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Is optimism a good thing?


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Author Topic: Is optimism a good thing?  (Read 497 times)
Ruhi_Rose
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« on: September 01, 2011, 03:04:42 am »

A simple question but needs a very thoughtful answer. 

As I see it, optimism can be categorized in two groups.

1)  Optimism that ensues from Faith in God Almighty.
2)  Optimism of secular minds.

Secular optimism has a very thin line between itself and self-pride.  It's often based on blind self-confidence ignoring logic, realism and the bounds of nature that consist of human limitations.  Such optimism invariably has a dead-end at some point, like an irremovable road
block.  You keep travelling as long as your self-confidence holds you and then eventually to bang against it, finding it impossible to stand upon your feet again.  For instance, if an optimistic person with a secular mind is diagnosed with a serious illness, their response might be along the following lines:

-  "I will fight it and win"

-  "I've always been a fighter and I've never lost"

- "I'm always a winner"   and so on.

But aha!  No, it might not be up to you to fight beyond a certain point and that may not be enough.  So, why do people make such blind promises to themselves and their loved ones when it's not within their capacity to guarantee their claims?  Obviously because it's emotionally comforting, but that's another matter.  That makes it similar to being on denial of possibilities that could be out of human control.  Or, let's call it, optimism based on imagination and boast leaving no margin for the possibility of conceding defeat.  This mindset can also be described as the fear of realism .. or the fear of the ultimate, that is, death.  Instead of accepting it as a part of life along with the nicer possibilities, you simply become evasive about what you see as the downside of earthly life.

Furthermore, it can be difficult for a depressed or despondent person to interact or even connect with someone who is unrealistically optimistic.  Unreal optimism frequently tends to bring an element of insensitivity which diminishes one's capacity to understand the human nature in a practical sense.  An overly optimistic advise to a distraught person might often consist of 'preaching what cannot be practiced' sort of talk.  More often than not, zealously optimistic suggestions can arouse feelings of guilt within an already distraught person, making them feel still more distressed.

But optimism that arises out of one's understanding and unshakable faith in the Divine Power is a very different aspect.  It perceives the issues of life through a very different prism - a prism that consists of a vivid picture of the reality.  And when reality is confronted with courage and acceptance, it cannot intimidate you any longer.  It helps you to understand that boasting of your strength is neither necessary nor a guarantee for success.  Subsequently it helps to clear up confusions and accept human limitations with a down-to-earth spirit.  In other words, it helps you to accept the possibility of the inevitable without a sense of defeat or loss.

The optimism of a faith based person is intertwined with the Will of God Almighty concerning the ordainment of that person's fate.  It contains one's readiness to accept the outcome chosen by the Creator, whatever that might be (good news or otherwise), with a humble and unhesitating acknowledgement.  Such an optimism also carries the awareness that the Creator's decisions have specific and vital reasons.  Though sometimes these reasons might elude the human mind because of its limitations, that surely doesn't mean that those reasons don't exist.  This involves the perception of realism which is the primary instrument that balances one's sense of optimism with faith in Allah Almighty.

There are some Muslims who equate lack of optimism with disbelief.  How thoughtless and wrong!  The Noble Quran asserts the importance of saying "InshAllah."  Please read the following verses carefully.

"And say not of anything: Lo! I shall do that tomorrow, Except if Allah will. And remember thy Lord when thou forgettest, and say: It may be that my Lord guideth me unto a nearer way of truth than this."  (18:23-24)  Surah Al-Kahf.

This means we are not to take the happening of anything for granted, good news or bad news, except by the Will of Allah.  This concept very clearly elucidates that nothing is within our control unless Allah agrees .. and indeed this is realism.  It's a confirmed rejection of blind optimism.  

Hence, in the light of the above discourse, merely the term "optimism" is a broad or general expression.  To specify and determine it as something positive or negative, it needs to be analysed.  It could either lead to sensibility or stupidity, depending on how each individual reads it.  If you balance your optimism with the spirit of Truth of both realms - this life and the Hereafter - it could be a wonderful thing for you.  But if you embellish it with fantasy by discarding the negative possibilities of life, that would be closer to deception than optimism, raising the possibility of greater disappointment and  unhappiness in the future and leaving you more vulnerable.
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Heba E. Husseyn
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« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2011, 03:46:05 am »

Wow!  I like this piece sis.  A superb topic and very well written.  We keep having discussions, even arguments, on this issue in our Ummah every now and then.  Lack of optimism is so often confused with despair and lack of faith.  That's just not true.  And yes, when unrealistic optimism bangs with realism, it amounts to a feeling of being deceived in a person's heart.  The disappointment and hurt it causes is a big price to pay.

