questioning how I may have appeared to others in my moments of oblivion that I previously embraced as resilience, I should draw on those experiences to harness this innate ability to be oblivious so that I can continue to feign resilience.

Fake it until you make it, right? Who can truly lay claim to sincerity when such a claim requires a healthy dose of self-indulgence to begin with? But that’s a post for another day. My brain is tired. And if you can make sense of this post, please take a moment to explain it to me as well.

A Humble Ego

I noticed the disruptive force of popularity on me recently and I wondered if that may not be the root to all evil? My ego seems to be most stoked when I enjoy critical acclaim and recognition from others, but given a minute to reflect on the source of such acclaim, I’m quickly reminded about its fickleness. Not the acclaim, but the source. I’ve often contemplated whether or not maintaining a consciously humble disposition is possible, and this further convinces me that it’s not.

The moment we’re aware of our humility, it plants seeds of arrogance because the knowledge of such a state being aspired to by many is reason to believe that we’re better than them for having acquired it. So the pursuit of humility remains elusive. I find myself once again debating each point I write and back tracking to remove my thoughts because it fails at the tests of logic. The logic that drove me to want to write this post suggests that if I remind myself of the basis on which people polarise towards the popular, it will deny me the reason to take comfort in their praise.

We’re all weak. We’re all equally weak. What sets us apart is our ability to disguise those weaknesses as strengths. Where we’re weak in our need for recognition and affirmation, we’re strong in our ability to garner such attention. The avenues we choose to pursue as noble endeavours to garner that attention is what is displayed as a passion that others are drawn towards, all the while believing that we’re inspired, when in fact we’re satisfying our need to be recognised amongst those we admire.

It seems life is an endless circle of vicious cycles. Even the cycle of life has its own viciousness that forces us to collaborate and collude in artful ways that distracts us from the cycle and convinces us that what we pursue is in fact purpose. I’m starting to wonder if it’s purpose at all that drives us, but instead a need to be distracted from reality? Like they say, a man sees the world too clearly from the mountain. It takes a brave man to embrace the reality that becomes evident in such a moment, while the rest of us paint pretexts and contexts that serve to convince us that we are in fact significant.

Everything that I witness around me points to the innate desire to be significant. Even the most ascetic amongst us seeks the significance in the eyes of the one they adore or worship, while those that surrender the goal of acquiring such significance are prone to self destruct, sometimes completely. The effort to reach into their soul and convince them that their significance directly inspires our own becomes ever more daunting because if we fail to convince them, we risk stepping on the same slippery slope of self abasement from which we attempted to rescue them. Another vicious cycle.

I guess the true reality is that the ego is only as arrogant as the observer. The one who witnesses the arrogance in others without seeing their weaknesses that underlie such repugnant behaviour are in fact the ones that are least in touch with their own weaknesses, or their own insecurities. When we believe that we’re better than that, we look condescendingly on those who are arrogant, but the moment we realise the collective weakness we share that gives rise to such outward displays of fear, we find ourselves compelled to view them with empathy instead.

Humility and Happiness is not a choice

We often look at humility and consider how it can’t be acquired, because the very effort to acquire humility will be the result of an arrogant indulgence. Then there is the cliché quoted by many that the profession of humility is in itself arrogance, which has much truth in it. What isn’t so obvious though is that the pursuit of humility is equally arrogant. Humility is similar to happiness. It can’t be acquired on its own, but is in fact the outcome of something else. That may sound absurd, but in reality, it’s not the act of trying to be of a happy disposition that makes us happy, but rather the satisfying outcomes of various activities and choices that leads to a state of happiness.

Humility is something that we witness in others, but the moment we think of ourselves as humble, or we do something with the intention of being humble, then the underlying motivation for that would be that we’re considering ourselves to be pious or good, which is arrogance. So when you see someone that appears to be humble, consider that maybe their action is driven by shyness, insecurity, a lack of confidence, or many other attributes that undermine our ability to achieve our full potential, but because we can’t see what their motivation is to do what they do, we assume they’re humble.

However, the pursuit of happiness within this context is not tainted in the same way that a pursuit of humility is. What we witness as humility is often not an intended humility on the part of the person that we’re observing. More often than not, humility is a result of insecurity, shame, modesty, shyness, embarrassment, etc. In other words, when someone is in a situation where they seem overwhelmed by the gravity of it, or the significance of it relative to their own stature, their act or response may appear humble even though the motivation behind it may be fear or disillusionment, or a feeling of being dis-empowered or overwhelmed.

With happiness, the same principles apply. We often hear of people that appeared to be happy and carefree, only to hear of their suicide a few days later. Their appearance of happiness may have been a choice, but it obviously had no substance. This, along with a few other life experiences prompted me to reflect on the truth behind the statement that if we choose to be happy, we will be, and that no one can stop us from being so. This is dangerously false. It leads many to believe that simply making the choice is sufficient. It’s not. It never has been. Happiness has always been a state that was achieved when other aspects of my life were in line with my needs or expectations. Happiness was never something I experienced independent of those experiences.

Unsurprisingly, the current approach to the ‘pursuit of happyness’  is in line with the prevalent mentality that was spawned by ‘The Secret’. I have never seen so many delusional people in my life. People that walk around believing that being positive yields positive results. It doesn’t. If it did, it would mean that the proverbial bull would never charge at you if you were a vegetarian. The logic simply does not add up. However, take that same positive attitude and couple it with a focus on opportunities and beneficial outcomes to drive your actions, and suddenly you have a recipe that will allow you to take control of how you respond to situations, rather than how you simply perceive them.

It may sound like a play on words, but it really isn’t. I engage with people on a daily basis that have this false belief that they can choose to be happy or sad. They can’t. How many times haven’t you tried to be sad or grumpy when someone came along, or something unexpected happened that put an instant and sincere smile on your face? This further cements my argument that happiness is a state that is achieved as a result of our actions in line with our desires or needs, and is most certainly not simply a choice we make. The moment we are compelled, or at least feel compelled to act contrary to our value system or our ethics, that state of happiness eludes us, and instead, is replaced by a state of anxiety and stress.

For the same reason, a poor man can find contentment in his life, while a man of excessive wealth will find it impossible to have a peaceful night’s sleep.