History: LITTLE RONI IN SARAJEVO ( RADIO SARAJEVO: "Pogledajte ove autentične snimke koje nas vraćaju u neka ljepša vremena..." Fakat ne ne znam po cemu je 1986. bila bolja...?
DOBRO DOŠLI U SARAJEVO bosanska kahvana kod braće Kreševljaković
|Difference of Income in Former Yugoslavia (1988) Data from Yugoslavian War p177|
|Per Capita GDP [1,000 Dinar]||Share of the total output of Federation|
|Slovenia Republic||144,330 (8.2)||18.91%|
|Croatia Republic||81,960 (4.7)||25.85%|
|Vojvodina Autonomy||78,280 (4.5)||10.83%|
|Average of the Federation||62,960 (3.6)||100.00%|
|Serbia Republic||57,080 (3.3)||22.44%|
|Montenegro Republic||45,770 (2.6)||1.95%|
|Bosnia Herzegovina Republic||41,360 (2.4)||12.38%|
|Macedonia Republic||38,360 (2.2)||5.40%|
|Kosovo Autonomy||17,500 (1.0)||2.23%|
"We have enjoined on people kindness to parents; but if they STRIVE (JAHADAKA) to make you ascribe partners with Me that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not..." (29:8; also see 31:15)
In the above two verses of the Qur'an , it is non-Muslim parents who strive (jahadaka) to convert their Muslim child back to their religion. In the West, "jihad" is generally translated as "holy war," a usage the media has popularized. According to Islamic teachings, it is UNHOLY to instigate or start war; however, some wars are inevitable and justifiable. If we translate the words "holy war" back into Arabic, we find "harbun muqaddasatu," or for "the holy war," "al-harbu al-muqaddasatu." WE CHALLENGE any researcher or scholar to find the meaning of "jihad" as holy war in the Qur'an or authentic Hadith collections or in early Islamic literature. Unfortunately, some Muslim writers and translators of the Qur'an, the Hadith and other Islamic literature translate the term "jihad" as "holy war," due to the influence of centuries-old Western propaganda. This could be a reflection of the Christian use of the term "Holy War" to refer to the Crusades of a thousand years ago. However, the Arabic words for "war" are "harb" or "qital," which are found in the Qur'an and Hadith.
For Muslims the term JIHAD is applied to all forms of STRIVING and has developed some special meanings over time. The sources of this development are the Qur'an (the Word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad (S) [(S) denotes Sall-Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, meaning peace and blessings of Allah be upon him]. The Qur'an and the Hadith use the word "jihad" in several different contexts which are given below:
1. RECOGNIZING THE CREATOR AND LOVING HIM MOST:
It is human nature to love what is seen with the eyes and felt with the senses more than the UNSEEN REALITY. The Creator of the Universe and the One God is Allah. He is the Unseen Reality which we tend to ignore and not recognize. The Qur'an addresses those who claim to be believers:
"O you who believe! Choose not your fathers nor your brethren for protectors if they love disbelief over belief; whoever of you takes them for protectors, such are wrong-doers. Say: if your fathers, and your children, and your brethren, and your spouses, and your tribe, and the wealth you have acquired, and business for which you fear shrinkage, and houses you are pleased with are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and STRIVING in His way: then wait till Allah brings His command to pass. Allah does not guide disobedient folk." (9:23, 24)It is indeed a struggle to put Allah ahead of our loved ones, our wealth, our worldly ambitions and our own lives. Especially for a non-Muslim who embraces Islam, it may be a tough struggle due to the opposition of his family, peers and society.
