The issue of giving/taking advice can get a bit tricky sometimes. Consider the following real-life scenarios:
1. “This is difficult . I don’t know how I will do it any more”, I said to my husband after my 3rd cycle of chemotherapy. He replied,“You should thank Allah that this time chemo is not as bad as the one you took in 2014”.
Reaction: Directed angry looks at him and thought, “ he never understands me, it’s so easy for him to say that!”
2. Excuse me sister/brother, your talking in the masjid is really loud and is distracting me and others from salah, please could you stop talking whilst in the masjid?
Reaction: Who do you think you are to tell me what I can or can’t do? I’ll talk if I want to, now leave me alone.
3. A parent saying to the child, “You are not working hard enough, you need to study more, when I was your age…”. Child’ response, “You don’t understand anything that is going on in my life! Times have changed, okay! I have so much stress that you don’t even know about, life isn’t the same as it was back in the days, stop putting pressure on me.”
Reaction: An angry household full of parents complaining about ungrateful children, and children complaining about demanding parents.
4. “Scolding (and spanking) the kids is not beneficial. Try to be patient and it will be better for them,” said a mother-in-law when she saw her daughter-in-law scolding the three-year-old child.
Reaction: Silently fuming : “They did the same and it worked with us, now they are advising us to do the opposite! I can raise MY children the way I want, who is she to get involved?”
Now, look closely at each of those scenarios. The advice given actually seems fair, however, it was hard for me to take it.
Have you ever been in similar situations where you know deep down that the advice is beneficial, but something stops you from accepting it?
Our goal, as productive Muslims, is to make ourselves better than what we were yesterday. Well-meaning advice is actually a part of the beneficial provision that Allah has ordained for us.
Allah says, “…so give good tidings to My servants. Who listen to speech and follow the best of it. Those are the ones Allah has guided, and those are people of understanding.” [Qur’an: Chapter 39 , Verse 17-18]
We need to ask ourselves: what are the reasons we find it difficult to accept advice? Do we see ourselves as better than others? Or do people give advice in a really frustrating way that we end up overlooking what they say because of how they said it?
Let us discuss the reasons why it might be hard for us to take advice, and discuss means to resolve that.
Reason #1: Arrogance
The “I am better than you” syndrome we might sadly suffer from. Taking advice feels like admitting that we don’t really deserve our high status. The dangerous part here is thinking that we are better than someone else. If we don’t want to accept advice from someone, very often we think about the flaws of that person and use that to disqualify them from being in any position to give us advice. But, can any of us really say with certainty that we are better than other people? Even the ones who commit sins openly, do we know what they are like in private? No. So, why do we only allow those we deem as ‘good enough’ to offer us advice?
Remember the Prophet said: “Whoever has a mustard seed’s weight of pride (arrogance) in his heart, shall not be admitted into Paradise.”[Jami` at-Tirmidhi]
Solution: Let’s humble ourselves before Allah first and foremost. Humbleness is the opposite of arrogance. Once we realize our actual worth; how helpless we are without HIS guidance and mercy, we will be more humble towards the people in our lives too. Let us also be more forgiving towards others, and rather than judge the person, let us judge the content of their words. Too often we take things as a personal attack, this stops us from recognizing the pearls of wisdom that could be embedded in the advice given.
The Prophet said, “..no one will humble himself for Allah’s sake except that Allah raises his status.” [Muslim]
Reason #2: How the advice is given
More often than not, the advice we receive is given in a manner that makes our skin crawl; the arrogant look, the judgmental tone, the place at which the advice is given, the timing…you name it!
So what ends up happening is confrontation. You get offended rather than benefited. It is very hard to filter the content when it seems like harsh criticism, but that is when we need to remember the importance of patience and keep our cool.
A person may sound like they are passing judgement, but what they are saying might actually lead to you gaining more reward from Allah ?
Solution: Thank Allah for bringing this person into your life because he/she is helping you gain more hasanat. Another way to overcome this is to recognize that a lot of times, people give their unsolicited opinion in order to gain a reaction, when you give the expected annoyed reaction, it fuels them. So, rather than have a confrontation, thank them for their words, smile and move on with your life. A lot of us are probably trying to seek forgiveness for the mountains of sins that we have, let’s not add to that by getting involved in an unnecessary confrontation.
