I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself. D. H. Lawrence
To fast Ramadan you need resilience. The “R” word is taboo nowadays thanks to the Cult of Therapy. According to this cult, it is wrong for us to tell people to toughen up. If we use the phrase “man up”, we are then guilty of breaking both the ’T’ cult, and the ‘F’ cult. Yet, contrary to their claims, both these cults cannot grasp the diversity of life. Boudica is a misfit. Ramadan begins with resilience, and not only for alphabetic reasons.
Abstaining from food for thirty days is no mean feat. Many Muslims find it easy, because they are habituated to it. When a non-Muslim or a new Muslim convert tries to fast Ramadan, s/he will feel the strain. With repetition, the strain ceases to strain as much. This is the laudatory effects of resilience. What is hard becomes bearable; what is bearable becomes easy; what is easy becomes unnoticed. I have fasted Ramadan for decades, and its strain causes me to stop playing football and start playing table tennis during the month. My friends play football.
Any worthwhile endeavour needs resilience. A Hippie who aims to be the next Hertzs will have to ride through the peaks and troughs of scientific ambition. Less ambitious people, say postmen, still need resilience against life’s degradation. The Quran mentions this fact plainly because its Author knew that the Cult of Therapy would arise even though 7th century Bedouins would have hooted with laughter at such an idea:
And [recall] when We took your covenant and We raised over you the mount, [saying] “Take what we have given you with determination and remember what is in it that perhaps you may become righteous [2:63]
Each of us are born with promise, the promise that we can live a good life. If babies are bereft of this promise, whence comes man’s ability to live a good life? Entering into life we are aware of the Mount of Disaster overshadowing us. The only reasonable reaction to this mass of stone and sadness above our heads is resilience.
The psychology of resilience can be seen during Ramadan. During the day, we remind ourselves that night is close. When our life blazes too brightly and the heat hurts our skin, we should remember that sooner or later, the coolness of the night will come; our troubles will end. This is why Iftar, the breaking of the fast at sunset, is a blessing. It reminds us that after pain comes respite. As the Quran says:
For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease * Indeed with hardship [will be] ease [94: 5-6]
Life, however, can seem unkind to us. As soon as we get respite, new stones pile on us. We have to keep thinking of the next respite. But sometimes we get hit on the head by an unending avalanche. To get through that we use the psychology of Iftar (or “forward looking”), but on an extended scale. The Prophet made Ramadan into three parts: the first ten days, the middle ten days, and the last ten days. This segmentation of time helps to keep your heart resilient and your hope fresh. In life, as in Ramadan, we should run marathons by making smaller markers, instead of contemplating the distance between the starting line and the finishing line.
Ramadan is the month of resilience, a reminder of the psychology needed to keep our promise to live a good life. This month is the experimental proof on a global scale of the efficacy of “voluntary discomfort”. It is common knowledge that voluntarily putting yourself in uncomfortable situations has benefits. Instead of playing video games before sleeping you spend an hour revising for your exams. Instead of sleeping your Saturday mornings away, you spend your Saturday mornings jogging. The mindset Ramadan gives helps us face the next eleven months with the correct focus.
The Cult of Therapy denies all this. The Cult does not distinguish between empathy and advice. We can empathise with a co-worker who is emotionally unstable, but we can also advise the co-worker to get a stiffer spine. The Cult claims that giving advice is “mean” and “nasty”. Or in more blunted language, giving advice “invalidates the experiences of others” and “demonises those who are different”. Talking of resilience is likened to laughing at the deaf or gesturing at the blind.
The Cult of Therapy is self-defeating. With monomaniacal insistence, it claims that empathy is the only way to help people through life’s troubles. Scientific studies, however, have concretely proved this wrong. Studies done on torture victims and solitary-confined prisoners in Africa and Arabia show that the victims who survived better through the ordeal where those who came from ‘tough families’. Within such settings, they were not allowed to complain or voice their opinions. They regularly got beaten by both parents. All these “roughing up” gave them the resilience to survive in the most horrendous conditions. In other words, there is an established correlation between survival and lack of empathy in one’s life.
I am not advocating domestic violence here, nor for people to adopt a tougher stance with their close entourage. I do think however that such studies speak for themselves. The link between empathy and survival is not a strong or as necessary as the Cult of Therapy assumes it to be. Torture and solitary confinement are extreme cases, but they highlight general principles. Ramadan is not a type of torture or a type of solitary confinement. Ramadan is a month of fasting without complaining. I have never met one Muslim who fasted while openly lamenting the fact. And if, hypothetically, a Muslim did fast and complain, he would be told to grow guts.
The absence of “voluntary discomfort” as a lifestyle has led to the Cult of Therapy. In modern times, we are always looking for how to make life easier. This, in itself, wouldn’t be such a bad thing since life becomes easier to bear the more hardship we face. But the search of ever-easier lifestyles is a search that eschews any notion of hardship. Once this notion is eschewed, you open up yourself to limitless “ailments”. The inferiority complex and lack of confidence that is the hallmark of millennials comes from an absence of resilience. Inferiority with hard work can become superiority, while a lack of confidence can be filled with learning how to face hardship and difficulties. If my words sounds like Right-wing rhetoric, then that is because people have allowed such bigots to monopolise such ideas and use them to their advantage.
Resilience is intrinsically linked to resistance. To be resilient is to resist the fist of fate. During Ramadan Muslims resist the hunger pangs; thus, they gain lessons in resilience. Instead of letting empathy asphyxiate our lives, we can learn how to be resilient in the face of difficulties. After all, the mindless chatter encouraged by the Cult of Therapy is less useful than the Catholic confession. At least the confession relieved the guilt of the confessors. The mindless chatter, on the other hand, intensifies the feelings one is trying to eradicate. I have five hours left to Iftar. I won’t complain about this. I will just take it.