2. RESISTING PRESSURE OF PARENTS, PEERS, AND SOCIETY:
Once a person has made up his mind to put the Creator of the Universe above all else, he often comes under intense pressures. It is not easy to resist such pressures and STRIVE to maintain dedication and love of Allah over all else. A person who has turned to Islam from another religion may be subjected to pressures designed to turn him back to the religion of the family. We read in the Qur'an:
"So obey not the rejecters of faith, but strive (jahidhum) against them by it (the Qur'an) with a great endeavor." (25:52)3. STAYING ON THE STRAIGHT PATH STEADFASTLY:
Allah says in the Qur'an: "And STRIVE (JADIHU) for Allah with the endeavor (JIHADIHI) which is His right. He has chosen you and has not laid upon you in the DEEN (religion) any hardship..." (22:78) "And whosoever STRIVES (JAHADA), STRIVES (YUJAHIDU) only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether independent of the universe." (29:6)
As for those who strive and struggle to live as true Muslims whose lives are made difficult due to persecution by their opponents, they are advised to migrate to a more peaceful and tolerant land and continue with their struggle in the cause of Allah. Allah says in the Qur'an:
"Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they wronged themselves, (the angels) will ask: 'In what you were engaged?' They will way: 'We were oppressed in the land.' (The angels) will say: 'Was not Allah's earth spacious that you could have migrated therein?'" (4:97) "Lo! Those who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape persecution) and STRIVE (JAHADU) in the way of Allah, these have hope of Allah's mercy..." (2:218)
Allah tests the believers in their faith and their steadfastness:
"Or did you think that you would enter Paradise while yet Allah knows not those of you who really STRIVE (JAHADU), nor knows those (of you) who are steadfast." (3:142) "And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits; but give tidings to the steadfast." (2:155)
We find that the Prophet Muhammad (S) and his clan were boycotted socially and economically for three years to force him to stop his message and compromise with the pagans but he resisted and realized a moral victory (2).
4. STRIVING FOR RIGHTEOUS DEEDS:
Allah declares in the Qur'an:
"As for those who STRIVE (JAHADU) in Us (the cause of Allah), We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good doers." (29:69)
When we are faced with two competing interests, it becomes jihad to choose the right one, as the following Hadith exemplify: "Aisha, wife of the Prophet (S) asked, 'O Messenger of Allah, we see jihad as the best of deeds, so shouldn't we join it?' He replied, 'But the best of jihad is a perfect Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah).'" (Sahih Al-Bukhari #2784) At another occasion, a man asked the Prophet Muhammad (S): "'Should I join the jihad?' He asked, 'Do you have parents?' The man said, 'Yes!' The Prophet (S) said, 'Then strive by serving them!'" (Sahih Al-Bukhari #5972) Yet another man asked the Messenger of Allah (S): "'What kind of jihad is better?' He replied, 'A word of truth in front of an oppressive ruler!'" (Sunan Al-Nasa'i #4209) The Messenger of Allah (S) said: "...the MUJAHID (one who carries out jihad) is he who STRIVES against himself for the sake of Allah, and the MUHAJIR (one who emigrates) is he who abandons evil deeds and sin." (Sahih Ibn Hibban #4862)
5. HAVING COURAGE AND STEADFASTNESS TO CONVEY THE MESSAGE OF ISLAM:
The Qur'an narrates the experiences of a large number of Prophets and good people who suffered a great deal trying to convey the message of Allah to mankind. For examples, see the Qur'an 26:1-190, 36:13-32. In the Qur'an, Allah specifically praises those who strive to convey His message: "Who is better in speech than one who calls (other people) to Allah, works righteous, and declares that he is from the Muslims." (41:33) Under adverse conditions it takes great courage to remain a Muslim, declare oneself to be a Muslim and call others to Islam. We read in the Qur'an:
"The (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and his messenger and afterward doubt not, but STRIVE with their wealth and their selves for the cause of Allah. Such are the truthful." (49:15)6. DEFENDING ISLAM AND THE COMMUNITY:
Allah declares in the Qur'an:
"To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to defend themselves), because they are wronged - and verily, Allah is Most Powerful to give them victory - (they are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right - (for no cause) except that they say, 'Our Lord is Allah'..." (22:39-40)
The Qur'an permits fighting to defend the religion of Islam and the Muslims. This permission includes fighting in self-defense and for the protection of family and property. The early Muslims fought many battles against their enemies under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad (S) or his representatives. For example, when the pagans of Quraysh brought armies against Prophet Muhammad (S), the Muslims fought to defend their faith and community (3). The Qur'an adds:"Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress limits. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors. ...And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against transgressors." (2:190, 193)
7. HELPING ALLIED PEOPLE WHO MAY NOT BE MUSLIM:
In the late period of the Prophet Muhammad's (S) life, the tribe of Banu Khuza'ah became his ally. They were living near Makkah which was under the rule of the pagan Quraysh, Prophet Muhammad's (S) own tribe. The tribe of Banu Bakr, an ally of Quraysh, with the help of some elements of Quraysh, attacked Banu Khuza'ah invoked the treaty and demanded Prophet Muhammad (S) to come to their help and punish Quraysh. The Prophet Muhammad (S) organized a campaign against Quraysh of Makkah which resulted in the conquest of Makkah which occurred without any battle (4).
