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Building a Sturdy Character

By Dr. Shadee Elmasry


When my dad corrected me as a youth, it wasn't always soft and fuzzy. He didn't list 3 good things first. So I had a choice: take it personally and reject the point just because I didn't like the delivery. Or... have a brain and separate between the issue and my temporary feelings.


Tasawwuf tells us to erode our nafs. The biggest eroder is a word of truth that insults the ego. The ego and its feelings intoxicate the intellect, causing a person not to see a plain truth in front of them. A harsh person actually does us a favor, giving our nafs a bloody nose.

Softening the blow with techniques such as "listing 3 good things first" gets results, and it maintains relationships, but its negative side is that it coddles and creates a fragile person.


I'm 80-20 with my own kids. They have to learn not to be dictated by temporary feelings. In the future, there will be harsh people, so they should be inoculated and accustomed that it's not going to kill you, and it doesn't mean the person doesn't love you. Alas, you're not an angel either; sometimes you are quite annoying and bother the people around you, so you bought the reaction onto yourself.


Furthermore... my feelings weren't always "validated" as people say we should all do now. Some feelings are not valid: I'm sad because I can't get $90 Jordans while my feet grow every six months. Invalid! This is not a reason to pout. Rather, say al-hamdulillah because some people don't even have feet let alone Jordan's. In this manner, one learns what a blessing is and how to handle not having something.


This too is being eradicated from the parenting handbook. Instead, every single emotion must be validated or else child protective services will come knocking. Some parents feel that the slightest sadness will scar kids for life. Not true. What this does is completely skews the definition of what a blessing really is.


I once talked to a person involved in counseling. They said the first thing we do is validate their feelings. I said what? You're encouraging people to wallow in self-pity. Coping is all about will-power and looking at the good not the bad.


Where is will-power in modern counseling? Aside from serious traumas, at most junctures, a person can sit down and write 100 good things that are going on and feel better about life before you reach no. 27.


I genuinely believe that all this is more important than anything else. Possibly more important than education even, because people with a sturdy character can go through more hardships in life without breaking, and going through hardships is how we learn the most.


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