Through the Keyhole

A television station aired footage of a very large political demonstration. Then there was a talk session where a group of experts were seated together to air their views. The political analysts spoke about the political parties and interest groups which were stakeholders in what was happening and the possibility that foreign countries were involved. The businessman spoke about how a profit could be made off the demonstrators by selling them things like food, drinks, and flags. The security officer talked about the dangers of civil unrest and the influence of subversive elements. 

Each person brought their personal frame of mind to the table and looked at the event from a completely different angle. 

From your vantage point, you might see part the truth, while someone else sees an entirely different but equally true aspect of the situation. You might hold one opinion today and another one tomorrow. 

There are many factors affecting our views. Our cultural backgrounds, societal upbringing, and education condition how we see things. The media plays a major role in this as well, as do our political and economic outlooks. There are numerous factors shaping both our opinions and our behaviours. 

The real difference is between a society that has substance and awareness, and is therefore able to develop and renew its intellectual output, and between a society that thinks itself to be ideal and has illusions of perfection. 

The mind has a tendency to generalize personal interests and make them seem as if they are universal. People get very zealous about what they see as major social welfare issues when the what is at stake is really nothing more than their own personal concerns. 

I can profess to be partial and objective, and I might really believe I am, because I do not realize the magnitude of the outside influences on my decision making. When I support someone, it is not necessarily because that person represents the truth, but rather that they represent something that is important to me personally. 

In the lives of individuals and nations, heroes represent the best of humanity. When there are real heroes in the world, people turn to them and rely upon their ingenuity. All heroes, no matter how diverse they may be, have one job: to fill a cultural void in society that no one else is able to fill. It is rare that a society knows its heroes up close. The popular conscience seems to be less concerned with the historical truth than with the legends found in literature, art and the popular imagination. 

People can come into conflict while supporting the truth. Not every conflict is between right and wrong. The problem can be one of conflicting perspectives coupled with a lack of respect for other people’s opinions. 

We often ridicule what we find unfamiliar or reject information that does not concord with our assumptions. Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī pointed out that if you were to tell someone that if you rub two piece of wood together, something red will emerge the size of a date which can eat the city and all its inhabitants, no one will believe you. However, once they realize that rubbing two dry twigs together creates a flame which has the potential to burn the city down, they realize that your words are true! 

A man who had lived in an isolated part of the world was told about the invention of television and how people who are long dead can be seen speaking and walking therein, and the two world wars can be seen as if they are happening today, he thought it was a form of heresy. 

Another interesting story is the account of two people in a village long ago who both saw an airplane flying for the first time. One of them told his friends what they had seen. He called his fellow witness to verify it, but he denied everything, took him aside and said: “Do you want them to accuse me of being insane?” 

The most perilous of habits are the habits of the mind. Many people will deny there are such habits, but this is where the roots of all habits can be found. They are well hidden and go unnoticed. We think in patterns that we have picked up along the way, and we never really think about the way we think. Bit this is precisely where change begins. This is how we cure addictions, shake off backwardness and ignorance, and abandon our repeated mistakes. It begins when we become conscious of how we think. 

By discovering the habits of the mind, we can develop our potential and reach new heights. We might think we are looking at a broad vista when all along we have been peeking at things through a keyhole.

By Sheikh Dr Salman al-Oadah

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