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Chapter 10: Exaggerated Opinion Of Oneself

The scope of the influence and activity of the subconscious mind is many time more powerful, complex, and deeper than those of the conscious mind. The discovery of the subconscious mind in psychology reveals that we are not aware of more than nine-tenths of our own inner mental activity. Besides what one desires consciously, there are some other very powerful urges that govern man's being and prompt him to do many things of which his conscious mind is unaware. Most of the times it is actually impossible for him not to comply with the commands of that inner power that rules man.

Many vicious and deviant tendencies and harmful habits are in fact manifestations of the vital activities of the unconscious mind. These bear testimony to the fiery character of the human spirit, replete with contradictions. It is through this channel that hidden motives in man's psychological structure work either to his benefit or to his harm. In Brief, subconscious desires, thoughts and motives can play a powerful role in a person's behaviour; they can perform both a formative and refining function as well as act as a destructive and subversive force.

Under certain conditions one may come to form an appealing picture of oneself in his mind. But this mental picture may not always correspond to reality. This picture of one's personality totally depends on one's capacity for adjustment, on one's condition of satisfaction or anxiety, mental health and sickness, and it manifests itself variously in the behaviour and activity of persons.

In every society there are many individuals who have an exaggerated opinion of themselves and who are inclined to be unrealistic and prone to overestimation in regard to themselves. This is an undeniable fact of psychology.

When the mind loses its balance and equilibrium as the mirror of reality, one's narcissistic tendencies result in the formation of an unreal and exaggerated image of oneself, easily leading one to lose contact with reality. These tendencies can develop from the childhood years. Before the child reaches the stage of self-awareness and is capable of consciously employing his power of will for the purpose of attaining to a better life, his mental constitution and world view, as well as his mental growth-healthy or unhealthy-and his self-image are greatly influenced by the reactions of his family and the suggestions and judgements of those around him. As a consequence, occasionally he grows either to be a self-indulgent person with high expectations and lacking the power of adjusting to society and environment, or to become socially isolated and withdrawing. On the whole, different kinds of behaviour play an indescribably influential role on children, whether it is positive or negative, constructive or destructive..

Many of those who appear to be composed, healthy, and resolute suffer from acute psychological tensions. At times these tensions may surface and manifest certain symptoms which may appear to be quite insignificant to the person himself or to others. That is why these reactions go unnoticed, although these symptoms might be signs of a dangerous pathological mental condition. It may happen that a person does something unexpected and unpredictable which causes surprise. Such actions are a clear sign of some strong inner tendency and a latent tyrannical power which takes control of a person's will, against his own inclination and interests, and influences his conduct and character.

Every action that is performed satisfies some urge arising from a habit, and habits are part of one's character and nature. Common experience has established that when a tendency becomes strong, it overrides other feelings and tendencies, making a person overlook all other considerations at such times. A proud person forms a perfect image of his conduct and speech in his mind, considering it to be something ideal and faultless that satisfies his superiority complex. He tries to direct all his activities and reactions according to that artificial and contrived image. He imagines his personal qualities and merits to be so high that he does not believe that there exists any defect in his being. Therefore, he cannot tolerate hearing the smallest criticism. At times, if someone points out one of his shortcomings without any selfish motive and in a purely objective manner, he becomes angry and mad and accuses the other person of being hostile and malicious and of possessing guile and invidious motives.

Such painful occasions create a storm in the spirit of the proud person and he recoils violently in an acutely hostile manner to humiliate and shatter the critic and thus pacify his disturbed feelings.

A hidden and unconscious power constantly drives him on to prove his superiority over others, and that's why he does not abstain from any action that provides him with a chance to surpass others and to show off. Most of his associations and activities, even those which are socially useful, take place in the first place not because he has a love or liking for them as such but because he wants to be considered worthy and admirable and applauded on that account. He is always in a state of anxiety and painful tension lest others should fail to perceive him as he wishes to be perceived.

