The Great Harms of Ingratitude
There are some people who not only do not express any gratefulness-either in words or in deed-no matter how much help or kindness they may receive, but remain dissatisfied, as if it were the responsibility of others to do them service and to show kindness, whereas their own duty were to be ungratefully indifferent to the rights of others! The reader may have observed this type of persons around him. Their conduct does not conform to any rational, human, or logical norm. 'Ali-may peace be upon him-puts this group of ungrateful persons in the ranks of animals. He says:
One who does not appreciate a favour and kindness is no more than an animal. 9
Even when someone does not succeed in getting one's work done, one must appreciate his sincerity and disinterested motives when one feels that he has sincerely sought to help one.
'Ali-may peace be upon him-said :
One who does not appreciate the good, unmingled, and sincere intentions of his friend will also not appreciate his services and acts of kindness.
The Eleventh Imam said:
The best of your friends are those who forget your inadequacies but never forget your kindness.
The spirit of ungratefulness brings irremediable harm, for when one denies gratitude and appreciation to others for their service and kindness despite being aware of their significance and the trouble and effort undertaken by them, they would not be disposed to help him out in a hardship next time.
'Ali-may peace be upon him-refers to this kind of loss and deprivation in the following saying
One who does not thank for a favour will not find anything except deprivation and disappointment. 10
In the directive to Malik al-Ashtar he points out the significance and benefits of appreciation:
(O Malik:) Attention to major matters should not make you neglect minor and less important ones, for the people benefit from your trivial services and acts of kindness in their own right, while they cannot do without your major services ...
Hence pay thorough attention to the demands and needs of the people. Pay compliments to those who take pains and do worthy work. For the tribute paid to them for their work gives enthusiasm to the brave and serves as a constant source of their motivation. This practice also helps motivate conservative and timid persons and draws them to the field of battle. 11
We may also pay attention to the experiences that have been acquired in this field:
If parents and children show greater appreciation and regard for each other, you will see that the crowds at psychiatric clinics of patients suffering from various complexes would be very much diminished. Every now and then one needs to be animated by the warmth of others' approval and compliments. Otherwise one's mental health and self-respect would be endangered. If one does not hear a word of thanks in life for one's efforts, life would be very difficult. At times I myself feel like the old woman who had served the cowboys for twenty years waiting for a word of appreciation. One day they told her that she was mad. In reply she told them, Until now I haven't heard anything from you that might show that you can distinguish between one who is mad and one who isn't.
Dr. Whyle (?), who had a long experience in the treatment of problematic children, one day told me about the case of a child who suffered from an interesting illness. From this case he had come to the conclusion that at times praise and appreciation had to be ministered like a physician's prescription. The matter related to male twins, one of whom was quite brilliant in respect of intelligence while the other appeared to be retarded. Their father had approached me to find out the cause behind it," he said. When I had won the confidence of the retarded child, he told me something that children usually say in such cases. He asked me why others did not like him as much as they did his brother. They would smile whenever his brother did something whereas they frowned when he himself did something exactly similar. 'I can do nothing as well as my brother,' he said."
Dr. Whyle continued: "I kept the two brothers as apart as I could and put them in different classes at the school. I asked his parents not to attempt to motivate the retarded child by drawing comparisons between the two sons, telling them to make a conscious effort to compliment this child for his performance even if it were something trifling. Soon the child became such as to stand on his own feet."
One of my wealthy acquaintances who prided himself on not having tipped a single penny for any service was faced with a tragedy on the first day of the new year. His chief accountant committed suicide. The books and the accounts were in perfect order. The man who had killed himself, a meek and respectable fellow, had remained a bachelor. All that he had left for a clue was a note addressed to his rich employer. "Never during all these thirty years did I hear a word of encouragement. Exhausted and broken-hearted, I am fed up with my life," it read. 12
The spirit of encouragement and appreciation arises from personal maturity, self-reliance and a healthy spiritual state, whereas flattery is a sign of low self-respect, baseness, fear, and a decadent personality. Undeserved praise of others is the practice of those who want to compensate for their inadequacies by this means, or are cunningly after their own interests. The compliments paid by self-seeking persons are devoid of any kind of worth, because they are not based on good faith or conviction but are aimed with a particular motive. These self-seeking sycophants are like skilled hunters who set traps of flattery to catch the passing prey.
Voltaire says: "Those who exercise their rhetorical skills have often impious intentions in their hearts."
