Can you list five of your strengths? OK then let’s make them three. You know, qualities in your character that enable you to do things well. How about listing three things that you are excellent at?
I wouldn’t want to guess what went through your mind while you were reading the above train of questioning. What I can is tell you the responses I seem to get. A blank face, paused sentences and “I don’t know!”. After much thought I get a list of weaknesses, things that the person isn’t very good at, if not terribly bad at. I think many of us have been well trained to not just look at our weaknesses but to focus on them to the exclusion of our good qualities and strengths.
Focusing on the weaknesses is a never ending struggle. No one is perfect and by default we’ll always find something or some area that could do with some improvement. The question is ‘to what extent?’. Do not get me wrong, I am not talking about the person who keeps saying I am too tired to pray and gives up the struggle to get up for Fajr or stops going to Quran classes because he can’t get his tongue around pronouncing those Arabic words. These are obligations and prescribed means of drawing closer to Allah and one is rewarded during the journey and until they attain proficiency, with Allah’s will. I am talking about a sister who does not realise that she is so good with people and making them feel welcome in a new environment and focuses on her (perceived) lack of public speaking skills. Or a brother’s inability to see his talent in bringing harmony to heated discussions and gets too upset that he was not chosen to lead the football team. The issue is not with how much room is there for improvement, it is with ‘Is it going to make a real difference?’.
Perfection is only for Allah. Every person has something unique about them and through the decree of Allah, be it a test or a blessing, they are granted more of this life. It’s like the poor person dwelling on his limited means and comparing them to his rich neighbour’s. Can this be a way of cultivating love and brotherhood between them or the feelings of envy and jealousy will be festering beneath the rosy sociable surface? He can only see his weakness of a small bank account and would find it extremely difficult to see the blessings of a good wife, children and health. Worse still, he may know this on an intellectual level, takes it for granted and thinks “but, if I had the money….”. Allah has promised us an increase in blessings when we are grateful.
How about if we look outwardly. When I judge myself and ability according to what I can’t do it’s more likely that I’ll judge others by that token. Ok, I’ll say “look at others or measure them” according to the some standards. When you love or care for someone you would want the best for them and expect them to be best. However, the best of what? The best when compared to others around them or the best they can be? When I first read about this I had to pause; “the best THEY can be”. So the only person they are measured against is themselves. That sets a number of challenges, doesn’t it? They and I would actually need to know what they are in the first place; their likes and dislikes, talents and shortcomings and potential. How many of us can claim that we know our friends, siblings, spouses, children or even ourselves to that extent to be able to make an informed opinion. I guess it’s easier to go with the flow and choose the path of least resistance. Maybe the pull of the hustle and bustle of life is too strong for us to take a moment to reflect. It could be that the action that such reflection necessities is the put off. Moments of reflection should lead to a change in thought that echoes in a voiced word and / or a noticeable action. It is no wonder that time and time again we are invited in the Quran to ponder upon Allah’s creation and the verses he revealed to his Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).
Now, go back to the questions posed at the start of this articles and check your answers. Put pen to paper or keyboard to screen, whatever work for you, and write them down. What do you think/ are you surprised by the answers? Do you think you need someone else’s input? How about a trusted optimistic person; maybe a parent, sibling, friend, spouse or even your son/daughter? Someone who can give a useful insight. As I always say you’ll never know if you never try.
Wishing you the best.