Spinoza, the Western philosopher, says:

Pride is a joy arising from a man's having too high an opinion of himself. this opinion a proud man will endeavour, as much as he can, to cherish, and therefore, will love the presence of parasites or flatterers (the definitions of these people are omitted, because they are too well known), and will shun that of the noble minded who think of him as is right.
It would take too much time to enumerate here all the evils of pride, for the proud are subject to all emotions, but to none are they less subject than to those of love and pity. It is necessary, however, to observe here that a man is also called proud if he thinks too little of other people, and so, in this sense, pride is to be defined as joy which arises from the false opinion that we are superior to other people. This being understood, it is easy to see that the proud man is necessarily envious, and that he hates those above all others who are the most praised on account of their virtues. It follows, too, that his hatred of them is not easily overcome by love or kindness and that he is delighted by the presence of those only who humour his weakness, and from a fool make him a madman.1

Often those who rise from the lower levels of society become proud and overbearing on obtaining some kind of social status. In this way they seek to compensate for the self-contempt that they feel on account of their inadequate family background.

However, noble souls are not satisfied with a petty and confined life. When one's goals are high, the scope of one's efforts and endeavour increase proportionately. When one ceases pursuing one's high goals, life stagnates, coming to a standstill due to the absence of progress. Those who have higher aims strive unceasingly in order to build the edifice of their greatness on the foundations of true human merits and obtain a distinguished station. But they never like to make themselves appear great and worthy by taking recourse in pride and by promoting their personality, for they know well that pride does not bring greatness and merit to anyone. Men of merit are those who know themselves well and make constant progress in all their activities; they do not try to impress others with their imaginary greatness, expecting their approbation and admiration.

Wealth and Pride

Among the things which often make men proud and conceited is affluence. Those who fall prey to egotism in this way, due to their utter ignorance, view the poor with contempt and consider their existence as something superfluous and worthless, being oblivious of the fact that wealth is not limited to money and material assets. There are many people who live in conditions of material poverty but who must be counted among the richest of men by virtue of their genuine spiritual assets and merits. Often these individuals are held in honour and high esteem by rich people due to their spiritual plenitude. This is also entirely true of nations. A nation is richer which has a greater number of great and wise men than other nations.

Material wealth is incapable of procuring felicity and comfort. Most of the anxieties and miseries of people are a result of greed. There are many persons who lack peace and comfort despite possessing enormous wealth. Moreover, property can even be a source of evil and affliction, darkening the heart of the rich with pride and landing them in vice, corruption, and sin, thus obliterating the foundations of their happiness like a devastating flood.

Material possessions make one of the prerequisites of comfort, not comfort itself. It may be said that the quest of wealth is like an endless chain; the wise person employs it by subjecting it to his control, but the foolish man binds his neck with it.

Some people think that they can obtain peace and security through affluence, but they do not know that the further one advances in the quest of wealth, the farther does he recede from his own self, losing his genuine human feelings in its mazes. It often happens that as soon as a person outstrips his friends in respect of financial welfare, pride and conceit lead him to sever the ties of friendship and attachment with his comrades.

Epictetus says in this regard:

"Get them [i.e. riches] then," says he, "that we may have them." If I can get them and keep my self-respect, honour, magnanimity, show me the way and I will get them. But if you call on me to lose the good things that are mine, in order that you may win things that are not good, look how unfair and thoughtless you are. And which do you really prefer? Money, or a faithful, modest friend? Therefore help me rather to keep these qualities, and do not expect from me actions which will make me lose them.

The Pride of Learning

One of the dangerous stages in the course of personal advancement and achievement where one may be affected with pride is that of scholarship.

One's learning may appear to be so important and precious that he comes to consider his scholarly capacity and merit as being superior to that of anyone else. It is interesting that most of those who fall prey to the pride of knowledge and consider themselves extraordinary beings with special rights, are those whose learning is of a low or mediocre level.

knew a person who looked down upon the admirable learning and scholarly achievements of others, or basically he would not consider them noteworthy at all. His own learning and knowledge, however, were of a mediocre quality and his own personal worth was perhaps small. Whenever in a gathering there was a mention of someone's scholarship and achievements and everyone present expressed his opinion, he would nod affirmatively with a contemptuous smile. But when speaking of some of his own inconsequent achievements he would discuss the matter by giving such a long prelude and with such elaborate flourish as if no one had ever performed a greater service.