8. REMOVING TREACHEROUS PEOPLE FROM POWER:
Allah orders the Muslims in the Qur'an: "If you fear treachery from any group, throw back (their treaty) to them, (so as to be) on equal terms. Lo! Allah loves not the treacherous." (8:58) Prophet Muhammad (S) undertook a number of armed campaigns to remove treacherous people from power and their lodgings. He had entered into pacts with several tribes, however, some of them proved themselves treacherous. Prophet Muhammad (S) launched armed campaigns against these tribes, defeated and exiled them from Medina and its surroundings (5).
9. DEFENDING THROUGH PREEMPTIVE STRIKES:
Indeed, it is difficult to mobilize people to fight when they see no invaders in their territory; however, those who are charged with responsibility see dangers ahead of time and must provide leadership. The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (S), had the responsibility to protect his people and the religion he established in Arabia. Whenever he received intelligence reports about enemies gathering near his borders he carried out preemptive strikes, broke their power and dispersed them (6). Allah ordered Muslims in the Qur'an: "Fighting is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But it may happen that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you. And Allah knows and you know not." (2:216)
10. GAINING FREEDOM TO INFORM, EDUCATE AND CONVEY THE MESSAGE OF ISLAM IN AN OPEN AND FREE ENVIRONMENT:
Allah declares in the Qur'an:
"They ask you (Muhammad) concerning fighting in the Sacred Month. Say, 'Fighting therein is a grave (offense) but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its inhabitants. Persecution is worse than killing. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they can..." (2:217) "And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) fight back." (42:39)
To gain this freedom, Prophet Muhammad (S) said: "STRIVE (JAHIDU) against the disbelievers with your hands and tongues." (Sahih Ibn Hibban #4708) The life of the Prophet Muhammad (S) was full of STRIVING to gain the freedom to inform and convey the message of Islam. During his stay in Makkah he used non-violent methods and after the establishment of his government in Madinah, by the permission of Allah, he used armed struggle against his enemies whenever he found it inevitable.
11. FREEING PEOPLE FROM TYRANNY:
Allah admonishes Muslims in the Qur'an:
"And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? - Men, women, and children, whose cry is: 'Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You, one who will protect; and raise for us from You, one who will help.'" (4:75)
The mission of the Prophet Muhammad (S) was to free people from tyranny and exploitation by oppressive systems. Once free, individuals in the society were then free to chose Islam or not. Prophet Muhammad's (S) successors continued in his footsteps and went to help oppressed people. For example, after the repeated call by the oppressed people of Spain to the Muslims for help, Spain was liberated by Muslim forces and the tyrant rulers removed. After the conquest of Syria and Iraq by the Muslims, the Christian population of Hims reportedly said to the Muslims: "We like your rule and justice far better than the state of oppression and tyranny under which we have been living." (7) The defeated rulers of Syria were Roman Christians, and Iraq was ruled by Zoarastrian Persians.WHAT SHOULD MUSLIMS DO WHEN THEY ARE VICTORIOUS?
Muslims should remove tyranny, treachery, bigotry, and ignorance and replace them with justice and equity. We should provide truthful knowledge and free people from the bondage of 'associationism' (SHIRK, or multiple gods), prejudice, superstition and mythology. Muslims remove immorality, fear, crime, exploitation and replace them with divine morality, peace and education. The Qur'an declares:"Lo! Allah commands you that you restore deposits to their owners, and if you judge between mankind that you judge justly. Lo! It is proper that Allah admonishes you. Lo! Allah is ever Hearer, Seer." (4:58)
"O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah's witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety and fear Allah. And Allah is well acquainted with all that you do." (5:8)
"And of those whom We have created there is a nation who guides with the Truth and establishes justice with it." (7:181)
"Lo! Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that you may take heed." (16:90)
"Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish prescribed prayers (SALAH) and pay the poor-due (ZAKAH) and enjoin right conduct and forbid evil. And with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs." (22:41)DID ISLAM SPREAD BY FORCE, SWORDS OR GUNS?