'Ali-may peace be upon him-said:
A compliment that exceeds a person's merit is flattery; if lesser than the merit, it is either due to incapacity or envy. 13
The Noble Messenger-may peace and God's blessings be upon him and his Household-said:
Sycophancy is not in a believer's character. 14
Undue praise and compliments give rise to pride, and if the proud person be a man of influence and power, he will not find it easy to listen to sincere advice and exhortations or heed truth and reality.
In the aforementioned directive, 'Ali-may peace be upon him-writes to Malik al-Ashtar:
Make the people get accustomed to refraining from flattering you and from praising you unduly for something you haven't done, for excessive flattery brings about self-conceit and leads to pride and haughtiness. 15
Hence if you pay someone a tribute exceeding what he merits and extol him beyond his real worth, you will not only add nothing to his personality but will harm your own personal dignity by your flattery and sycophancy. And if you commend someone with a compliment that falls short of his merit, that is an indication of your weak and unbalanced spirit or envy. But if you honour and praise someone according to his real worth, that preserves both your own personality and his, and, as a result, neither he would fall into the trap of vanity, nor would you compromise your respect and worth.
Moreover, as exaggerated compliments are not based on fact and do not arise from within the heart, one cannot depend on someone's hypocritical praise and compliments, for if he praises one in one's presence with a certain purpose he might also indulge, behind one's back, in any kind of backbiting or defamation for some other end of his.
'Ali-may peace be upon him-describes this repulsive characteristic of sycophants in these words:
One who compliments you for some merit that you do not possess will have no qualms blaming you and accusing you of some vice that is not in you. 16
In the same way as appreciation and encouragement are one of man's psychological needs whose fulfilment leads to progress and development, constant and undue blame and censure produce a detrimental effect on one's psyche and lead into vice and deviance. The Commander of the Faithful-may peace be upon him-said:
Abstain from frequent reproach for such a practice has vicious consequences and makes censure ineffective. 17
Bringing joy to one's children is an effective way of winning their love and is beneficial for strengthening their emotional ties with other people. The Noble Messenger (s) said:
Whenever a father looks lovingly at his child and makes him joyous, he receives a reward from God that is equal to that of setting free a slave. 18
Bertrand Russell writes:
Blame should be given much more sparingly than praise. It should be a definite punishment, administered for some unexpected lapse from good behaviour, and it should never be continued after it has produced its effect ... To win the genuine affection of children is a joy as great as any that life has to offer. Our grandfathers did not know of this joy, and therefore they did not know that they were missing it. They taught children that it was their 'duty' to love their parents, and proceeded to make this duty almost impossible of performance. Caroline, in the verse quoted at the beginning of this chapter, can hardly have been pleased when her father went to her, 'to whip her, there's no doubt.' So long as people persisted in the notion that love could be commanded as a duty they did nothing to win it as genuine emotion. Consequently human relations remained stark and harsh and cruel. Punishment was part of this whole conception. It is strange that men who would not have dreamed of raising their hand against a woman were quite willing to inflict physical torture upon a defenceless child. Mercifully, a better conception of the relations of parents and children has gradually won its way during the last hundred years, and with it the whole theory of punishment has been transformed. I hope that the enlightened ideas which begin to prevail in education will gradually spread to other human relations as well: for they are needed there just as much as in our dealings with our children. 19
This approach to the upbringing of children which this British philosopher ascribes to the last hundred years was part of the educational programme of the Prophet of Islam thirteen centuries ago. His affection and kindness were not confined to his own children but extended, in the most unaffected and natural manner, to other children as well, whom he treated with loving care and attention. His biographers write about him:
It was the habit of the Messenger to show love to children.
9. Al-Amidi, op. cit., p. 672.
10. Ibid., p. 702.
11. Nahj al-balaghah, trans. Fayd, al-Islam, p. 997, "Kutub," no. 53 addressed to Malik al-Ashtar.
12. Albert Schweitzer, Kelidha-ye khushbakhti, trans. Ahmad Aram, Tehran: Shirkat-e Sahami-ye Intishar, Khurdad 1347 H. Sh., pp. 335, 336, 337.
13. Al-Qummi, Safinat al-Bihar, vol. 2, p. 528.
14. Nahj al-balaghah p. 509.
15. Nahj al-balaghah, trans. Fayd al-Islam, p. 990, "Kutub," no. 53 addressed to Malik al-Ashtar.
16. Al-Amidi, op. cit., p. 671.
17. Al-Amidi, op. cit., p. 359.
18. Al-Nuri, Mustadrak al-Wasa'il, vol. ii, p. 626.
19. Russell, op. cit., pp. 95, 97-98.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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