A Western scholar says:

Had we known the world better than we do and were it possible for us to compare what we know with what we are ignorant of, we would have believed differently. But it is a fact that our knowledge is no more than a minute fraction of what remains unknown. What elements are there all of whose uses are well understood by us? The complete natural history of which plant and animal is known to us from the beginning to the end? There are various forces and agents all around us about which we still know nothing. The thick curtain that has hung for ages before our eyes has not yet been removed. We are still like primary students in the great school of nature. We only observe many things, but we are unaware of their secrets.

The world of thought is like an endless ocean on whose shores one stands watching the immense waters and the unceasing waves. Those who slip and fall into the water struggle uselessly with the waves without hardly getting anywhere.
Man always tries to unveil the face of reality and take a step forward on the path of science and knowledge. But our problems increase with every step that we advance on this path.

What we know is like the diameter of a circle and the unknown like the area circumscribed by it. As we increase the diameter, the area of the circle increases several times. Perhaps, in the future, our posterity will be able to advance further on this path and discover new secrets of the universe. But we, despite our unfortunate pride and egotism, are forced to fall on our knees and confess that we are ignorant of the secrets of existence and know next to nothing in this regard. Why go far? We do not yet understand even ourselves. We do not know what we are and what relation do we have to nature. Yes, we don't know anything, and so are forced to put a question mark on everything that we come across, and pass on.2

The first prerequisite in the quest of knowledge and for understanding any matter is that one's intent in study and discussion should not be negative and hostile But the proud and narcissistic person tries to take an unfair advantage of others' statements and argues in an unseemly manner. Actually his aim is not to discover the truth but to establish his superiority and prove his learning through debate.

In order to attain self-knowledge, it is necessary first to discover the facts through a correct method and to be make sure of their truth and correctness. We can reach the truth better in this way than through sterile controversy. In matters whose exact nature is unknown to us and which we understand only vaguely, our primary aim in discovering the truth should be to resolve the ambiguities surrounding the issue so that the matter can be seen in its simplicity denuded of complexities.

Destructive Activities

The harmful effects of pride affect many aspects of life. In view of their harm it is all the more necessary to give thought to curing this spiritual malady.

If there were a lesser role of pride and conceit in conversations and debates, there would be an automatic decrease in many hostilities and confrontations. That is because many needless conflicts and confrontations between individuals and groups arise only because they are motivated by pride. In their effort to wrest some apparent gain which is seemingly to their advantage, they cause themselves and others much harm by failing to solve their problems through fair and sound logic and mutual understanding.

A proud person may become prone to other such undesirable qualities as envy, stinginess, and malice. A perpetual desire to see others fail may take possession of his entire being. If he sees someone who is better and more capable at performing some task, his heart overflows with envy, even in matters essentially unrelated to his own profession. This feeling may becomes so painful and unbearable and such a hostile passion may gradually come to dominate him that all his productive efforts are over shadowed by his urge to defeat his rival. His activities in life are not of immediate concern to him. His ultimate goal is to see his rival fail. As his activities assume a largely destructive aspect, his mental and physical energies are wasted. Whenever he gets a chance he tries by all means to satisfy the demonic urge that rules his being and intentions.

Naturally, everybody shuns and avoids the company of proud and conceited individuals, in the same way that they are scared of humility in their relations with others. This acute tendency destroys even the most valuable and strongest of bonds. It is an undeniable fact that indifference to the feelings of others and a contemptuous disregard for them produce a reaction resulting in one's being treated in a contemptuous and insulting manner by them. The proud person gives significance only to his own feelings and is totally lacks consideration for others. This one-sided attitude creates a contradiction between his wishes on the one hand and the insulting and indifferent attitude of others on the other. With a shattered spirit and an agitated heart he is forced to face the blows of unexpected and unceasing indifference that he has to encounter.

Congenial manners, which have a close relation with a person's inner moral state, not only leave a desirable effect on one's life but have a profound influence on other people's hearts. Those who really possess outstanding merits and moral virtues are like a refreshing spring which appeases the thirst of their associates with its fresh and pleasant water. Modesty and true refinement become real when they arise from one's nature. Otherwise those who resort to artificial means in this regard only deceive themselves. Everyone's spirit and mode of thinking is visible through his conduct and it is not possible to conceal them by any means.

