A mother found her little daughter with her hands covered in red lipstick. She hit her for it then went out of the room to find that her daughter had used the lipstick to write on the door: “I love you mama.”
The mother returned and hit her again for messing up the door!
When the mother ignored her daughter’s expressions of love, it was not a natural reaction. Instead, the mother was acting out the role of disciplinarian.
The more a person is natural and free of pretension, the better they are at expressing their true selves.
Dozens of professional comedians conceal an inner state of severe depression, and many of them end up killing themselves. They play the role of happy jovial people, but behind their bright smiles lies profound sadness.
The romantic exchange between a couple during courtship is an act to win the other’s attentions. I play the role that you want me to play so you will play the role that I want you to play. When someone responds to my inner needs by making me feel special and worthy of love, I will respond by playing the role they would have me play.
It is an unspoken agreement, and it is often an unconscious one as well. It results in people making rash, emotional commitments. Falling in love usually contains an element of deception resulting from the ego’s needs being satisfied on some level.
The acted-out roles of lover and beloved often form the basis for young people’s relationships. A small degree of pleasure is given, resulting in many years of regret and conflict.
Sometimes we act out the role of the disinterested party, hoping to console ourselves, but as soon as we hear the beloved’s name or see their face, our buried emotions are brought to the surface again.
Small children sometimes hide their anger from their parents, because they do not feel any emotional warmth from their parent. Small children want their parents to be spontaneous and unpretentious with them. They do not want their parents to merely act out their roles, even if the role itself is a nice one. You may do many things for your children, and that is good, but it is not good enough if you neglect on a genuine personal level who you are and who they are. You are not giving your children a good message if you say: “Because I am your father… because I am your mother… because I am a good example… you must do this or that.”
Why do people spend their lives condemning smoking while having a pack of cigarettes in their shirt pockets?
Why do we bemoan modern technological devices and the way they controls our lives, though we are fully immersed with them all hours of the day? We are acting out the role of the critic and disputant, when all we are really doing is saying: “Hey, I exist.”
People like to cross-examine the motives of others, but the same people get offended if anyone else questions their motives or intentions in turn.
Conflict validates the ego, and it is the reason why people do things believing they are sincere. Shidād b. Aws called this “hidden desire”. For instance, a liberal politician fancies himself to be an advocate of democracy an open dialogue when opinion is moving according to his interests, but when opinion goes the other way, he starts appealing for a crackdown or military intervention. In the same way, an Islamist politician prides himself in being an upholder of people’s rights and an advocate of moderation. However, as soon as he is put to the test, as soon as his professed values conflict with his vested interests, all that goes away.
We might say that our disagreements do not affect our love for each other, but when disagreement actually happens, we are all too often prepared to lash out against each other with ferocity.
One night during a dinner party, a man told Dale Carnegie a humorous story which hinged on a quote from Shakespeare. The man mentioned that the quotation was from the Bible. Carnegie knew, however, that the quotation came from Shakespeare. He tried to correct the storyteller, but the man insisted he was right. As it happened, the man sitting on the other side of Carnegie was an old friend of his who had devoted years to the study of Shakespeare.
Carnegie and the storyteller agreed to submit the question to him. He listened, kicked Carnegie under the table and said, “Dale, you are wrong. The gentleman is right. It is from the Bible.”
On the way home that night, Carnegie confronted him about his response. “You knew that quotation was from Shakespeare.”
“Yes, of course,” he replied. “Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2. But we were guests at a festive occasion, my dear Dale. Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face?”
Carnegie understood. It thereafter became his policy that the best way to win an argument was to avoid it in the first place.
Prophet Muhammad said: “I guarantee a house on the outskirts of Paradise for someone who gives up an argument even if he is right, and a house in the middle of Paradise for one who abandons lies even when joking, and a house in the highest part of Paradise for one who makes his character excellent.” [Sunan Abī Dāwūd]
It is also related that he said: “Whoever leaves off arguing even though he is right, Allah will build him a house in the middle of Paradise. [Sunan al-Tirmidhī]
The ego does not permit anyone to bring it down. It has its own way of guarding itself against being violated. When someone criticises or insults me, it is taken as an attack on the ego which responds by trying to repair the damage either by constructing justifications and defences for itself or by lashing back with insults against the other party.
It does not matter whether the other party is right or wrong. The ego’s job is to protect the person’s self identity more than reality will allow.
When someone driving a car shouts at you: “You idiot; stupid person!”, it is the unconscious ego seeking to rectify itself through anger. A young man driving a big car ignores the right of way of the driver of a modest car. The other driver is a pleasant person, so he catches up with the young man and says smiling: “Why did you do that? Is it because my car is small? Am I the maid’s son?”
Anger inflates the ego for a short period of time. People can take this to the extreme of violence.
A sense of victimization and self-sacrifice also has a major role to play. It draws on other people’s feelings of compassion and kindness, and it is a way of getting their attention to one’s problems, one’s plights, and one’s suffering. A man sees himself as a victim because he has been physically assaulted or injured emotionally. It could also be because he was brought up to complain.
We sometimes act out a role in order to comfort ourselves. It can be an effective coping mechanism.
You can be more productive and effective if you carry out your work for the sake of the work itself, and not merely as a means to validate yourself.
Getting away from role-play is difficult but important. The most genuine a person gets is the moment when the unbeliever believes and when the person becomes face to face with the journey toward the Hereafter. Is life a stage? Are we the players? Do the masks fall away at the end?
Allah says: “[It will be said]: ‘You were certainly in heedlessness of this, and We have removed from you your cover, so your sight, this day, is sharp’.” [Sūrah Qāf: 22]
In times of crisis and tribulation, the full truth becomes clear.
When you pass away, how will others remember you? What will they say about you? Your ego persists even after death. Someone said that he wanted to have many people attend his funeral, so people can say his funeral has a big audience!