TEXTBOOK OF CORRECT THINKING
People argue, dispute and fight most of the time for no good. What is happening then is the clash of egos each trying to impose his prejudices and delusions on the other or others the end result being each claiming victory and finding or forcing himself into to believing that he has been the wiser party all along. We said “most of the time”. There are also other times that maturer people defend sincerely believed positions without ruling out that they might be wrong and being only too prepared to admit the rightness of another view. Equally all parties are open to compromise solutions which are arrived by impartial weighing of evidence and willing admission of well-fitting contributions from all parties irrespective of the labels they might be respectively known by. In other words each party is both a defender of its views and an impartial judge of all views presented. This is mostly seen in some juridical decisions arrived by a group of senior judges known for their upright dispositions and matured with long experience.
This of course does not mean that all may not join one of their number in agreeing that that one’s views are fully justified and no more deliberation is necessary and his view must be adopted by the group. What is important is this: Parties take no offence whichever way the votes go and instead feel relieved and happy about it all.
This outcome is caused by correct thinking on the part of all and applies to all disputes including spiritual matters. Students of the Prophet’s Academy are required to study correct thinking and make it their own as a habit. By that they shall achieve at least two blessings- Avoiding hurtful collisions with immature souls and attracting mature souls to jointly investigate truths and arrive at saving and blessing beliefs and behaviors. Amen.
1. UNDERSTAND PEOPLE, DROP PREJUDICE
People begin conscious experience by becoming aware of themselves as defined individuals who sometimes have a fight on their hands if they want to succeed in life and enjoy themselves. In fact this is how it should be. But it is not necessarily how it should remain. Ultimately a new consciousness of constructive cooperation must replace the old confrontational strife and enable its owner to see that all people are ultimately in the same boat and peaceful cooperation is far better than warring and dissipating activities. This necessitates a sympathetic insight into people’s minds and an exorcism of all prejudice (pre-judgment).
Civilization may be defined as the mental ethos of a group who can solve their disputes by negotiation and arbitration and are not afraid of compromises for the sake of peace and hopefully friendship as well. Believe it or not Islamic piety largely means this civility. Islam regulates our relations with Allah with a view to civilizing and humanizing our relations with people in particular and other beings in general. The Messenger of Allah sws said “The best among you is the one who can relate to others in pleasant and constructive ways (ulfah). The one who cannot socialize pleasantly and constructively has no good in him” (harsh and condemnatory Islamists beware! There may be no good in you). Pious good socializers are only too ready to admit their errors and embrace what is right no matter who brings it. For these are with and live for Allah Who is al Haqq- Truth, Righteousness and Reality rolled into One. Anybody whose gnosis of Allah less than this is a godless person whatever else he is saying or doing. Both such falsely pious and plain impious men insist on their own views and claims and will not hesitate to get their way by cheating or violence or both. It is because only too many falsely pious men exist at all level among religious people that so much clashes and scandals erupt among them.
They hid themselves even among the companions (sahaba) of the Prophet sws and they account for most of the terrible impieties that sprang among muslims following the departure of our Prophet sws. All men except few very defective souls have all three qualities programmed into them, mamely angelic, satanic and bestial. Most of us are never fully angelic, satanic or bestial but have and display the qualities named at different ratios at different times. Yet Mankind have had among them almost full angels (truly enlightened pious souls), almost full satans (mostly hypocritical claimants to virtue who under that guise work evil) and almost full beasts who just wolfishly do what they want with no conscience to check or trouble them. A satanic and a beastly man have one thing in common and one separating them. In common they have the lack of conscience. As difference the satanic has superb intelligence for evil and the beastly has merciless savagery. Of course many a time a beastly person is also satanically intelligent. Such are darlings of dictators who themselves are of that kind and employ their such underlings as their spy chiefs and torturers. Thankfully such fully defined evil types are rare. In between we have the rest of us a bit like this a bit like that. What is important to know in this matter are two things, namely
A lot depends on genetics and therefore a lot of poor understanding of others and poor behavior towards them is innocent.
All except the worse cases may be helped by good moral and intellectual education- I really mean both. Each alone will not do.