Spiritual Health

Life is action and effort through and through. At times one is successful and triumphant in the course of this struggle; at other times one has to face defeat. Those who succeed on the stage of life may fall prey to pride and conceit as a result of some limited success in their work or profession. Pride overshadows their entire being. On occasions those who are unsuccessful in some matters may ascribe their defeat to bad luck or to the envy of malicious enemies and the obstacles created by them. As a result they surrender themselves totally to despair. Although failure and defeat are bitter and unpleasant and success and triumph are pleasant and sweet, in success one should not become proud of one's expertise and wisdom, nor should one fall prey to endless despair and regret in failure.

If one were to remain realistic and composed in success as well as in defeat and observe the golden mean between the two extremes, that would be the sign of a healthy spirit. However, the attainment of this degree of moderation requires a tough and serious struggle against one's ego.

The makeup of man's psychic life has been designed in such a way that it has its own limits like everything else in this world. The tensions caused by failure and deprivation may be evaded, but they would reappear in disguise to take a destructive and rebellious form.

The difficulty of attaining to self-knowledge in regard to one's spiritual needs is an undeniable reality. But short-sighted people think that they know themselves better than anyone else, that they are aware of the causes that lie behind their thoughts, motives and behaviour, and they know their inner being thoroughly.

The real causes that lie behind wrong and unfair judgements and misunderstandings are errors arising from self-knowledge. The main factor in these difficulties should be considered to lie in the ignorance of the limits of one's innate capacities, the role of heredity, of education and environment, in one's psychological makeup, and in the ignorance of one's inadequacies and the hold of desires and lusts. In the same way that ancient philosophy stressed the principle of knowing oneself, knowledge of the elements of self- knowledge is considered the most important principle of mental health by contemporary psychology, which has made interesting and valuable discoveries in its study of human nature.

The development of good human qualities in the soul requires that one should be aware of one's spiritual needs, the way the human psyche works, and the implications of one's undesirable feelings, each of which is a result of inner actions and reactions. Moreover, one should be aware to some extent of the emotions that derive from complex sources so as to be able to distinguish between misleading desires and genuine aspirations and capacities. One should be capable of defending oneself against dangers that constantly threaten one's personality and spiritual well-being, being extremely vigilant not to surrender one's life to illusive imaginings and vain dreams for the sake of some imaginary form of happiness.

All those who suffer from psychological complexes and ailments are either those who are constantly possessed by nightmarish despair and despondency or are individuals who are ignorant of their latent capacities and energies so as to be able to compensate for their inadequacies with the help of their own powers and to replace deficiencies with merits. Accordingly, it is necessary that they take upon themselves the arduous task of self-discovery by making an all-round effort.

As a matter of principle, man, by virtue of his passion for acquisitiveness, is greatly troubled by every obstacle and hurdle that frustrates the fulfilment of his desires and hinders his monopolistic and unshared control over events. It is these obstacles that give rise to aggression, malice, and anguish. Transitory desires and incendiary lusts can easily cause failure in making correct judgements. The Noble Messenger, may God bless him and his Household, warned people against following desires:

Beware of (misleading) desires, for desires make one blind and deaf.3

Ignorance of One's Inadequacies

Pride and vanity often do not allow one to be aware of one's inadequacies and the limitations of one's abilities. This ignorance about one's inadequacies is the main obstacle to spiritual maturity and the development of an independent personality. As a consequence, one is kept from compensating for these inadequacies and removing his defects which can be easily amended in many cases,

Imam 'Ali, may Peace be upon him, said:

The proud and vainglorious person is unaware of his own defects. Were he to see the merits of others, he would have been upset by his defects and inadequacies [and taken steps to amend them].4

'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may Peace be upon him, considers pride and complacency the result of the mental inadequacy of their victims. He says:

Self-complacency is the evidence of the weakness of one's intellect.5

Pride is destructive for one's intellectual faculty.6

Spinoza, the well-known European philosopher, writes:

The man ... who is ignorant of himself is ignorant of the foundation of all the virtues, and consequently is ignorant of all the virtues. Again, to act in conformity with virtue is nothing but acting according to the guidance of reason, and he who acts according to the guidance of reason must necessarily know that he acts according to the guidance of reason. He, therefore, who is ignorant of himself, and consequently (as we have just shown) altogether ignorant of all the virtues, cannot in any way act in conformity with virtue, that is to say, is altogether impotent in mind. Therefore, the greatest pride or despondency indicates the greatest impotence of mind.7

