No one else can define your reality

Natural stone bridge

By Wael Abdelgawad for IslamicSunrays.com

“Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.”

– Les Brown, author and motivational speaker.

Don’t blindly accept other people’s negative judgments of you. Reject their pessimism. Be strong, know yourself, and know that no one else can define you. Other people’s insults may hurt, but they don’t define you. Some people love to say “no”, to tell you what you cannot do, to tell you why your dreams are impossible or impractical, to tell you what a fool you are, to tell you not to bother trying. Such people claim to be pragmatists and realists.

In reality, such people are poison. It is their opinions that are not based in reality. It’s their opinions that are founded in cowardice and cynicism. Their opinions are inherently self-limiting. They have locked themselves into prisons of the mind. They have taken the ships of their dreams and smashed holes in the hulls before ever setting sail. Because they have given up on their dreams, they want you to do the same.

Either that, or they look at you and they see a bundle of preconceptions. They see a stereotyped image created in their own minds, someone who to them is the “wrong” race, or the “wrong” religion, or has the “wrong” qualifications, and based on that they will try to tell you what’s “wrong” with you, and to set roadblocks in your path.

Don’t let them define you. Don’t let them tell you who you are, or what you can or cannot do.

Mistakes and Appearances Do Not Define You

You are much more than just the sum of the mistakes you’ve made. Your past mistakes are not brands of shame, but teachers, stimuli to change and do better.

You also cannot be judged by the superficial circumstances of your life: your nationality, race, age, the language you speak, your favorite foods or colors, your birth date, your height or weight, whether your lips are narrow or full, whether your hair is lustrous or thin, whether you have six-pack abs or love handles. These things do not define you.

For you pop culture fans out there, there’s a scene in The Matrix where Neo is riding in a car, gazing out at the city, at all the places he used to know. He says, “I used to eat there. Really good noodles. I have these memories from my life. None of them happened. What does that mean?” And Trinity replies, “That the matrix cannot tell you who you are.”

Free Your Soul

So what truly defines you? Two things: your beliefs, and your character. What you believe, and how those beliefs manifest in the way you act in the world, the way you respect yourself, the way you maintain your integrity no matter what, the compassion and love that you show to those less fortunate, your courage, your talents, your beautiful dreams. Your faith and modesty, sincerity, friendliness, work ethic, hospitality, willingness to forgive.

These are the things that truly define a human being. No one can dictate them to you, no one can give them or take them away. Only Allah can guide you, and only you can choose what to do with that guidance.

Abu Malik Al-Harith bin Asim Al-Ashari said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

“Purity is half of faith. Alhamdu-lillah [Praise be to Allah] fills the scales, and Subhana-Allah [How far is Allah from every imperfection] and Alhamdu-lillah [Praise be to Allah] fill that which is between heaven and earth. Prayer is light; charity is a proof; patience is illumination; and the Quran is an argument for or against you. Everyone starts his day and is a vendor of his soul, either freeing it or bringing about its ruin.”

You are the vendor of your own soul. You set your soul free, so that your spirit rises like the sun; or you ruin it, debasing yourself. You shape your own character. You define yourself. No one else can tell you who you are. No one else has the right.

The Secrets of Changing the World

Passion and stamina are among the essential qualities of great innovators

Passion and stamina are among the essential qualities of great innovators

This is an extremely interesting and inspiring essay that appeared in the BBC’s online news magazine. And since changing ourselves, and thereby changing the world, is a frequent focus of my articles here at IslamicSunrays.com, I felt this piece was a good fit. Maybe later I’ll use it as a springboard for a similar piece with a specifically orientation, Insha’Allah:

The secrets of changing the world

Transforming society is a feat that only a select few of us will ever accomplish. In the second of a series of articles about innovation, Stephen Sackur looks for common qualities that unite the genuine revolutionaries he has encountered.

I paid a brief visit to my teenage son’s school the other day. The sun was out and the air was thick with restless, hormonal energy.

If only we could tap into these kids’ hopes, dreams and creative urges, I mused, we could reinvigorate our jaundiced adult world.

It’s a tempting proposition, is it not? That all of us, in our youth, have the capacity to be innovators, free-thinkers, resolute refuseniks when it comes to accepting the status quo.

Tempting, but alas, illusory. Most of us figure out from a very early age that it’s safer to conform than rebel. We tend to go with the flow, rather than ask why it has to be so.

That’s why so many young people today tell pollsters their ambition in life is to be a celebrity, a sports star or a glamorous model. Yes, they want to be rich and famous, but they want success simply to fall into their laps. Change the world? Sounds too much like hard work.

But without innovators we’re stuck. Every new generation needs people determined to find a better way. Of thinking, doing, and living.

So I’ve set myself a task. I’m going to try to distil what I’ve learned from years of encounters on my TV interview programme, HARDtalk, with some of our planet’s great contemporary innovators.

Is it possible to find a common thread which runs through these diverse and daring minds whether it be in business, science or art?

Well, it’s worth a try. Here are the qualities that seem to separate us sheep from the innovative goats.

1. An indestructible will

True innovators know how to take a punch. When they get knocked down they come back stronger.

Stephen Sackur

"True innovators know how to take a punch” Stephen Sackur

No-one better epitomises this thick-skinned obstinacy than James Dyson, one of Britain’s most innovative entrepreneurs.

