By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
Every weekend I drive my daughter Salma about two and a half hours to Casa de Fruta. Sometimes when I’m driving I tell her stories or riddles, sing songs, or play word games. Sometimes I give her an “Islamic studies quiz” or tell her stories of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
At other times I’m silent as I think about issues in my life. In the past I did not share these personal thoughts with Salma. She’s still quite young, after all. But sometime last year I began to realize that I could share my grownup concerns with Salma, filtered and brought down to her level, and that she could respond cogently. It amazed me then, and still does. I think children are deeply underestimated.
Today I told Salma that I have a student in my martial arts class – I’ll call him Jay – who has been driving me crazy for two years. She asked why, so I explained that Jay doesn’t listen to me, doesn’t pay attention, and acts up in class. I didn’t want her to think that my students don’t respect me, so I said, “My other students are good, though. Bruce is great, Byron, Carlos, they are all very good students.”
Salma said, “So it’s only Jay you want to get rid of.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to get rid of him,” I said. “I just want him to change.”
“He’s not going to change,” Salma said.
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Because he never has.”
I was amazed by her insight. She’s absolutely right. If Jay has not changed in the two years that I’ve been teaching him, then why should I think that he will? I cannot control him or change his personality. I can only control the choices that I make. I could stop trying to get Jay to be the perfect student, and let him be who he is. I could pay less attention to him and focus on my other students. Or I could even ask him to leave the class.
In my role as Editor of IslamicAnswers.com, I get questions from people who are in bad relationships, or are having family problems. Often they complain bitterly about someone else’s behavior. For example a woman might complain that her husband has always been a womanizer and drinker, and how can she make him change? A man might complain that his wife has a harsh tongue, and is there any “wazifa” that will make her change? And so on.
Maybe these people need to talk to my daughter Salma.
We are deluding ourselves if we think that people are going to change long established patterns of behavior just because we don’t like it. People are who they are, and yes people can change, but the motivation for change must come from them. We can only change the choices we make.
One woman wrote to the website complaining that her husband saves porn on his computer. Every time she confronts him about this, he gets angry and accuses her of violating his privacy. She feels hurt and doesn’t know why he won’t stop.
Do you see how she’s stuck in a repetitive pattern that doesn’t work?
One sister said, “If that were my husband, the first time I found that stuff on his computer, the computer would be in the toilet!”
That is a change in behavior! I’m not saying it will definitely work, or that it will solve the problem, but it’s better than staying stuck in the role of victim. It’s a powerful choice.
Another sister said she would leave her husband, at least temporarily, until he commits to change. Again, this is a powerful choice. It may be extreme but at least it’s an active choice.
These are just examples. The point is that if we’re stuck in reactive mode, responding to the other person’s behavior in a repetitive, predictable way, then nothing will change. We can either change the way we interact with the other person – and see if that changes their behavior in return – or we can remove ourselves from the negative environment. By making a choice, we reclaim our power, and set ourselves upon a path that feels right to us.
What did I do with Jay? He’s still in my class, but when there’s an activity that he won’t do, I give him something else to practice on the side. I don’t stress over his progress. I let him move at his own pace. For now, it’s working. Thank you, Salma!