It's interesting to note that psychologists too have been candid enough about the huge disadvantages of optimism on exactly the same lines as Sister Rose has detailed in this post.  The two groups of optimism elucidated by Sister Rose in her post have been distinguished by psychologists as below:

- false optimism and
- rational optimism

False optimism harbors the same characteristics as blind secular optimism.  And rational optimism is based on similar argument as Faith-based optimism.

"Don't worry or be concerned.  All will be fine."  That's false optimism.

"Things look difficult and threatening.  But if we handle them carefully, one step at a time, it's likely we'll succeed."  That's rational optimism.

Thirdly, psychologists also admit that in many inevitable situations neither false nor rational optimism would work.  At such times to avoid unhappiness what's necessary is simply the realistic acceptance of the inevitable without any twists and turns.   

Let me quote from Psychology Today, a very interesting excerpt I find so true about unrealistically optimistic minds.  Read it carefully, you'll like it too.

QUOTE
'X' suffered from what could be called "blinding optimism." He focused exclusively on the bright side of life, on all the good events. By sweeping harsh realities under the rug, he was often taken by surprise when unmistakably negative circumstances arose. He was often off guard and unprepared due to his ever-present rose-colored glasses.   

But there is a big difference between healthy optimism and the Pollyanna pop psychology version of positive thinking. Giddy positivism advises us to look on the bright side at all times. These trite pep talks often tend to backfire ..  People who play the "everything-will-be-terrific" game not only overlook real problems and issues that need to be addressed, but they prevent others from expressing grief, pain, anger, loneliness, or fears. It is difficult if not impossible to air your true feelings in the presence of one of these ever-positive thinkers. They often make others feel guilty for harboring bad feelings.  Realistic optimists do not talk about how wonderful things are, how terrific everything will turn out, when faced with genuinely bad or unfortunate events.   

Those who believe if you smile in the face of tragedies, if you keep on chanting that everything will turn out wonderfully, often end up with even bigger problems.

Small problems, when ignored, glossed over or denied, have a way of spreading and growing into big problems.

It is also important to realize that in some circumstances change cannot be achieved, and it is acceptance, not optimism or wishful thinking, that will prevent depression or endless frustration.
UNQUOTE   
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Ruhi_Rose
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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2011, 03:37:41 am »

Thanks for this excellent feedback my sis.  It's heartening for me to read how much the psychologists agree with the 2 groups of optimists as I perceived.  The only difference being, they see it as false & rational optimism, while we see it as secular & faith based optimism.  That's because the westerners are basically secularists, and while among secularists most are false optimists, some who might be subconsciously a bit more God fearing, will be less boastful and thus more rational.   
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« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2011, 03:49:32 am »

MashAllah sister, that's what I call super analysis, the way Allah would want us to follow the quality of optimism.   Though a simple matter as you stated, it has proven a tricky issue for people to understand and most don't.  The so-called scholars are most confused about it, almost as much as the secularists.  They get perplexed by the study of optimism and they forget to give it the right balance in relation with the definition of despair.   That's why they wrongly assert lack of optimism as Haram.  Their confusion arises from their misunderstanding of Verse 60:13 of Surah Al-Mumtahanah which I quote:

"O ye who believe! Be not friendly with a folk with whom Allah is wroth, (a folk) who have despaired of the Hereafter as the disbelievers despair of those who are in the graves."  (60:13)

The words "despaired" and "despair" mentioned in the above Verse in context with the disbelievers makes a lot of Muslims misunderstand the characteristic of "despair" as Haram because they associate it with disbelief.  What they don't see is that the term "despair" or "despaired" does not refer to the kind of listless feeling a person may experience during depression or sadness or grief caused by the ups and downs of life.  Despairing of the Hereafter means not believing in the Hereafter.  Similarly, to despair of those in the graves means not believing in the Resurrection of the dead of those in the graves.  Thus, the term "despair" in the Quran carries a very different meaning compared to how it has been construed and given the Haram connection by our ulemas.
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Ruhi_Rose
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« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2011, 11:43:27 am »

Many thanks brother.  This makes so much of sense.


And the following two verses describe the two different human reactions.  Verse 41:49 refers to those who get disappointed in times of distress. The reference is obviously not to disbelief but to being upset and disheartened. And verse 41:51 refers to the selfish and bragging ones who think of Allah only when in distress.
 
"Man tireth not of praying for good, and if ill toucheth him, then he is disheartened, desperate."  41:49

"When We show favour unto man, he withdraweth and turneth aside, but when ill toucheth him then he aboundeth in prayer."  41:51
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« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2012, 07:19:37 am »

 salamem
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MashAllah brilliant sister ruhi  jazakAllah khair thank u so much ,very educative piece ,very  well addressed .Every mentally ill mufti and imams should read it to educate themselves  Grin  i will send it arond


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Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain. It is a promise which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur'an. Who fulfilleth His covenant better than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph.9:111

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