By Su Niye, New Age Islam
22 April 2016
It’s been a particularly hot summer this year, making the weather, quite literally, a ‘hot topic’, of everyday conversation. You meet someone and almost the first thing you hear from him, even before he’s finished saying ‘hello’, is a long harangue about the heat!
There was a time when I used to revel in complaining about the weather. Sometimes, I’d gossip about the weather with people simply because I had no other subject to talk about. It did seem a very useful conversation-filler! If it was summer, I’d moan about how horribly hot it was. If it was the monsoon season, I’d curse the rains. In winter, I’d crib about how mournful the sky looked. And so, as you can gauge, I was at war with the weather almost all through the year!
Now, if I were angry with the weather for most of the year, I could hardly be really happy, could I? If the first thing in the morning I did was to moan to myself, and, then, to almost everyone I met, about how hot or wet or cold it was, I was unconsciously setting myself up to be miserable for the rest of the day. If I began my day complaining--about the weather—it didn’t stop there. Berating the weather led, as the day progressed, to getting upset about every other thing that I found irritating—a noisy neighbour, a colleague whose looks I didn’t particularly like, a long queue at the post office, a shopkeeper who I thought had no manners, a bit too much salt in the Daal, the latest antics of a political leader, the filth that clogged the streets, the way the whole world seemed to be heading. And so on. Cribbing about the weather only reinforced my penchant for cribbing about almost any or everything else that I found upsetting throughout the day. That’s not a sure recipe for happiness, you’d agree!
Little did I realise it at that time, but all that complaining, including about the weather, only made me a fundamentally unhappy person even as it added to my misplaced sense of self-righteousness. Each time I complained about something, I was making myself even more unhappy. Without knowing it, I was training myself to focus on the ‘negative’ side of life, to see the world as full of problems to be moaned and mourned about. This made me into a distinctively negative person, blind to the many wonderful things that abounded around me that I could have celebrated had I not become so mired in negativity. With God’s grace, I am happy to tell you, I am now beginning to realize how complaining about things that I personally cannot change (and that includes the weather) not only does me (and others) no good at all but, in fact, does great harm—b y making me (and others) more cynical, more negative, and, therefore, more miserable.
Cribbing, including about the weather is a heady addiction. I know this from personal experience because I was on that trip for a long, long time! It is like being hooked on drugs. Drug-addicts hate the drugs they are addicted to. The drugs, after a while, make them feel miserable, and yet they think they simply cannot live without them. It was just the same with my addiction to cribbing. Cribbing didn’t make me happy at all. Each time I bad-mouthed something or someone, including the weather, it made me feel agitated and upset, because I was sending out negative thoughts and unwholesome energy. Yet, I was hooked onto the habit. It was almost as if I desperately craved to be miserable, that I hated to be happy!
All that moaning and groaning I used to do, including about the weather, didn’t hurt me alone. It hurt all the people I moaned and groaned to, too! It did nothing to make them feel cheerful and positive. It surely didn’t uplift their spirits and mood! Quite the contrary, actually. Each time I sent out a heavy dose of negative energy through my complaints, I was, unbeknownst to me, adding to the already existing enormous stock of negativity in the world.
Now, by all this I don’t mean to say that one should be blind to the reality of immense negativity in our world. I’m not suggesting we should bury our heads in the sand ostrich-like and pretend that there aren’t any challenges around that need to be recognized and solved. My point is simply this: if complaining about an issue that I’m vexed about is going to help, even in a very small way, solve it, then by all means I should do so. But if it isn’t going to make any difference to the matter but will only make me and those I force to listen to me even more miserable, there’s really no sensible reason for me to go on with it.
If moaning about how hot this summer is will cause the temperature to plummet, then by all means, you will readily agree, I should do so. But if isn’t going to work this magic, why make myself, and others, too, unhappy? Why focus on ill if it won’t do any good? As a saying of the Prophet Muhammad beautifully puts it, one should “speak a good word or remain silent”. In the same vein, the well-known ‘Serenity Prayer’, authored by the noted American Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, reminds us that while we do need to try to change the things we can, we also need to accept the things we cannot do anything about:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Accepting and learning to live with the things we cannot change—be it difficult weather or difficult people—is the only way we can be at peace. To protest against such things is futile—it doesn’t change the situation, for one thing, and it only makes you agitated, for another, disturbing your peace of mind and that of others, too. Ungrudging acceptance of a situation that one cannot change helps one grow spiritually. It teaches us patience, that queen of virtues, and surrender. It isn’t, I have to confess, that I cheerfully and uncomplainingly accept every such situation that comes my way. But, I must also say, I sometimes do—and, with God’s grace, I hope to do so more often.
Yes, I know it's been a particularly severe summer this year. But, still, I’m not going to complain about it, because while that won’t make it any less hot, it will only make me and the people I complain to be more upset about the heat than we already are. “The best way to not feel the summer heat,” a man I met the other day wisely quipped, “is not to talk about it at all!” Since I don’t want to add more misery to my life and to the life of the people I meet, I’ve consciously chosen not to moan about the heat this summer at all. Because I want to be happy, and my happiness lies, partly, in ensuring that the people I meet are happy too, when I meet others I’m trying to make it a point to talk about some of the many cheerful things that still surround us even at the height of this scorching summer instead of hollering against the weather.
So, if you come up to me and start complaining about how hot it is and I don’t join you in that, but, instead, start talking about how wonderful the mango trees look, bursting with their summer fruits, how amazing the summer sky, empty of clouds, seems or how delicious this summer’s watermelons are, please don’t think I haven’t heard you or that I’m not bothered about how terrible you feel about the heat. If I don’t join you in moaning about the weather it’s only because I want to be happy, and I want you to be, too!