This title needs no introduction. At some point in our lives, we have had encounters or relationships with people and somewhere along the line, they have let us down. Disappointment in others is part and parcel of life. Finding perfection in others is an ever-elusive goal. To be honest, who are we to seek perfection when we ourselves fall short of it? It works both ways.
But it’s easy to pin the blame on other people when our expectations of them are not met. We would never point the finger at ourselves. And yet that’s exactly what we should be doing! Why? Because the mistake lies within us. We are foolish to think others can offer solutions to our problems or situation. Nobody can be expected to secure our own future. Inevitably, at some point, in some way, they will let us down. The responsibility of our future lies in our hands and along the way, people will show up and retreat again. We should never place too much emphasis on another person’s role or involvement.
I would argue that the biggest mistake a person can make is to expect too much of this duniya (world) in the first place. As the famous adage goes, “We need to hold the duniya in our hands and not in our hearts.” If we truly understood the depth of that line, a lot of trauma and heartache could be avoided. We need to be cautious that the duniya does not own us. We can’t be slaves to it. As it is, though, we are too engrossed in competing for this and that in this life, forgetting that all of it is simply a means to an end. And what end is that? To meet our Maker on the other side. Just as a workman has his tools to do a job, so is everything we encounter in this world our ticket to the Hereafter.
That seems rather cold and detached. Are the people we know or meet to be viewed in the same way? Are they just tools for a job? Well, to some extent, I’d argue, “Yes.” One stark difference is that, unlike inanimate tools that we use to do a job, with human relationships there are obviously emotions involved. Any interaction we have with another person will involve some kind of emotional or mental transaction on both sides. For that reason, they cannot be treated as mere objects for our use or disposal. But the distinction we need to make in our minds is that nobody belongs to us, be it our children, parents or friends. At some point, there will be a few who have to – or want to – leave our side. This is the reality we need to be prepared for and if we are, then there should be nobody to blame. Understanding that everyone and everything, in this ephemeral life that we have, is on loan from Allah, will help us shift the blame away from others when they do actually leave or fall short of our expectations. That’s not to exonerate those who treat us badly. There is no excuse for that. However, ultimately, we can only blame ourselves for expecting too much. Nothing lasts forever. Not even life itself.
The key to accepting the loss of a friendship in a disagreement, or a spouse through divorce, is to accept that very few relationships last forever. We need to change our mindset. I send this message particularly to those who, like myself, have gone through divorce and are wondering, “What went wrong?” My advice would be to stop questioning the actions or decisions of the other party. The marriage ended and chances are those questions will always hang in the vacuum, never to be answered. Instead, we need to know that everything and everyone in this life are on a temporary loan. That is not the same as having social detachment. Rather, it is a mental preparedness for things to take a different course and never to be complacent about anything.
Looking back, I wish I had understood this much sooner. Perhaps it would have spared me the fruitless effort in trying to understand why my ex-husband chose to part ways. Instead, I could have stepped back and viewed the situation objectively from a distance. Had I done that, I would have seen that the mistake was mine alone – I had allowed myself to be consumed by the duniya and be enslaved by it. To be honest, there is no point in shifting the blame onto the other person. Given nothing is static and we are all constantly evolving ourselves, it might seem inevitable that we fall in and out of relationships with others. The mistake is to expect the variables in life to always be the same. To be honest, that would be even ridiculous! As harsh as this may sound, we need to keep everything and everyone at arm’s length, ready to let go if need be. And that isn’t always a bad thing either. The duniya in the heart is only ever going to be a formula for disappointment. It is far better to hold it in the hands and very tentatively at that.