The unequivocal and emphatic answer is NO! The Qur'an declares:
"Let there be no compulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam). The right direction is distinctly clear from error." (2:256)
Here is a good study of the question of the spread of Islam by a Christian missionary, T. W. Arnold: "...of any organized attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years. The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christiandom throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of Mohammedan [sic] governments towards them" (8). Islam does not teach, nor do Muslims desire, conversion of any people for fear, greed, marriage or any other form of coercion. In conclusion, jihad in Islam is STRIVING IN THE WAY OF ALLAH by pen, tongue, hand, media and, if inevitable, with arms. However, jihad in Islam does not include striving for individual or national power, dominance, glory, wealth, prestige or pride.
-- M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.REFERENCES:
1. For the sake of simplicity and easy reading, masculine pronouns have been used throughout this brochure. No exclusion of females is intended.
2. Haykal, M. H., THE LIFE OF MUHAMMAD, Tr. Ismail R. Faruqi, American Trust Publications, 1976, p. 132.
3. Haykal, pp. 216, 242, 299 and 414 for the Battles of Badr, Uhud, Al-Khandaq and Hunayn, respectively.
4. Haykal, p. 395 for the conquest of Makkah.
5. Haykal, pp. 245, 277, 311 and 326 for campaigns against the tribes of Banu Qaynuqa', Banu Al-Nadir, Banu Qurayzah and Banu Lihyan, respectively. Also, see p. 283 for the Battle of Dhat Al-Riqa'.
6. Haykal, pp. 284, 327, 366, 387, 393, 443 and 515 for the Battles of Dawmat Al-Jandal, Banu Al-Mustaliq, Khayber, Mu'tah, Dhat Al-Salasil, Tabuk and the Campaign of Usama Ibn Zayd, respectively.
7. Hitti, Philip K., HISTORY OF THE ARABS, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1970, p. 153.
8. Arnold, Sir Thomas W. THE PREACHING OF ISLAM, A HISTORY OF THE PROPAGATION OF THE MUSLIM FAITH, Westminister A. Constable & Co., London, 1896, p. 80.
For more information, please contact: The Institute of Islamic Information and Education, http://www.iiie.net
“We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.”
If the odds of finding one’s soul mate are so dreadfully dismal and the secret of lasting love is largely a matter of concession, is it any wonder that a growing number of people choose to go solo? The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance not only to romance but to all human bonds — even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Hemingway’s famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving in its proposition.
A friend recently relayed an illustrative anecdote: One evening during a short retreat in Mexico by herself, she entered the local restaurant and asked to be seated. Upon realizing she was to dine alone, the waitstaff escorted her to the back with a blend of puzzlement and pity, so as not to dilute the resort’s carefully engineered illusory landscape of coupled bliss. (It’s worth noting that this unsettling incident, which is as much about the stigma of being single as about the profound failure to honor the art of being alone, is one women are still far more likely to confront than men; some live to tell about it.)
That paradox is what British author Sara Maitland explores in How to Be Alone (public library) — the latest installment in The School of Life’s thoughtful crusade to reclaim the traditional self-help genre in a series of intelligent, non-self-helpy yet immeasurably helpful guides to such aspects of modern living as finding fulfilling work, cultivating a healthier relationship with sex, worrying less about money, and staying sane.
While Maitland lives in a region of Scotland with one of the lowest population densities in Europe, where the nearest superxafs is more than twenty miles away and there is no cell service (pause on that for a moment), she wasn’t always a loner — she grew up in a big, close-knit family as one of six children. It was only when she became transfixed by the notion of silence, the subject of her previous book, that she arrived, obliquely, at solitude. She writes:
I got fascinated by silence; by what happens to the human spirit, to identity and personality when the talking stops, when you press the off button, when you venture out into that enormous emptiness. I was interested in silence as a lost cultural phenomenon, as a thing of beauty and as a space that had been explored and used over and over again by different individuals, for different reasons and with wildly differing results. I began to use my own life as a sort of laboratory to test some ideas and to find out what it felt like. Almost to my surprise, I found I loved silence. It suited me. I got greedy for more. In my hunt for more silence, I found this valley and built a house here, on the ruins of an old shepherd’s cottage.
