Can we afford to be unpleasant to others?

“Always say pleasant things to others” The Majestic Quran (2:83)

I vividly remember the stinging criticism I once got from my teacher for my Arabic reading, I was only ten years old and I was bitterly hurt by this but being a stubborn and determined person, I decided to continue with my Arabic lessons. With hindsight I now believe that criticism need not be a negative thing, it is an evaluation, a way of identifying what are the positive and negative aspects of what works and what doesn’t work. However, two things distinguish good criticism and the recipient can often sense them; one is the intention and the agenda behind pointing out the negative aspects and secondly the way it is done, the choice of words used. In other words, criticism should be conducted tactfully in a pleasant way with the intention of benefiting the person being criticised. The holy book of Islam teaches, “always say pleasant things to people“.

A powerful promoter of pleasant behaviour is spiritual and moral intelligence. This is understanding that life is purposeful, practices that enhance good behaviour. It helps to understand the reality and to distinguish it from illusions of the material world. For the believers God is the reality, the creator and controller of the universe. Muslim’s Holy book the Quran points to this “the present life is an amusement and a diversion, the true life is in the Hereafter, if only they knew. They only know the outer surface of the present life and are negligent of the life to come (Rum: 7-8). Moral intelligence is the knowledge and skills of character building; kindness, patience, forgiveness, justice and the ability to manage the ego; one’s anger, arrogance, and greed.

Scientists are now studying the effects of moral and spiritual intelligence on health and wellbeing. These studies show biochemical changes in the body, when subjects practice certain moral behaviours; altruism, empathy, and patience. This can be seen in brain scans or measured and analysed in the blood. They show that moral virtues have a positive impact on health. The eminent Neuroscientist Prof Daniel Goleman hailed this as ‘the new science of human relationships’. He believes “nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while poor relationships act like slow poison in our bodies”. Precisely the reason for being pleasant.

Gratitude improves quality of life

Robert Emmons of the University of California studied gratitude for several years. In one study he took several hundred volunteers, divided them into three groups, all participants were asked to keep daily diaries. The first group wrote down whatever happened to them that day without being told specifically to write about either good or unpleasant things; the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences; and the last group recorded their pleasant experiences for which they were grateful. The results showed, “daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy”. The group that was grateful “experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals”.

So, scientific studies show the positive impact of moral and spiritual behaviour on health, well-being and longevity. Can we afford to be in conflict? Can we break up our relationships or should we patch up? My conclusion is we can’t afford to be unpleasant.