Let this uncomfortable scenario be a means for you to earn hasanaat through your patience, and acquire Allah’s forgiveness.
“…And let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Qur’an: Chapter 24, Verse 22]
Reason #3: Wrong timing
This is one of my current favorites. You see, I’m currently going through my second chemo in two years. I have a short fuse, and when my well-intended friends who love me dearly send messages about being strong in trials and making the most of the difficult period and so on, I just blow up!
I calm down quickly, but I do blow up!
( Psst… they don’t know about it, so let this be a secret between us, OK?)
Solution: Don’t rush to react. Take a deep breath and divide the advice into 2 parts: the actual advice and the emotional drama that unfolds within you. Store the advice in your mind for later, and work on controlling the emotions first. In sha Allah, by time and practice, you will become an expert at controlling your emotions and you’ll manage to extract the advice and benefit from it. Honestly speaking, after silently shedding some tears of frustration upon reading those messages, I swear I feel better because of that very same advice that made me blow up. They get me more determined to be “productive” in my trying times. I say alhamdullilah for receiving advice because, otherwise, I would have gotten lost in self pity.
Reason #4: Laziness and fear of failure
Yes, you read it right: laziness. Even though we attend productivity lectures, we don’t follow through with what they teach us, as we are too lazy to leave our comfort zone and try something new. Or we may be too afraid to fail. For example, when my husband got me a new laptop with a different operating system, I was pretty upset about learning how to use it!
Solution: Conquer your laziness. Be more determined to make the changes and always learn from them. If we want to be better human beings, we have to make a lot of changes in our habits and attitudes. Once we decide to do that, advice will be easy to accept and implement, in sha Allah. A lot of times, people want to do a massive overhaul of their character, thinking they will make a dramatic change in their lives. When they are unable to achieve or sustain this process, they give up completely.
Change is easiest when we work on small habits. Dropping bad ones and picking up small good acts and remaining consistent. The Prophet said “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little.” [Sahih]
Reason #5:The generation gap
When the advice comes from elders, we tend to feel, “what do they know about the struggles we face today.” If the advice comes from youngsters, we tend to feel, “ how can they advise us, they have no experience,” and then we ignore the advice.
In reality, however, the elders have that magical ingredient called “experience” that makes what they say correct at least 50% of the time, and the youngsters have knowledge that we didn’t have access to when we were young.
Solution: Realize where the advice is coming from. If the advice is coming from someone who loves you; your parent, siblings, spouses, friends…etc, know that they mean ONLY good for you. Listen carefully to their advice. It doesn’t matter whether they are young or old, just pay attention. At no point in our lives do we ever become experienced enough that we can no longer receive advice. If we ever feel like we have reached that point, we run the risk of becoming arrogant, and seeing ourselves as better than others. Musa was a Messenger of Allah , yet he accepted that Khidr had knowledge which he didn’t have and tried his best to pay attention. The Prophet frequently took advice from his companions and wives regarding important matters.
Remember also that if/when the advice comes from your parents, you must show the best of patience towards them. Sometimes it can be very frustrating and we feel like our parents have no idea on the kind of struggles we go through today, but Allah says
“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” [Qur’an: Chapter 17, Verse 23] .
One thing to bear in mind each time we answer back to our parents, if Allah set the mere expression of ‘uff’ as forbidden and not allowed, imagine the sins that could be piled up when we actually answer back rudely!
And last but not the least…
Remember the companions of the Prophet
They had to literally leave many habits and activities after they accepted Islam, and they were constantly advised on how to be better Muslims. If they stopped taking the advice that was coming their way, or rejected it on the basis of the age/status of the one giving advice etc, would they have become who they’ve become? No. They were grown men holding important positions, yet they constantly humbled themselves and took the beneficial advice that came their way. Islamic history is strewn with this type of examples.
I personally am giving myself advice through this article. The benefit that I hope for you and me is that we become better people and become among those Allah called as ‘people of understanding’ [Qur’an: Chapter 39, Verse 18].
May Allah make us of those who accept beneficial advice; those whose goal is to be guided and be people of understanding. Ameen.
Please share with us your thoughts and reflections below.