As for the genetic element people have different levels of potential intelligence and varieties of interests and abilities. We are born with our potential intelligence level. But intelligence is not a simple element but is differently oriented in different people. Some are more suitable to music than mathematics, for example. Religiosity is also genetic. Some people cannot resist religion while others couldn’t care less about it. We must always remember this last fact when we address people or criticize them about religion. It also seems that there is a special kind of people who are so upright and kind yet so uninterested in religion. This also should be genetic and such people may be left alone and not pestered with advice they cannot relate to. By simply being so good despite the lack of any religious concepts in them they may well be born human angels who are already saved and therefore deserve respect as they are. Only Allah knows His servants secrets and some people’s apparently inexhaustible goodness should put them beyond any formal religious obligations. In this respect the greatest mistake we can make is to assume that we are one of them (saved in advance) and shun our pious obligations. Incidentally it seems that in a hadith the Prophet sws referred to such a personality. “What a nice servant is Sa’d” he is reported to have said “He would not do any wrong even if he was not afraid of Allah”.
It is almost always the case that such pre-saved persons graciously consent to pay lip service to religion and join routine ritual or ceremony but that is the farthest they can go. That one is not this kind of angel but a plain impious man hiding behind polished manners is that he is positively hostile and cannot bear to take religion seriously even for a moment except in negative and punitive terms. Mankind is consistently divided along such typologies and only Allah’s wisdom can account for it. Even the Prophet’s very relations were divided along these lines. Only his uncle Hamza (RA) proved a truly religious person. Abbas (RA), despite becoming a sincere muslim later, was less absorbed and more extroverted while Abu Talib who looked after the Prophet sws from age 8 onwards and was more like a father to him than an uncle was more like an agnostic although a very kindly one. But we also have another uncle Abu Lahab.* He was the Satan incarnate when it came to Islam and was overall a nasty person as well. All these from one family which observation should help dispel any illusions we may entertain about seeing people this light or that simply because they come from one family, tribe or race. Let this be our first aid to correct thinking. We may in fact expand it to what we may call
Rule One: a) Never assume somebody to necessarily have some good or bad qualities simply because he belongs to a certain group or category of people assumed or expected to have the qualities in question. The rule’s natural extension is that we should never write off anybody simply because he is seen as a member of a group notorious for certain qualities.
Instead we must take each person in himself and allowing for both strong and weak sides he seems to be born with and the background he is coming from and education and experience he accumulated we must judge him on his record and objective merits and demerits.
b) Before judging a person and reacting to him try to assess to what extent his behavior is due to genetics (unhelpable), to upbringing (partly helpable) and to his free will in situations he should know better.
It of course does not mean that ‘labels’ attached to groups of people are entirely unjustified. If an area is notorious for burglaries and muggings and where children seem to grow into lawless thugs we have every right to keep this in mind and deal more cautiously with the residents of that area. Still as individuals nobody should be prejudged. Prejudiced thinking is the first defect in any thinking process. To start with we shall not hate anybody or write him or off because of a derogatory label attached to a group he or is assumed to belong, like black or jewish or thief or capitalist.
Being careful about labels or stereotyping applies also to positive labels like ‘advanced’ or ‘civilized’ for societies and ‘religious’ or ‘well-bred’ for individuals. Perhaps people attached good labels will less disappoint us than people with bad labels but individual cases are very uncertain. Room for doubt and caution are always advisable.
Stereotyping is most dangerous when it involves unquestioning loyalty. The less wise and less enlightened a man or group the more fanatical and categoric they are about whom or what they champion and more hostile to not only opponents but even to the impartials. We must watch that we do not fall into this category in our thinking. Disputes like recent Arab-Israeli and long-standing like Catholic and Protestant are based on mutual fanaticism. For one side everything their party say and do is absolutely right and anything the opposite party say and do are absolute wrong and at best hypocritical.
2. WE MUST THINK ‘HOLISTICALLY’
Having rid ourselves of what we may call label-prejudice which is the same as ‘stereotyping’ we must also learn to look at things from as many angles and with as many contributing factors possible. Not only that but to understand others we must imagine ourselves in their place (put ourselves in their shoes) and only then judge. More often than not our judgment will not be only less harsh but we may even find ourselves in the wrong or nearly so and will have to modify our stand to the benefit of all concerned.
We have only too many ideological groups championing various one-sided ideas like socialism, conservatism, feminism, animal rights and clean environment. Most are moderate despite their narrow angles but quite a few are fanatical and can be very nasty as well. No doubt all could benefit from opening their minds and widening their horizons. All could equally benefit by admitting something good in their opponents and considering their any well-meaning and valid-looking arguments. Let us take the subject or crime which is a constant bone of contention between politicians on the right and the left. The rightists see crime more as personal choice and responsibility while the leftists see it more as the unhelpable result of social neglect. When both parties are fanatical each insists on the full validity of its full validity and the opponent’s full invalidity. The better educated a nation the less fanatics and fanaticism it will house.
