This was a statement directed at me a few days after I arrived back to my Country from living in Egypt for nearly 7 years. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which we are constantly judged and criticised, with criticism often being disguised and packaged as gifts of unsolicited ‘advice’ and, ‘feedback’. Our intentions, beliefs, physical appearances, choices and dreams are just a few of the things that suffer such attack.
There are certainly parts of ourselves that we could, need, and may want to improve for the better. However, it is imperative we develop the ability to control the floodgates of external opinion. We must first learn to distinguish between feedback that is constructive and criticism that is toxic to our mental & emotional wellbeing. This will ensure that we nurture our hearts and minds with that which will allow us to grow, rather than that which will hurt and destroy us. Secondly we must learn to build the mental filters that will allow us to welcome in beneficial suggestions from others, whilst keeping out the intrusion of hurtful and malicious opinions. This is essential to freeing our authentic self and achieving the happiness and inner peace gained as a result.
Although criticism acts as a natural filter in preventing people of ill or egocentric endeavours from pursuing their harmful intentions, the inability to productively manage feedback has unfortunately resulted in many other individuals being held back from fulfilling their full potential to positively contribute to the world. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we have come to commonly fear and actively avoid criticism in order to avoid the hurtful and destructive consequences of broken self esteem, unfulfilled dreams etc. We must realise that we owe it to ourselves to take back complete control of our lives.
It is important to remember that we are never alone in our struggles with criticism and feedback, nor are we deprived from the tools with which we can successfully manage them, Alhamdullilah. Allah informs us that within the Quran He has “clarified all matters” (Quran 16:89). From the haze of confusion caused by unchecked criticism and frivolous opinion, we are delivered clarity and calm through Allah’s divine book. Its deep oceans of knowledge are abound with precious pearls of wisdom and guidance. We find within it many stories relating the lives and struggles of our amazing role models, the prophets peace be upon them. They dealt with criticism in all forms and extremes, and their experiences have been preserved for us to learn from.
Distinguishing valuable feedback from criticism that is harmful is something most struggle with. After all, is feedback not a form of naseeha (beneficial advice) we are obligated to listen to? Is it not an act of arrogance and pride to reject advice from our brothers and sisters in faith? It’s important we realise that not all feedback constitutes naseeha and neither are we obligated to accept all feedback we receive. Dismissing feedback is not a sin, an act of weak faith or a sign of arrogance. This is because as humans we are flawed. Our hearts can carry jealousy, envy, desire for control, selfishness and other spiritual diseases. We are creatures who make mistakes. It is for this reason we accept wholeheartedly and unquestionably only what Allah offers us. Allah defines arrogance specifically as rejecting the truth of Islam and looking down upon others, so in order to experience the freedom and sweetness of faith we must ensure that the principles and actions we live by are those defined by the Creator and not the creation. When we learn to know our Lord, we learn to know who we truly are.