Firm Root, Shield from Hell-fire, Finding Power
Issue 895 » May 20, 2016 - Shaban 13, 1437
Ibrahim (Abraham) - Chapter 14: Verses 24-25 (partial)
"A good word is as a good tree: its roots firm and its branches in the sky. It brings forth fruit in every season, by the Leave of its Lord. God sets forth parables for mankind, that haply they may remember."
A good word is understood to refer here to the formula of the shahadah, "There is no god but God" and a good tree can be a reference to the date palm. Like the date palm, which is firmly rooted in the earth, so too is the meaning of the shahadah firmly rooted in the hearts of the people of Tawhid. Al-Razi refers to this same reality by saying that when the tree of knowledge is firmly rooted in the land of one's heart, one becomes stronger and more complete, thereby enabling "fruit" to issue forth from its "branches" in abundance. This tree of knowledge, which is rooted in the land of one's heart, thus has "branches" that are in the sky; that is, it has forms of knowledge that reach the Divine realm. This tree thus brings forth fruit in every season, which is to say that the soul of a person who is firmly rooted in knowledge develops a spiritual disposition through which it produces "fruit" perpetually in the form of beautiful words, righteous actions, a state of humility, self-effacement, weeping, and lowliness.
"The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary" - Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Shield from Hell-fire
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that fasting is a protection from the Hell-fire: "Fasting is a shield from the Hell-fire like one of your shields shielding you while fighting" [Ahmad, Nasai].
lbn al-Qayyim noted some of the beneficial and important aspects of fasting when he wrote,
The purpose of fasting is that the spirit of man was released from the clutches of desires and moderation prevailed in his carnal self, and, through it, he realized the goal of purification and everlasting felicity. It is aimed at curtailing the intensity of desire and lust by means of hunger and thirst, at inducing man to realize how many were there in the world like him who had to go even without a small quantity of food, at making it difficult for the Devil to deceive him, and at restraining his organs from turning towards things in which there was the loss of both worlds. Fasting, thus, is the bridle of the God-fearing, the shield of the crusaders and the discipline of the virtuous.
"Commentary on the Forty Hadith of al-Nawawi" - Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo, Vol. 1, pp. 317, 318
The abuse of power is costly in every imaginable way, from declining trust in the community to compromised performance at work to poor health. By contrast, when individuals use their power to advance the greater good, they and the people whom they empower will be happier, healthier, and more productive.
How can we stop ourselves from abusing power? The ethical principles that follow are one approach to enabling people to pursue this aspiration.
1. Be aware of your feelings of power
The feeling of power is like a vital force moving through your body, involving the acute sense of purpose that results when we stir others to effective action. This feeling will guide you to the thrill of making a difference in the world.
People who excel in their power—the physician who improves the health of dozens of people a day, the high school teacher who inches her students toward academic success, the writer whose piece of fiction stirs others’ imaginations—they all know this. They feel the rush of dopamine and vagus nerve activation in the purest moments of empowering others and lifting up the greater good.
If you remain aware of this feeling and its context, you will not be entrapped by myths that power is money, or fame, or social class, or a fancy title. Real power means enhancing the greater good, and your feelings of power will direct you to the exact way you are best equipped to do this.
2. Practice humility
Power is a gift—the chance to make a difference in the world. People who enact their power with humility enjoy more enduring power. Ironically, the more we approach our power, our capacity to influence others, with humility, the greater our power is. Don’t be impressed by your own work—stay critical of it. Accept and encourage the skepticism and the push-back of others who have enabled you to make a difference in the world.†Remember†that others have enabled you to make a difference in the world, and there is always more work to do.
3. Stay focused on others, and give
The most direct path to enduring power is through generosity. Give resources, money, time, respect, and power to others. In these acts of giving we empower others in our social networks, enhancing our own ability to make a difference in the world. Such acts of generosity are critical to strong societies, and empowered individuals are happier. The more we empower others, the greater good is increased.
4. Practice respect
By directing respect toward others, we dignify them. We elevate their standing. We empower them. That all members of a social collective deserve some basic form of dignity is an ancient basis of equality, and it is expressed in our day-to-day lives through respect. Practicing respect requires work. There is no reward people value more than being esteemed and respected. Ask questions. Listen with intent. Be curious about others. Acknowledge them. Compliment and praise with gusto. Express gratitude.
5. Change the psychological context of powerlessness
We can minimize the tendency of some people to feel below others, so toxic to health and well-being, by practicing the first four principles listed above.
We can do more, though. Pick one aspect of powerlessness in the world and change it for the better. The rise in inequality and the persistence of poverty give us many opportunities for such work. Attack the stigma that devalues women. Confront racism. Call into question elements of society—solitary confinement, underfunded schools, police brutality—that devalue people. Create opportunities within your community and workplace that empower those who have suffered disempowerment due to moral mistakes of the past.
Such steps may not feel like the game-changing social revolutions of earlier times, but they are quiet revolutions just the same. In every interaction, we have the opportunity to practice empathy, to give, to express gratitude, and to tell unifying stories. These practices make for social interactions among strangers, friends, work colleagues, families, and community members that are defined by commitment to the greater good, where the benefits people provide one another outweigh the harms they cause.
"How to Find Your Power—and Avoid Abusing It" - Dacher Keltner