Maitland’s interest in solitude, however, is somewhat different from that in silence — while private in its origin, it springs from a public-facing concern about the need to address “a serious social and psychological problem around solitude,” a desire to “allay people’s fears and then help them actively enjoy time spent in solitude.” And so she does, posing the central, “slippery” question of this predicament:
Being alone in our present society raises an important question about identity and well-being.
How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world, at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfillment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves?
We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.
We see moral and social conventions as inhibitions on our personal freedoms, and yet we are frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops “eccentric” habits.
We believe that everyone has a singular personal “voice” and is, moreover, unquestionably creative, but we treat with dark suspicion (at best) anyone who uses one of the most clearly established methods of developing that creativity — solitude.
We think we are unique, special and deserving of happiness, but we are terrified of being alone.
We are supposed now to seek our own fulfillment, to act on our feelings, to achieve authenticity and personal happiness — but mysteriously not do it on our own.
Today, more than ever, the charge carries both moral judgement and weak logic.
Curiously, and importantly, mastering the art of solitude doesn’t make us more antisocial but, to the contrary, better able to connect. By being intimate with our own inner life — that frightening and often foreign landscape that philosopher Martha Nussbaum so eloquently urged us to explore despite our fear — frees us to reach greater, more dimensional intimacy with others. Maitland writes:
Nothing is more destructive of warm relations than the person who endlessly “doesn’t mind.” They do not seem to be a full individual if they have nothing of their own to “bring to the table,” so to speak. This suggests that even those who know that they are best and most fully themselves in relationships (of whatever kind) need a capacity to be alone, and probably at least some occasions to use that ability. If you know who you are and know that you are relating to others because you want to, rather than because you are trapped (unfree), in desperate need and greed, because you fear you will not exist without someone to affirm that fact, then you are free. Some solitude can in fact create better relationships, because they will be freer ones.
And yet the value of aloneness has descended into a downward spiral of social judgment over the course of humanity. Citing the rise of “male spinsters” in the U.S. census — men over forty who never married, up from 6% in 1980 to 16% today — Maitland traces the odd cultural distortion of the concept itself:
In the Middle Ages the word “spinster” was a compliment. A spinster was someone, usually a woman, who could spin well: a woman who could spin well was financially self-sufficient — it was one of the very few ways that mediaeval women could achieve economic independence. The word was generously applied to all women at the point of marriage as a way of saying they came into the relationship freely, from personal choice, not financial desperation. Now it is an insult, because we fear “for” such women — and now men as well — who are probably “sociopaths.”
This fairly modern attitude, which casts voluntary aloneness as a toxic trifecta of “sad, mad, and bad” — is reinforced via rather dogmatic circular logic that doesn’t afford those who choose solitude the basic dignity of their own choice. Reflecting on the prevalent response of pity — triggered by the “sad” portion of the dogma — Maitland plays out the exasperating impossibility of refuting such social assumptions:
If you say, “Well, no actually; I am very happy,” the denial is held to prove the case. Recently someone trying to condole with me in my misery said, when I assured them I was in fact happy, “You may think you are.” But happiness is a feeling. I do not think it — I feel it. I may, of course, be living in a fool’s paradise and the whole edifice of joy and contentment is going to crash around my ears sometime soon, but at the moment I am either lying or reporting the truth. My happiness cannot, by the very nature of happiness, be something I think I feel but don’t really feel. There is no possible response that does not descend almost immediately to the school-playground level of “Did, didn’t; did, didn’t.”
Underlying these attitudes, Maitland argues, is the central driver of fear — fear of those radically different from us, who make choices we don’t necessarily understand. This drives us, in turn, to project our fright onto others, often in the form of anger — a manifestation, at once sad, mad, and bad, of Anaïs Nin’s memorable observation that “it is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar.”
These persistently reinforced social fears, she notes, have chilling consequences:
If you tell people enough times that they are unhappy, incomplete, possibly insane and definitely selfish there is bound to come a grey morning when they wake up with the beginning of a nasty cold and wonder if they are lonely rather than simply “alone.”
(This crucial difference between aloneness and loneliness, in fact, is not only central to our psychological unease but also enacted even in our bodies — while solitude may be essential for creativity and key to the mythology of genius, loneliness, scientists have found, has deadly physical consequences on our risk for everything from heart disease to dementia.)
