Imam al-Ghazali once said,
“The tongue is the counselor, the mind the interpreter and the heart is what is affected.“
Ghazali’s words present a succinct way of conceptualizing our relationship with the world around us. We are surrounded by various stimuli (including events, people, statements… etc) that, due to our interpretation of them, causes an internal reaction; a reaction that initiates a feeling and subsequent behavior. What matters more often, almost more so than the stimuli, is our interpretation of it. For example, the rubbing of a tree branch along the side of the house. Is is it the wind, or a person outside the home? Whatever you believe it is, will cause you to feel a certain way and behave in a way that may reinforce your interpretation. This is especially apparent when one has a misunderstanding about others, and then treats the person based upon this wrongful assumption.
Often times incidents we consider negative are actually due to misunderstandings; maybe through blowing it out of proportion, not placing it within a more broad perspective, or seeing it as falling short of unreasonable standards. Sometimes we don’t know how we should interpret something, and we find ourselves confused or mentally exhausted.
At this time we might seek the help of another; hoping they can help put things in the right perspective. In many instances this may work and we may start to see things in a way we had not before, a way broader than we had previously conceived. Or, we may find ourselves still stuck with our skewed perception.
Much of this is merely a part of being human. We are unable to completely understand every situation, or why certain things happen. Furthermore, without first understanding who we are, we are at greater risk of misunderstanding others.
Assumptions distort reality and may lead to wrongful assumptions of others and ourselves. Our lack of clarity concerning these issues muddies the filter through which we seek to understand situations in our life, or a friend’s, or something happening in the world.
This is why in order to help others, one must first help themselves. How can you guide others to a more reasonable and balanced way of viewing life, if you do not have a more reasonable and balanced way yourself?
There are many ways to help ourselves and others remove these distortions and veils that impede our better judgment; realizing first our own shortcomings and neediness of God is a necessary first step. This should then be followed by working hard to overcome them; realizing, of course, that we will never be perfect.
One of the most important things one should consider in trying to make clear these muddied views of reality that cause us (or those we care for) trouble is to reflect upon the mercy of God, and to ask God to help us in all of our troubles. And when we ask of Him, He is indeed near.
A person should also never discount the assistance of a close friend, family member, or counselor. Realizing the neediness of having other people in our lives to help us is not a sign of being less than human, rather it is a sign of being fully human.