Compared to what??
It is said that Socrates had a wife who was excruciatingly annoying. She was so loud that the neighbors could hear the arguments between her and her husband. One day they told Socrates to his face that his wife was too nagging. He casually asked them: Compared to what?
Right life questions are catalysts for betterment of self, family and society. Compared to what?! is one such question that can transform how we gauge ourselves and the world around us.
It got me thinking and confirming to myself that everything is relative and that good and bad or dim and bright are dependent upon contexts and perceptions more so than the absolute value of what we possess.
As such, in evaluating our lives to determine where we stand in relation to commitment to our core values and qualities and in order to appreciate the blessings that we have, we need to continually make comparisons. Internal debates with the self about ourselves as individuals and as a nation ought to be constant and consistent so that we may travel farther.
Compared to What? As far as the general setting is concerned we look at just a few examples. The following examples will resonate more with those who have lived abroad for an extended period of time and have a clearer image of the contrast.
Security : We live in a country where one can park his car outside his house with valuables inside it and go to sleep without worrying that it will be broken into; I know that for a fact because my car is parked outside every night while I sleep tight. In many other countries, leaving your car unattended for as short as five minutes is a risky undertaking; either at night or during the day.
Can you imagine living in a place where beyond your regular life struggles you have to also worry about guarding your belongings? Examples of appreciable security are limitless.
Civility : Ours is still a nation where general respect for one another is still the norm. One can walk with his wife and children outdoors or in shopping centers or at the beach without the worry that someone would shout profanities, be disorderly or be disrespectful in any other way. It does happen but it is not the norm. In many parts of the world, the same can’t be guaranteed and when you step out of your house everything is a possibility. You step out at your own risk, so to speak.
Public Facilities : We are blessed to be in a country where places of worship are to the tune of five-star treatment in terms of their arrangement and fixtures. They are so comfortable and glamourous that one worries that they could testify against us on the day of reckoning in case we don’t use them enough or properly.
Heated water in a mosque is quite something should you dare ask compared to what? Halls for funerals and marriages at zero cost to citizens! Tell that to someone living in most parts of South America, Africa or the Indian Subcontinent and they might not believe you.
Healthcare+ : A place where healthcare for the poorest is comparable to what a VIP would get in most countries of the world. Air conditioned, clean, and food provided not only for the patient but for the accompanying relative as well. Along those blessings are free education, reliable electricity, water and countless more.
I am not, by any means, suggesting that our health care or education systems are the absolute best in the world. There is always room for improvement but on the whole where it already is demands gratefulness.
Does the Sultanate have its challenges? Obviously it does. Chief among them is unemployment, especially among the youth. But I have no doubt that the government is aware of it as being a pressing issue and it is apparent that it is tirelessly working to address it.
My main point is that we can’t only focus on the lacking or the lagging; we must also be thankful for what has already been accomplished and what we already have. We need to be positive as we work on improvements lest we be consumed by negativity.
In short, Oman is need of fine-tuning, not overhauling.
Is life difficult? Of course it is, it is life after all. But would it seem that tough if we were to compare it to the life of a child in some place in Africa, South America or some war-torn country who eats once a day and yet manages to smile and play?
Would it seem so hard if we looked at what we already have that would be dreams come true for billions of people across the globe? That about half the world, more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
Before moaning about life’s hardships, I reiterate that, we must put those hardships in perspective by comparing our lives to the lives of those who are far less fortunate; be it next door neighbor or someone in some distant land. Wanting more out of life is not a bad thing but…
The world we live in is more important than the one we dream of simply because the latter depends on the former. If we don’t value what we have today, most likely we won’t see it tomorrow no matter how much more we get or achieve. Why you might ask? Because there are already much good, considerable blessings. If those blessings are not visible today, they never will even if multiplied.
Mental, emotional, spiritual and even economic growth demands of us that we compare ourselves to the best so that we may aspire to achieve more of what they achieved. Likewise, comparing ourselves to the less fortunate makes us complain less and work more and in turn open doors for even more blessings.
Pushing ourselves to greater and greater enlightenment and wisdom and wider sense of appreciation and acceptance is a noble undertaking in of itself. And important part of it is asking the question: Compared to what or who? Because hidden in the answer is the key to spiritual growth and true peace.
To be humble we must look up and to be grateful requires that we look down.
Some general questions to ask from time to time in order to calibrate the self:
I work long hours . Compared to a Japanese worker who hardly gets two weeks of annual leave?
I don’t have enough time to spend with my family. Compared to a foreign worker who doesn’t see his wife and children for years?
My way of doing things is better . Compared to whose way?
I am a hard worker. Compared to a laborer who works outdoors in 40-degree heat?
I read a lot . Compared to the time burnt on TV and Whatsapp?
I have a good character . Compared to whose character?
My car is not good . Compared to whose car?
My life is difficult . Compared to whose life?
My children are bad . Compared to one whose children use drugs?
I am unlucky . Compared to someone who doesn’t know Allah to turn to for instance?
There is no easier word to utter than Alhamdulillah but for it to be a sincere gratitude to our creator, we must first learn to appreciate with some depth.
"And [Remember] when your Lord proclaimed, 'If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favour]".- Q'uran 14:7.