It is possible that things which appear to be real to us may turn out to have no reality. It is with the criteria of intellect and reason that realities are distinguished from illusions. Those whose eyesight is weak use spectacles, but there are no spectacles to compensate for the weakness of intellectual vision. To overcome it, one has to attend to his inner being and resort to an analytic examination of one's inner self. Carefully and vigilantly one must distinguish one's true capacities from deceptive and harmful tendencies. There are many who neglect their mental energies without using them for personal improvement or social betterment. They remain without even a superficial knowledge of their wonderful inner powers and energies, until there emerges an opportunity for the manifestation of their fruitful capacities. Therefore an enormous amount of beneficial capacities are wasted by us without any knowledge of their potent character.

A person discovers his defects and inadequacies but does not give them any significance, or considers them negligible, that means that he considers them a necessary part of his being. Self-examination and self- scrutiny, however, require time, attention and care. It is wrong to imagine that one can discover one's spiritual characteristics in a short time and identify one's weak points and inadequacies. Knowing oneself and being able to confront certain terrible inner qualities require a clear insight and great courage. These cannot be achieved except gradually and with continuous care and perseverance. Nevertheless, man can attain brilliant success in his struggle against inner indignities by bringing about a beneficial change within himself with his faculties of thought and will. Imam 'All, may Peace be upon him, said:

One who examines his defects and inadequacies succeeds in discovering them.8

Self-love, not Egoism

Islam provides man with reliable criteria and adequate methods for the fulfilment of his psychological needs. It devotes itself to the reform and refinement of human nature through a comprehensive and all-round program. The rules and regulating devices that Islam employs for moderating human wants give a burnish to the human spirit and intellect, thus basing all human effort on true reality. That is because if emotions and feelings are left uncontrolled, they will not only be harmful for others but will also create psychological disorders and conflicts which will lead to the individual's degeneration and fall.

Self-love is one of the factors whose significant role in life cannot be ignored. Were it to be oriented towards a sublime goal it would impel man towards virtue and merit.

However, there is a great difference between self-love and narcissism. Self-love is a sign of spiritual greatness and an expansive personality, which prompts man toward humbleness and sacrifice. Egotism on the other hand restricts the scope of one's thoughts and leads human nature into abasement and indignity.

Imam 'Ali, may Peace be upon him, said:

The humblest of men is one who has a high regard for his personal worth.9

Jagot says:

Egocentrism means sacrificing others for the sake of one's wishes and happiness, while self-assertion is a psychological state that is distinguished by the determination to develop one's personality. Egocentrism is always accompanied with extreme weakness, whereas self-assertion is accompanied with an extraordinary strength.

If you resolve not to surrender to the will of others and you think that its imposition is contrary to your health, vitality and personal success and effectiveness, you are a self-asserting person.
But this does not imply that you should be insensitive and unresponsive to others' indignity and misfortune. I am only suggesting that instead of dissipating one's energies in a thousand directions one should store them for opportune occasions. Self-assertion does not preclude self- sacrifice either, but subjects it to a certain principle, and a self-asserting person is most willing to assist someone in a desperate condition or to make a friend happy.

Morally speaking, one who does not have sufficient strength to preserve his courage and mental equanimity in the midst of problems should avoid the company of weak people and join the ranks of the strong. Otherwise he will soon find weakness settling upon him, leading to torpidity and lack of courage. It is the duty of everyone to respond to the wishes and aspirations of others. But on the other hand there is a simple criterion of a correct balance between egoism and self-sacrifice, and that is making an effort to accomplish one's duty whether it is meant for personal or general benefit.
There is no doubt that if the members of a nation resolve to develop their personalities they will attain to the highest degree of equilibrium efficiency, and dynamism. Accordingly, there is nothing better than spiritual training, and it is self-assertion that develops self-denial to its highest degree. In fact, moral rectitude is a product of spiritual balance.10

Islam suggests every means that is required for the development of this strong urge, which is based on very firm foundations, giving great care to its refinement. But it also negates the same urge when it assumes a destructive aspect under the influence of rebellious appetites. In fact, one who allows himself to be led by this unguided and devastating urge ruins the foundations of his well-being and will meet a blameworthy end.

