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Respond rather than react (DW#613)

Despite our best intentions, things can get heated when we are in the midst of a conflict. The other can say things in a way that triggers us and potentially make us lose our emotional balance.

This verse from Sura Fussilat advices us to not react when others fall short of respectful conduct.

Repel [evil] with what is best. [If you do so,] behold, he between whom and you was enmity, will be as though he were a sympathetic friend [Quran 41:34].

Scholars explain that the absence of a direct object after repel in the above verse means that the verse is open to many meanings and possibilities: we can repel anger with patience, error with truth, ignorance with clemency, and the commission of evil with pardon.

In other words, instead of reacting to people’s behavior out of anger, we can practice responding in a way that is aligned to our value system.

When we do this, it gives the other person a chance to calm down, it diffuses the tension and the aggression and allows the...

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How to debate and dispute (DW#609)

In the following verse from Sura Nahl, Allah says: 

and dispute with them in a manner that is best [Quran16:125].

 

Communicating effectively and mindfully with respect and compassion does not mean that we always agree with the other person. Reality is that in relationships and in life, we may find ourselves on opposing sides of an issue.

 

This verse reminds us how to engage in communication when there is clearly a difference of opinion or values.
 
Firstly, such conversation needs to be done with the right intention. We can speak up for what we believe, defend our truth, remove doubts and misconceptions, but we must always do with respect and compassion. When we dispute or argue in this way, we are not defending our own power of status. We come from a place of respect, love and compassion, intending good for all concerned.
 
For the next few days, let us explore the elements of a good discussion or argument. 
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Show gentleness in your language (DW#605)

Then speak to him a gentle word haply he may mind or fear.[Quran 20:44]

This verse from Sura Taha is addressed in the first instance to Prophet Musa (Moses) (as) when he was going to address the Pharaoh Almost counterintuitively, he is told that instead of being harsh, standing his ground or telling the tyrant off, he should speak to him mildly and gently.

The principle of speaking gently to those who are on an opposing side and most likely to trigger you is, in fact, the most intelligent and brilliant way to communicate.

When you are talking to someone who you do not have a relationship with, or someone who has very different views, our tendency is to criticize and stand our ground. This can seem like an attack to the other person, almost guaranteeing that they will not hear you or consider what you have to say. While you are speaking, they are busy thinking of ways in which you are wrong and how they are going to defeat your arguments.

If, on the other hand, we start by...

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Recognize the power of words (DW#601)

Have you not considered how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word (being) like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are in heaven,Yielding its fruit in every season by the permission of its Lord? And Allah sets forth parables for men that they may be mindful.[Quran 14:24-25]

The verses for today’s reflection are from Sura Ibrahim and they compare the impact of words to that of a tree.

So what is a Kalimat Tayyabba, a "good word"?

In the first instance, it is a word that calls to righteousness, to the Truth. But it is much more than that.

The Quran compares a good word to a good tree (and later an evil word to an evil tree). It is interesting that we consider trees to have solid psychical mass while we rarely consider our words in the same way. We think that they are spoken into air and disappear in the next moment. (And sometimes we wish that they did!)

On the other hand, we have all experienced the power of words to connect and heal people and also perhaps...

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Be kind to your parents even if they don’t share your faith (DW#600)

Today’s verse makes a distinction between respect and obedience towards parents.

And if they (both) contend with you that you should associate with Me what you have no knowledge of, do not obey them, and keep company with them in (this) world kindly [Quran 31:15]

So while the general injunction is to obey parents, this verse lays out an important exception to the general rule.

If your parents are forcing you towards disbelief or encouraging you towards polytheism, you may not obey them. Parents have more rights over you than anyone else. But this right does not include the right to come between you and your relationship with God.

However, this exception does not absolve children from the duties of showing excellent conduct and compassion towards their parents.

According to scholars, this verse was revealed when some new converts to Islam were emotionally blackmailed by their parents to give up the faith. These new converts were in a very challenging situation since the faith...

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The bad news about inspiration (DW#572)

A couple of days ago we said that the good news about inspiration and motivation was that we all experience it from time to time.

Now here’s the bad news: inspiration and motivation does not last. Meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran puts it this way: people are often heroes at the beginning (the Sanskrit word for this is arambhashura) of a project and take it up with a fanfare of trumpets and enthusiasm but they soon find that their enthusiasm soon "tiptoes down the back stairs."

What this means is that it is perfectly normal for inspiration and motivation to wane over time. The problem is not that we lose motivation for a task but that we stop moving forward when this happens.

So, while inspiration is great to get a project going, it is not a good idea to count on inspiration to help us complete a project.

When inspiration and motivation abandon us (and they will), we do not have to abandon projects that matter. This is the time when we need to remind ourselves about our...

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The cost of procrastination (DW#563)

Some of us thrive on the adrenalin rush that comes from doing things last minute. We tell ourselves that we work best under tight deadlines.

Research shows however, that procrastination comes with many costs. 

University of Calgary psychologist Piers Steel’s studies show that procrastinators perform poorly, experience low self esteem, make poor economic and financial decisions and suffer more medical problems than their non-procrastinating peers. 

And sadly, procrastinators don’t just delay completing unpleasant tasks. They also end up procrastinating on opportunities to enjoy themselves, such as waiting too long to buy tickets for vacations, concerts or sporting events and either miss out on these or end up paying a lot more for them.

Think of a recent time when you procrastinated on something. What did it end up costing you? Was the cost financial, relationship-based or a reduction in self-esteem? 

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What is procrastination (DW#562)

Before we go any further, let’s define what we mean by procrastination.

Here is how Piers Steel (among the world’s foremost researchers and speakers on the science of motivation and procrastination) defines it:
Procrastination is the act of needlessly voluntarily delaying an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself. 

In other words, procrastination is not rational. We fail to act even though logically we know that delaying this action is not in our own best interests. 

Timothy Pychyl in his book Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change defines it as a failure of self control. 
"Procrastination is a form of self-regulation failure. We fail to regulate our behavior to achieve our own goals. We make an intention to act, but we do not use the self-control necessary to...

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Let’s talk about procrastination (DW#561)

Most of us know a lot more than we put into action. We may even have a goal or a plan to do something of value to us but we haven’t started on it. We will start tomorrow; next week or next month we may tell ourselves. Or when we have time.

In other words, we procrastinate. We delay or put off something that needs to be done.

If you procrastinate, you are not alone. By some estimates, about 20% of adults have regular bouts of procrastination. Students are of course notorious for putting off things and apparently 70-90% of students chronically procrastinate. I have a theory that students procrastinate about as much as anyone who is engaged in a creative pursuit (writing, preparing a presentation, creating art work or designing anything – anything that will be up for public scrutiny).

For the next few weeks, we will explore the topic of procrastination, why we do it, what it costs us and how we can work around our tendency to delay things that need to get...

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