So in so-called advanced countries the parties are more left of the center or right and can agree on common grounds more easily. Well-educated and enlightened persons also can reach out to their antagonists and work out compromises. But ideally we need be educated and enlightened enough to forget about ideologies and idealized abstractions of issues and work together for solutions to problems free from arbitrary starting positions. Let us take the causes of crime. No doubt both deliberate choices of persons as well as their background (including the genetics) and life experiences contribute to a life of crime or law-abiding. Even when we are not fanatics each of us tend to rate the part played by each of the above-named factors differently. But that we must take all known or possible causes into account and weigh them without any ideological bias is a fact. This is what I call holistic thinking and this is what can deliver the best cure of a problem. Staying with the causes of crime and its cure we may say that to reduce crime we must
Tackle unemployment and poverty
Improve the environment like housing and leisure
Educate parents and improve their relations to their children
Check the influence of criminals on the rest of us, especially the young people
Deter and punish criminals more effectively
Clean up the media who sometimes are not careful about to what they are exposing people’s minds- many of us are vulnerable to various kinds of temptation including imitating strong personalities irrespective of their merits or demerits.
Improve SPIRITUAL education and conditioning of our people, especially in their formative years. Spiritual includes both noble and lofty beliefs and gold-standard moral values like honesty and charity. Except the psychopaths and extreme inadequates all people can be conditioned to believe in good moral values and develop a conscience which will prevent them from at lest the worse levels of misbehavior or if already committed an evil at least feel remorse and offer apologies and compensation.
So it is no use to fight fanatically-held grounds on any social issue but to cooperate in covering as much ground as possible in the elucidation of a problem and finding the most comprehensive solution to it. Which brings us to the
Rule Two of Correct Thinking is: Look at a problem from all angles including your opponents and rising above your ordinary self try to see the whole picture as fairly and objectively as you can. Lead the parties to a common ground as much divested as possible from their ideological or partisan prejudices. At least you think like that. This is holistic thinking.
3. TRY TO SEE THE INTENTIONS BEHIND CLAIMS AND EVALUATE THEM ACCORDINGLY
People not only talk to get their selfish or deluded way but also act like consummate actors to make themselves believable. Usually it is more or less overacting and police are good in smelling rat when they get the impression that a suspect is overacting. The killer may pretend to be devastated with ‘his loss’ and beg the police tearfully to find the killer. A too loyal subordinate’s oily manners may smack of treason to the discerning superior or colleague. Seducers pretend to be pitiable true lovers until the conquest is achieved and demagogues pretend to pulsate with the grievances and aspirations of voters. Religious hypocrites broadcast a luminous but shallow piety and sanctity and may look over-awed by the guru leading the spiritual movement. Psychopaths and utterly self-seeking political gamblers often hijack a political ideology’s drive for power and then eliminate the idealists in the movement once power is achieved. In Islam ambitious and unscrupulous Umayyads had hijacked political Islam so masterfully that they could curse and condemn with impunity Ali and the Prophet’s very descendants as well as destroy them at will- all in the name of Islam. In recent times Stalin hijacked communism to convert it into Tsarism all but in name. Great numbers of people are often taken in by self-seeking demagogues who come to power with conspiratorial persuasion and skilful rival-elimination and stay there with a combination of ruthless brutality and unrelenting propaganda combining almost deification of the power-holding demagogue and demonization of even the most conscientious opponents.
But self-seeking hypocrites need not be great political or spiritual pretenders. Anybody at any level of the society may feel tempted to pretend and protest things in order to advance his selfish agenda. What is more we may be such petty demagogues one moment and a perfectly well-meaning and sacrificing fellow next. To develop the ability to see through the masks of people when they are hypocritically and selfishly pretending some merits we must begin with watching ourselves. People sincerely walking the esoteric path (like true Sufis) find that they increasingly catch themselves in the shameful act of hypocritical pretension and try to drop the dirty thing before it leads them to actual mischief. Self-observation (muraqabat an-nafs) is the golden key of Sufi spiritual advancement and if persisted leads every step of the way to the witness of the Divine Face (Mushahadat al Jamal). But most of us except the most stupid do have a basic level of self-insight without being Sufis or even religious. This Allah put us as our birthright so that we have something to build on or if we neglect that then Allah has a grievance against us to punish us for. So He Almighty says “Indeed man is a seer over his ego (what he is being up to) whatever excuses he may proclaim in his defence” (75 al Qiyamah 14-15).