Self-love is approved by Islam when it has a right and straight orientation, is free from any kind of deviation and crookedness, and is not subversive. It should be so oriented as to secure happiness in this world as well as everlasting felicity, nothing greater than which is conceivable. A Muslim who discovers reality with an open mind and a clear insight will never surrender everlasting felicity for transitory pleasures, which are moreover mixed with all types of pains and anxieties. Real love and sympathy for himself do not allow him to yield to the indignity and bondage of base and destructive appetites, which would moreover invite everlasting punishment and endless torment. A self-love that leads one to such a fate is not at all worthy of the sublime station of the human being.

Real and Abiding Love

Islam wants man to attain to the various degrees of love in life and to prove his worthiness for reaching them. It begins by infusing the love of God into the souls of human beings, teaching them to put the love of God, Who has bestowed upon him the gift of life and all his powers, faculties, and talents, before attachment to everything else, for this love is the most significant principle of life in the real world. In view of all this grace and munificence, no one is more worthy of love and sincere devotion than the Divine Being. This fact becomes totally clear to us when we examine all the various levels of love, from passing and transitory attachments to real and eternal love. Having filled the heart with the love of God, it creates in every individual in society the bonds of deep and heartfelt love between humans As all men have been created from a single soul and have descended from one ancestor, they should love each other mutually and treat each other with kindness and sincere feeling, as they are brethren in respect of their origin and common interests. It presents such a wonderful picture of the rights of human brotherhood that it drives the inner being of humans to movement and action and furnishes the motives and the zeal for initiating men into such a sincere and pure love. It is in this way that it creates a self-love within man's being that is balanced and harmonious, developing it in such a fashion as to liberate him of the bondage of pride and egoism in the shadow of that balance and equilibrium so that he never develops any extreme egocentric tendencies.

Greatness and majesty exclusively belong to the Divine Being, Who in Its Holiness transcends need and dependence. In fact all existents are dependent upon Him in all aspects:

O mankind, you are all dependent on God and God is Self-sufficient, All- laudable. (35:15)

It is as a result of deviance from the heavenly program of human education that leads men into the afflictions of pride and conceit. In one of its passages, the Noble Qur'an calls the proud person's attention to his abjectness and lowliness and brings down his spirit from the heights of conceit and baseless imaginings:

And walk not in the earth exultantly; certainly you will never pierce through the earth, not reach the mountains in height. (17:37)

Those who have fixed their eyes on the highest Source of being do not become subject to pride and exultation when blessed with affluence. That is because Islam enjoins modesty and moderation and does not like pride and self-aggrandisement.

Turn not thy cheek away from the people in scorn, and walk not in the earth exultantly; God loves not any man proud and boastful. (31:18)

The Characteristic Sense of Worthiness

The Muslim's sense of worthiness is not related to any success in life and on account of living in ease and prosperity. Rather he has a feeling of worthiness and merit from the first moment that the light of faith is illumined in his heart. He is not moved by false and fake values fabricated by humans and is aware of the realities of life. Islam blesses him with a free spirit, a clear vision, and an inner moderation with the help of which he is able to rise above the abject level of corporeality and climb to the heights of human sublimity. He makes use of the material world without becoming bogged down in the mire of terrestrial pleasures.

It is not possible for fake values to overshadow his divine values and to dominate his spirit and perceptions, for they are too worthless to form the basis of his sense of worthiness. Furthermore, he does not bow his head before anyone and does not feel lowly and weak in front of any power. He refrains from any kind of undignified humility which may compromise his personal worth. His humility is exclusive to his relation with the Sacred Divine Being and Its Majesty, but he feels powerful and steady in all other states.

God exhorts the faithful to preserve this station in all situations and stages:

And you are the upper ones it you are believers. (3:139)

If a wound touches you, a like wound already has touched the heathen; such days We deal out in turn among men. (3:140)

In this verse, the Qur'an reminds the Muslims of their superiority at a moment when they had been defeated in battle and the enemy had been victorious. That is because this superiority arises from their faith in God and attachment to the Source of reality, and these qualities transform them into a dynamic force. This superiority is not obtained through victory against the enemy so as to be lost at the moment of defeat.