For years he tried to persuade the world’s biggest manufacturers of household appliances that he’d invented a better, bagless vacuum cleaner. They didn’t want to know.

“They simply couldn’t see that what I had was different and better”, he reflects.

The pin-striped execs at the top of industry and finance told him his idea would never work, but he simply refused to believe them.

As a youth Dyson excelled as a long distance runner, and it was his “stamina and obtuseness”, in the face of repeated rejection which, he says, turned him into an inventor with a billion in the bank.

2. Passion beyond reason

Innovators have to have passion. Something more than greed, or a lust for power; they need to believe heart and soul in the value of the change they’re seeking.

Bangladesh flood

Fazle Hasan Abed's passion has given hope to millions of disaster-hit Bangladeshis

Fazle Hasan Abed is perhaps not a household name across the globe, but he should be.

A Bangladeshi from a well-to-do family, he was a young executive in the oil industry when conflict and natural disaster left his country in ruins in the early 1970s.

His response? To leave his comfortable life to create a new kind of aid organisation.

He called it BRAC. It began making small loans to individuals desperate to launch a small business or give a child a chance of school.

“Microfinance” has since given hope to millions and allowed BRAC to become one of the world’s biggest development agencies.

Abed, a soft-spoken, unassuming man, acquired a knighthood and significant influence in his native Bangladesh.

Is that why he created BRAC? “Of course not”, he says. “It was just something I felt I had to do.”

3. Outrageous optimism

Innovators have to be optimists. And not just about their own ability to triumph over adversity.

Consciously or not, they have to have faith in the human race.

Otherwise, why bother?

Jimmy Wales built Wikipedia on the notion that human beings could be persuaded to share knowledge, not for material reward, but for the collective good.

When this open source encyclopaedia of the web was launched in 2001, it was dismissed as nothing more than a platform for fanatics and loons. Now it’s in the top 10 most visited websites in the world, and the only one which has steadfastly remained not-for-profit.

Wales’s belief that he could “create and distribute a free encyclopaedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language” no longer sounds so far-fetched.

As for the notion that the human collective would find a way of distilling wisdom without distortion, manipulation and downright deceit… well, it sort of works.

There are errors and falsehoods in the Wikipedia, but not enough to make it useless, nor to make it vastly less reliable than the encyclopaedias put together by highly-paid experts.

4. A super-sized ego

Innovators do not suffer from low self-esteem. You want living proof? Spend an hour in the company of controversial bio-scientist Craig Venter.

Craig Venter

Ego-nomics: Craig Venter's self-belief has done him no harm

He has the bulk and the macho presence of an ageing military veteran. Which he is.

He has an ego powerful enough to penetrate an underground nuclear bunker.

“A doctor can save a few hundred lives in a lifetime”, he once explained, “a researcher can save the whole world.”

Venter was a key player in the effort to map the human genome, but he fell out with fellow scientists, not least over his desire to patent and profit from man’s genetic blueprint.

Some scientists agonise about the ethical issues raised by genetic engineering; Venter appears to relish the prospect of “playing God”.

Already his team of researchers has “created life” by inserting a computer-generated genome into a pre-existing cell.

His determination to make money out of his cutting edge biology and his impatience with the scientific establishment have made him plenty of enemies, but this is a man whose steely gaze delivers a simple truth: He doesn’t care.

After all, he’s already created a life form that carries his name, and there’s no bigger ego trip than that.

5. The rebel yell

Vivienne Westwood

"I was messianic about punk, it was a way to put a spoke in the system” Vivienne Westwood

At its crudest innovation delivers a loud **** you” to the status quo.

In the mid-1970s the clothes designer Vivienne Westwood came up with one of the most innovative middle finger salutes ever delivered to the fashion establishment with her punk chic.

This working class girl from Derbyshire drew inspiration from, bikers, fetishists and prostitutes as she introduced the Sex Pistols and their hordes of followers to a world of chains, pins and bondage trousers.

“I was messianic about punk, it was a way to put a spoke in the system”, she says.

Westwood, who has turned her deeply idiosyncratic designs into a thriving worldwide business does what pleases her, rather than what is expected.

Famously, she wore a revealing dress with no knickers when picking up an honour from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

And that’s an image that has somehow stuck with me. Innovators across cultures and continents share that rebel spirit – metaphorically, if not literally, they’re ready to go knickerless in front of the Queen.

I’m Still Me

Check out this classic Sesame Street episode from the 1970’s. I watched it with my daughter last week.

I am the person I know myself to be, no matter what anyone else thinks or says.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘This Is My Story,’ 1937

Other people may try to define me negatively; they may call me names, or put me down, or say that I’m not good enough for this or that… but I know who I am. I believe in myself and in my abilities, even though others may not.

I trust the path that I am on. I trust my guidance from Allah and my connection to Allah.

I trust in my decision making capacity, which has been molded in the burning crucible of 45 years of happiness, suffering, grief, love and loss. Whatever little bit of wisdom I have, I have paid for dearly.

So I know who I am. And no matter what anyone may say about me, I’m still me, Alhamdulillah.

And so too, dear reader, you are still you. You are the unique, gifted, miraculous being that Allah created. Believe it.

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