All hypocrites and liars need not be good actors however. Most of the time a discerning person can feel that he is being lied to or subjected to an attempt at deception. The inept liar betrays his foul inner state with his changed skin color, rattling or otherwise troubled voice, awkwardly positioned or moving limbs and especially the glassy or shifty eyes.
In the case of written statements (like a newspaper article) the writer unconsciously gives the game away by contradicting himself a few lines down or trying to be everything to everybody or praising his opponent too long too comprehensively before driving his dagger into him. In all situations an experienced and perceptive fellow will see through the pretension and judge accordingly.
We therefore need all the skills we already have and develop them more in order that our thinking is not made wrong thinking as a result of the constant attempts around us to mislead us. From personal friends and traders we deal with to the political parties and governments to the mighty media we face a constant barrage of attempts to persuade us this way or that and if we want to keep thinking correctly we should observe:
Rule Three for Correct Thinking: Try to see what the speaker or writer is to gain from your acceptance of his views and claims (his intentions behind his words) and verify your suspicions (if you have reason to be suspicious) look for the telltale signs of hypocrisy as explained above.
4. AVOID SELF-PROJECTION
Did you know that what we see as the world and the ‘others’ sharing it with us is only a partially objective perception and is heavily pickled in our feelings like our prejudices, hopes, fears and values. For example why do you think some white men hate non-white men? I and you see people as people and do not prejudge them on the basis of color or anything else they are born with because we appreciate that they could not help what they were born with and no born quality is bad unless it in itself leads to evil. A born psychopath will do lots of brutal acts because his congenital mental defect prevents him from developing a conscience. We may fear and shun him if not hate him. But a black man can be the loveliest man around and can do a lot of good to his fellow men. Why hate him at all? In other words race has nothing to do with good and evil propensities and therefore should never be cited as a reason to treat anybody differently. Similarly some people have an automatic attraction towards and approval of some others simply because they are of their own race or faith or they wear the same label. Such blind and irrational attractions or aversions show that we are not seeing others objectively and judging them fairly but we are slaves of our irrational prejudices which we project into the world around us. Are we angry with somebody? The least vengeance we take may be kicking an empty can on the pavement and worse beating up somebody who has nothing to do with our grievance.
What is happening here? WE ARE PROJECTING OURSELVES INTO THE WORLD and judging what we find in it under the influence of our passions. We may equally run about and kiss everybody when we win the jackpot in the lottery or get other great good news. Our irrational judging of events and persons in the world do not stop at these graphic examples. We are almost constantly seeing and judging things in terms of our own hopes, fears and greeds whether these hopes, fears and greeds are justified or not. Others also may pump in us their feelings and prejudices and make us see things in their own way. Be as it may the net result it that we often do not see facts as they are in their own natures but unconsciously contaminate and distort them in our own image and according to our own agenda. This is what I mean by projecting ourselves into our world. It is this that lies at the bottom of most conflicts and collisions. Each expects to be accommodated by others on his own terms and since the terms of each is different than the other a dialogue of the deaf and a war of the blind follow. That is why, for example, Arab and Jew, fanatic muslim and fanatic Christian, left-winger and right-winger, Arsenal fan and Manchester United fan… cannot get along but may come to blows eventually.
The thinking of a self-congratulating prejudiced man is no thinking let alone correct thinking. Thinking is when we are free from inner bars, chains and barbed wire imprisoning us in a certain corner in our minds. Mind thinks alright if free from uninformed or misinformed beliefs and unexamined prejudices and desires. We must push our ignorant and prejudiced side of the self aside and think from our original, unfettered self if we want to think correctly. The best way of doing it is ascending to the throne of kingdom of Godliness Allah put in us as our birthright and see and judge things from there. The least you can do in this respect is to imagine that you are a just and kind judge and are asked to resolve a dispute among a group of people one of whom is your ordinary self. If you sincerely try this experiment you will see that your ordinary self will cease to look to you as the always righteous and justified chap you took him to be and may even look the nastiest of the lot. What happened? You moved home from your ordinary self to the home of your Divine Self (what Allah blew in man of His Own Spirit- Surat al Hijr: 29) and on the account of which spirit all the angels bowed to the ground for man.
