Kindness can be taught
Just as we teach about physical hygiene in the interest of good health, we now need to teach about mental or emotional hygiene too
-- Dalai Lama
I grew up in a deeply spiritual family, which was equally violent.
I was born in Tokyo, Japan to parents who narrowly survived 1971. Perhaps the trauma of this experience prevented my mother from showing any affection.
Then, when we returned to Bangladesh, six months after my birth, I experienced violence all around me.
From the moment I began to form sounds to speak, I learned that if I did not shout, I would not be heard.
I witnessed how the poor were treated on the street, how workers were beaten for little things they failed to do, how profane language could hurt as much as a stone beating.
The spirituality came from my mother. The violence from my father. But because my mother was silent about the violence, and passive in protecting her children, she also exhibited another form of violence.
I intuitively knew that there was another way of being. But where are the support systems and the guidance?
Forty-seven years after independence, we still do not have a psycho-spiritual support structure for women, men, and children fleeing violence. Usually, women turn to their fathers and brothers for support, but this is not enough.
A massive paradigm shift needs to happen in how we manage our own emotions and how we support those in a situation that is out of control.
In Islam, the Fajr prayer and the time after is meant to be a time to meditate, or as the Dalai Lama puts it, a time for emotional hygiene.
As South Asians, we are very fortunate to have such a sage, indeed a friend of the Beloved, in our midst.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman agrees with the Dalai Lama, and suggests the following four parts in a mental hygiene program:
4. Social skills
Meditation can help you achieve the above. In particular, if you use a part of the meditation to send loving energy to those closest to you, then extend that emotion to people you know, strangers, other sentients beings, the planet, the cosmos.
This is similar to what Muslims do at the end of milads. You can make every morning your personal milad.
How about developing a mental hygiene class for children? According to Goleman, researchers at Stanford University developed a program that, research shows, can enhance our sense of compassion and empathy.
And at the University of Wisconsin, a “kindness curriculum” for pre-schoolers made them less selfish.
We don’t need to be an industrialized country to start such a curriculum at primary or secondary schools.
This Ramadan, let us start preparing a mental hygiene curriculum, and practice meditation.
Let us call for a plethora of charity and government-backed support systems (including safe homes) for men, women, and children fleeing violence and persecution.
These homes need to be secure and private.
They should not be permanent places of dwelling, but places to recuperate, receive therapy, and formulate the solutions for a healthy and happy life.
While Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) empowered women and men to seek a divorce, it does not always have to be the solution.
To obtain a free copy of the University of Wisconsin’s kindness curriculum, please visit: http://centerhealthyminds.us14.list-manage.com/
Shireen Pasha is a contributor.