Paradoxically, Maitland points out, many of our most celebrated cultural icons had solitude embedded in their lifestyle and spirit, from great explorers and adventurers to famous “geniuses.” She cites the great silent film actor Greta Garbo, a famous loner, as a particularly poignant example:
Garbo introduced a subtlety of expression to the art of silent acting and that its effect on audiences cannot be exaggerated… In retirement she adopted a lifestyle of both simplicity and leisure, sometimes just ‘drifting’. But she always had close friends with whom she socialized and travelled. She did not marry but did have serious love affairs with both men and women. She collected art. She walked, alone and with companions, especially in New York. She was a skillful paparazzi-avoider. Since she chose to retire, and for the rest of her life consistently declined opportunities to make further films, it is reasonable to suppose that she was content with that choice.
It is in fact evident that a great many people, for many different reasons, throughout history and across cultures, have sought out solitude to the extent that Garbo did, and after experiencing that lifestyle for a while continue to uphold their choices, even when they have perfectly good opportunities to live more social lives.
So how did our present attitudes toward solitude emerge? Maitland argues that our lamentable refusal to afford those who choose aloneness “the normal tolerance of difference on which we pride ourselves elsewhere” is the result of a “very deep cultural confusion”:
For two millennia, at least, we have been trying to live with two radically contrasting and opposed models of what the good life would or should be. Culturally, there is a slightly slick tendency to blame all our woes, and especially our social difficulties, either on a crude social Darwinism or on an ill-defined package called the “Judaeo-Christian paradigm” or “tradition.” Apparently this is why, among other things, we have so much difficulty with sex (both other people’s and our own); why women remain unequal; why we are committed to world domination and ecological destruction; and why we are not as perfectly happy as we deserve. I, for one, do not believe this — but I do believe that we suffer from trying to hold together the values of Judaeo-Christianity (inasmuch as we understand them) and the values of classical civilization, and they really do not fit.
She traces the evolution of that confusion all the way back to the Roman Empire, with its ideals of public and social life. Even the word “civilization” bespeaks these values — it comes from civis, Latin for “citizen.” (Though it warrants noting that one of the greatest and most enduring Roman exports issued the memorable admonition that “all those who call you to themselves draw you away from yourself.”) Still, the Romans were notorious for their lust for power, honor, and glory — ideals invariably social in nature and crucial to the political cohesion of society when confronted with the barbarians at the gate. Maitland writes:
In these circumstances solitude is threatening — without a common and embedded religious faith to give shared meaning to the choice, being alone is a challenge to the security of those clinging desperately to a sinking raft. People who pull out and “go solo” are exposing the danger while apparently escaping the engagement.
Maitland fast-forwards to our present predicament, the product of millennia of cultural baggage:
No wonder we are frightened of those who desire and aspire to be alone, if only a little more than has been acceptable in recent social forms. No wonder we want to establish solitude as “sad, mad and bad” — consciously or unconsciously, those of us who want to do something so markedly countercultural are exposing, and even widening, the rift lines.
But the truth is, the present paradigm is not really working. Despite the intense care and attention lavished on the individual ego; despite over a century of trying to “raise self-esteem” in the peculiar belief that it will simultaneously enhance individuality and create good citizens; despite valiant attempts to consolidate relationships and lower inhibitions; despite intimidating efforts to dragoon the more independent-minded and creative to become “team players”; despite the promises of personal freedom made to us by neoliberalism and the cult of individualism and rights — despite all this, the well seems to be running dry. We are living in a society marked by unhappy children, alienated youth, politically disengaged adults, stultifying consumerism, escalating inequality, deeply scary wobbles in the whole economic system, soaring rates of mental ill-health and a planet so damaged that we may well end up destroying the whole enterprise.
Of course we also live in a world of great beauty, sacrificial and passionate love, tenderness, prosperity, courage and joy. But quite a lot of all that seems to happen regardless of the paradigm and the high thoughts of philosophy. It has always happened. It is precisely because it has always happened that we go on wrestling with these issues in the hope that it can happen more often and for more people.