A lot of self-projection into the world come in the form of hating other races, hating a particular nation or particular religion or all religion. All phobias are self-projections and a lot of hysteria and violence stems from it. So if we want to think correctly we must observe the following:
Rule Four of Correct Thinking consists of abandoning our lowly position of of a confused and immature self set against the world and ascending the throne of the top judge in us see and judge events and persons free from our selfish desires and irrational prejudices and filled with a desire for doing best for our fellow men no matter our demoted lower self says.
5. BEWARE OF MASS MANIPULATION
Like selfish persons the world is full of selfish groups- ideological and religious groups, political parties, media institutions like TV companies and newspapers, commercial groups like corporations, governments and blocks of nations and many more. None of these however are consciously after serving their selfish interests in the meanest way at all times. Most believe and may be acting with the welfare of the rest of us in mind- but only to a certain and varying extent. At the lowest end are Mafias and commercial scams which can hardly be regarded altruistic. Thugs who defraud old people of their life savings by offering them bogus lucrative investment products or sell couples non-existent properties in Spain are almost pure devils with no saving grace. At the top end we may find a public hospital corporation may represent the epitome of altruism- they treat their non-paying patients as if they were rich customers whose appreciation is essential if the hospital is to survive, use public funds efficiently and honestly etc. Again, in the media sector we may find mass circulation papers which persistently present what seems to be a comprehensive, objective and fair attitude towards all people and groups who become subjects of news and comments and show bias only moderately in matters which are taken by the great majority of the public to represent their values.
So it may report and comment upon some unconventional things in tolerant terms, like throwing tomatoes at an opposition politician but utterly condemn an attempt at assassination. At the other end of the media we may find a fanatically ideological publication which rains abuse on ideological opponents and incite public disorder and may even provoke or applaud an arson of the ‘enemy premises’ if not an assassination of an ‘enemy’ figure. In totalitarian countries all powerful newspapers are fanatically on the dictator’s side and all trade unions etc. are made to demonstrate in favor of the dictator and are turned a blind eye when they also savage the opposition. In such countries the public are not only under a barrage of government brain-washing national education and media propaganda but are impressed by frequent public demonstrations of the regime’s ‘popularity’ as well as the insanity and criminality of any opposition. The opposition is so beyond pale that occasional mass lynching of their members can be presented as patriotism and light if any sentences are given against the culprits involved. All these are attempts to either cow or persuade the public that the powers that be are right and good and their opponents are evil beyond the pale.
But we need not to live in a totalitarian society to be impressively deceived by propaganda and peer pressure. In times of national crisis a lot of demagogy may enter the government propaganda and a section of the national media which collude with it. Both the Falklands and Gulf War and almost all Arab-Israeli conflicts caused both the Western countries and their opponents (like Russia, Libya and Cuba) launch public-opinion winning campaigns which angelized the attackers and demonised the attacked. Again, not that there was no justification at all in the course taken in each case but was each the justest response? It looks more like taking an opponents mistakes as a pretext to settle with him old accounts or bring him down and/or inherit his coveted benefits.
All of which brings us to this: Anybody who or any agency which attempts to win the approval of public opinion should be evaluated very carefully and cautiously lest they mould our minds into an automatic approval device of their claims and aims. When a committed Tory voter debates politics with a committed Labour voter we clearly see the deplorable effects of brainwashing in both. Each side never admits to a single wrong committed by his party and can eloquently defend everything his party did as the best course of action imaginable.
Among the most popular delusions mass brainwashing created in people’s mind are: Anti-Americanism and more generally anti-West prejudices, pro- or anti-Israeli prejudices, pro- and anti-capitalist prejudices and lastly pro- and anti-muslim prejudices. Printed and electronic media often incline to one or the other side in their coverage and comments and given the lack of objective and full enough information on the issues debated the members of the public believe or dismiss claims more on the basis of their own existing prejudices than reality. Which brings us to another rule.
Rule Five of Correct Thinking is refusing to endorse any claims by powerful groups like governments and media but wait until his own investigations yield a fuller and fairer picture or else ignore unexamined claims and suspend both judgment and action urged.
After all we do not have to jump to every whistle blown or join and win arguments the facts about which we have no examined information to our satisfaction. It is better to say we do not know enough to make a judgment than hazard an opinion and end up on the same futile merry-go-round like incorrectly thinking people. Our master Ali RA said: “I don’t know is two thirds of knowledge”.