The Muslims enjoyed an upper hand over others because they believed in faith as the highest of human merits and assets. This infused them with an enthusiasm and zeal arising from faith. They had been emancipated from all the bondages that had bound them and had triumphed over them. This discovery was solely a product of the guidance provided by the Qur'an and the Prophet's teaching.

Pride and egoism are big hurdles in the way of progress and advancement in life. The complacency created by pride results in the stagnation and backwardness of the proud. In the same way, the lack of self- satisfaction and possession of higher aims in life lead to continuous progress and edification.

'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may Peace be upon him, makes this point in two of his aphorisms:

Pride and vanity are obstacles in the way of man's progress and growth.11

One who is dissatisfied with his performance is prompted thereby to improve his work.12

He also says:

One who is proud of his fair state and characteristics will fail to improve himself.13

William John Reilly, the famous scholar, writes:

I have found that certain troublesome and harmful ideas and beliefs in my mind, which cause me mental pain and sorrow more than any other beliefs, are those which relate to myself! Now how did r discover this fact? Well, let me tell you something about my own opinion about my voice, for most people like their own voices. The only thing whose possession caused me satisfaction was having an exquisite voice.
I have made many public speeches and had even won a gold medal at the age of eighteen years. I imagined that I had a melodious, refined and pleasant voice.

One day I took a tape of one of my speeches on a topic made for the radio and listened to it carefully as any other listener. This was the first time that I was listening to my voice as any other listener. God, suddenly I was shocked. My voice was much poorer than what I had imagined it to be. It was like a moan, suppressed, inarticulate, colourless, flat and painful to the ears. What was worse, while I listened to it there were several other people in the room. I was upset. I explained to those present that I was not feeling quite well when I had made this speech, that I had no experience of the radio and sound recording when my voice was being recorded.

But while their attention was turned elsewhere I played other tapes of my raucous voice and the same kind of sounds that wounded one's nerves arose from them. Finally after listening to all the tapes of my speeches I had to admit that the belief that I had held for several years about my voice was wrong. For the first time I had to set aside my vanity and try hard to improve and refine my voice. It seemed a hopeless job at first, but whenever I remembered what Demosthenes had done I would cheer up. I am still working on it.

This experience with my voice taught me one thing, that it was possible to launch a prolonged struggle for my self-improvement. Until I could bear the humiliation of having to accept this defect of mine I did not begin to make any progress in improving myself.

A shattered pride and conceit make man realistic and lead to improvement and advancement. This reform and progress take place only when we attend to facts and set aside our vain ideas and beliefs about ourselves. Otherwise we remain in ignorance and darkness and keep our own cherished self from reform and progress.14

Due to the aberrations in his outlook, the vain person at times imagines himself to possess certain merits that are in fact absent in him. Imam Sadiq, may Peace be upon him, said:

One who is proud of himself and his conduct is such due to deviance from the right path of guidance, and, contrary to reality, he claims to possess merits which he lacks.15

The proud and egocentric person is like a silkworm wound up in the cocoon of his own fancies. He is so intoxicated with the liquor of egoism that he considers the whole world to revolve around himself.

Imam 'Ali, may Peace be upon him, said:

The intoxication induced by ignorance and pride is more lasting and enduring than the intoxication produced by liquors.16

  • 1. Spinoza, Ethics, cf. Persian trans. Falsafeh nazari, p. 106.
  • 2. Dar justoju-e khushbakhti, pp. 58, 219.
  • 3. Nahj al-fasahah, p. 201.
  • 4. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam wa durar al-kalim, p. 95.
  • 5. Ibid., p. 424.
  • 6. Ibid., p. 26.
  • 7. Spinoza, op. cit., cf. Falsafeh nazari, p. 106.
  • 8. Ghurar al-hikam. p. 614.
  • 9. Ibid., p. 195.
  • 10. Paul Clement Jagot, Persian trans. Qudrat-e iradeh, pp. 70-71.
  • 11. Nahj al-balaghah ed. Fayd al-Islam, p. 1157.
  • 12. Ghurar al-hikam, p. 668.
  • 13. Ibid., p. 677.
  • 14. Tafakkur-e sahih, pp. 50-53.
  • 15. Shaykh 'Abbas al-Qummi, Safinat al-Bihar, vol. 2, p. 161.
  • 16. Ghurar al-hikam, p. 440.

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