Recently I attended a social gathering, and was seated among a group of women. My presence happened to interrupt an animated discussion on the domestic trials and tribulations of one of the women, who was clearly at loose ends emotionally. Whilst being seated, the discussion came to an abrupt halt, with introductions and pleasantries exchanged all round. Upon completion, the discussion was summarily brought up again and the aggrieved woman started citing examples of the misery she had to contend with on a daily basis. Her eyes were glistening with tears, threatening to ruin her beautifully made up face, her lips quivering as she spoke. I sat there, unsure what to say and do, assuming these women must know each other fairly intimately, for such personal turmoil to be shared so openly. I chose however to remain silent.
Suddenly the woman seated to my immediate left blurted out, “ Gosh you think you have problems, wait till you hear mine. Then you will not think yours is as bad, infact you will realize there are others worse off than you and count your blessings”.
Those were just the right words to unleash a torrent of tears in the other woman, and I sat back, cringing in my seat, wondering, were those remarks really necessary ?
I hastily excused myself and went to help our hostess in the kitchen.
If I had stayed another minute longer I might have said something untoward to the woman seated next to me, which would only have worsened an already emotionally intense situation.
Why is it when relatives, friends, colleagues, even strangers share their unhappiness with us, our first bits of advice involve comparing their lot with the lot of other unfortunate souls ?
What are we implying or insinuating with such comparisons ?
Are we trying to say that because other folks are in far worse predicaments, experience greater misfortune and endure graver calamities, that their suffering should hold greater regard and is more significant in the broader scheme of reality ?
This is the kind of rationale used in wars, when the oppressor harms and kills innocent civilians, calling it collateral damage, in response to the number of soldiers they have lost. This is why the Holocaust is deemed the greatest genocide the world has ever witnessed, and ethnic cleansing in other parts of the world remotely close, pales in comparison, and never gains the media attention, humanitarian exposure and political intervention it so rightfully deserves. Acknowledgement of human suffering has now been reduced to a numbers game. We weigh the one against the other, and in so doing, offer retribution and reparation accordingly in a clinically, proportionate manner.
What has happened to our sense of shared humanity? “ An injury to one is an injury to all” ? If one woman approached another woman and shared the fact that her husband shoved her around, would it be fair of the other woman to say “ Well he did not hit you like my husband did, so it is not the same, you cannot compare our situations”. Surely there is an intrinsic code that all women should live by and share ? Physical abuse in any manner and form should never be tolerated, condoned and accepted, especially among shared conversations and experiences of women in general. What kind of sisterhood have we evolved into, if these are the kind of retorts bandied around at a time when the victim is crying out for comfort and consolation ?
While our sisters and brothers in Humanity, victims of war, natural disasters, famine and oppressive regimes, clearly have a lot more to contend with in their lives than the usual domestic routine of life, it should not be used as a yardstick to measure the suffering of a woman enduring domestic upheaval in order to determine the kind of worth and value the listener should afford to her suffering.
We all have different capacities of endurance, and employ diverse coping mechanisms. What works for you in challenging situations to get by, might not necessarily work for me. Reaching out to others in times of need and despair in no way weakens the Islamic character and causes faith to be questioned, nor is it a sign of misguided belief. We are but mere mortals, very often in need of a warm smile, friendly face and caring listener, among our own. . In our Muslim societies very often it is not seen as the “done” thing”, but this is a cultural ideological imposition and is in no way a true reflection of what Islam, as a holistic and comprehensive way of life, entails.
“Our family and community are support systems. Our self image is a perception of who we are , be it negative or positive. Inner trauma is worse than the outer, because it is turmoil inside out. Sharing our pain within is never easy. Not all care to understand in our busy lives . Inner peace can be shared if we care . Kindness and caring and greeting is Islam . Soothing the heart is Islam . Forgiveness is Islam . Empathy is Islam
Sometimes silence is soothing and sometimes a few words does the trick. I care words are so powerful . It is not insignificant when we share in sympathy. It encourages love and unity as building blocks of society . Simple words like “ I apologize “, or “Please forgive me”, touch hearts.
Let go and submit to Allah . That is the best option . Turn our deepest frustrations and emotional scars to Allah for resolving . He will genuinely empathize our cause . He has the means to “save” us from our circumstances . But if we complain too much, we misdirect our hurt.
Allah knows our conditions . Faith and belief is essential. Positive words. Negative minds sap power and energy . Allah energizes our existence by faith, and seek silence, as there resides Allah .Quieten the mind and soul, reflect . Renewed energy will flow through if we allow ourselves to let go. Be free and let the spirit look at all life has to offer. We have so much to live for, and appreciate of the abundance around us. Uplift others and we uplift ourselves . [Hussein Mahomedy]”
Comparisons only serve to demoralize and dent the self-worth and self-esteem of the victim. Sometimes if we are unsure of what to say, listening and offering a shoulder can often be more therapeutic and beneficial than we could ever have imagined. Not every problem in life necessitates a response, sometimes knowing when to keep quiet is the best mode of intervention and support.
But if and when the occasion does arise that words need to come into play, how about suggesting ways to resolve the problem, without making the person feel small, petty and insignificant as a human being.
It takes a lot out of the average human being to admit to another human being that they have a problem , to share painful experiences and pluck up the courage to talk about it In most instances, all the person is looking for is someone to listen, who can for a brief moment, share in shouldering this heavy burden they bear on a daily basis, without actually offloading completely. The last thing I am sure anyone who is brave enough to talk about their woes needs, is a lengthy lecture on the plight of humanity at large at their emotional expense, or face rebuke and being reprimanded for having little, weak or no faith in the Infinite Mercy and Compassion of Allah SWT.
We should not discount the enormity and value of anyone’s suffering, nor discard the importance and significance of their worth as a person, who should be able to enjoy and exercise their basic universal God-given human rights, irrespective the nature and magnitude of their suffering.
I hope the next time you find yourself in such a situation, having to listen, please be mindful of your approach and do guard your tongue. One wrong word and you could send someone spiralling over the edge. Remember they could have gone to so many other people, but they chose you. This speaks volumes of how someone in need sees in you what they need to help them heal and feel better. Thus the onus rests on you to conduct yourself in an empathetically responsible manner, offering counsel guided with wisdom and shared intellect. Reflect on the Prophetic model and therein you will find a well of answers, based on empathy, compassion and caring.
Are you up for the challenge?
Suffering can never be quantified. If we do this, we are no better than those who slaughter the innocent, in the name of Peace, Justice and Equity.
If we continue to strive for excellence as true believers, let it be practiced and done for all the right reasons, in the best possible way for all parties affected and concerned, who will walk in and out of our lives on this Earth. Let them and us become better people through random acts of kindness and caring among ourselves, and towards others, God-willing.