And wrestle we do, often trying to grasp and cling our way out of solitude — a state we don’t fully understand and can’t fully inhabit to reap its rewards. Our two most common tactics for shielding against solitude, Maitland notes, are the offensive fear-and-projection strategy, where we criticize those capable of finding joy in solitude and condemn them to the sad-mad-bad paradigm, and the defensive approach, where we attempt to insulate ourselves from the risk of aloneness by obsessively accumulating a vast network of social ties as a kind of “insurance policy.” In one of her most quietly poignant asides, Maitland whispers:
There is no number of friends on Facebook, contacts, connections or financial provision that can guarantee to protect us.
Our cultural ambivalence is also manifested in our chronic bias for extraversion despite growing evidence for the power of introverts. Maitland writes:
At the same time as pursuing this “extrovert ideal,” society gives out an opposite — though more subterranean — message. Most people would still rather be described as sensitive, spiritual, reflective, having rich inner lives and being good listeners than the more extroverted opposites. I think we still admire the life of the intellectual over that of the salesman; of the composer over the performer (which is why pop stars constantly stress that they write their own songs); of the craftsman over the politician; of the solo adventurer over the package tourist… But the kind of unexamined but mixed messages that society offers us in relation to being alone add to the confusion; and confusion strengthens fear.
Among Maitland’s toolkit of “ideas for overturning negative views of solitude and developing a positive sense of aloneness and a true capacity to enjoy it” are the exploration of reverie and the practice of facing the fear. She enumerates the five basic categories of rewards to be reaped from unlearning our culturally conditioned fear of aloneness and learning how to “do” solitude well:
- A deeper consciousness of oneself
- A deeper attunement to nature
- A deeper relationship with the transcendent (the numinous, the divine, the spiritual)
- Increased creativity
- An increased sense of freedom
In the remainder of How to Be Alone, Maitland goes on to offer a series of “exercises” along each of these five directions of aspiration — psychological strategies for retuning our relationship with solitude.
Complement the book with other excellent installments in The School of Life’s series, including Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane, John Armstrong’s How to Worry Less About Money, Alain de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex, and Roman Krznaric’s How to Find Fulfilling Work.
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Lord, forgive and have mercy, and overlook what you know of our sins and faults, for you are the Most High, the Most Generous
ربِّ اغفر وارحم وتجاوز عما تعلم فإنك الأعز الأكرم, عامر بن جدو الخط الكوفي القيرواني
“Time perception matters because it is the experience of time that roots us in our mental reality.”
Given my soft spot for famous diaries, it should come as no surprise that I keep one myself. Perhaps the greatest gift of the practice has been the daily habit of reading what I had written on that day a year earlier; not only is it a remarkable tool of introspection and self-awareness, but it also illustrates that our memory “is never a precise duplicate of the original [but] a continuing act of creation” and how flawed our perception of time is — almost everything that occurred a year ago appears as having taken place either significantly further in the past (“a different lifetime,” I’d often marvel at this time-illusion) or significantly more recently (“this feels like just last month!”). Rather than a personal deficiency of those of us befallen by this tendency, however, it turns out to be a defining feature of how the human mind works, the science of which is at first unsettling, then strangely comforting, and altogether intensely interesting.
That’s precisely what acclaimed BBC broadcaster and psychology writer Claudia Hammond explores in Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception (public library) — a fascinating foray into the idea that our experience of time is actively created by our own minds and how these sensations of what neuroscientists and psychologists call “mind time” are created. As disorienting as the concept might seem — after all, we’ve been nursed on the belief that time is one of those few utterly reliable and objective things in life — it is also strangely empowering to think that the very phenomenon depicted as the unforgiving dictator of life is something we might be able to shape and benefit from. Hammond writes:
We construct the experience of time in our minds, so it follows that we are able to change the elements we find troubling — whether it’s trying to stop the years racing past, or speeding up time when we’re stuck in a queue, trying to live more in the present, or working out how long ago we last saw our old friends. Time can be a friend, but it can also be an enemy. The trick is to harness it, whether at home, at work, or even in social policy, and to work in line with our conception of time. Time perception matters because it is the experience of time that roots us in our mental reality. Time is not only at the heart of the way we organize life, but the way we experience it.
Among the most intriguing illustrations of “mind time” is the incredible elasticity of how we experience time. (“Where is it, this present?,” William James famously wondered. “It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.”) For instance, Hammond points out, we slow time down when gripped by mortal fear — the cliche about the slow-motion car crash is, in fact, a cognitive reality. This plays out even in situations that aren’t life-or-death per se but are still associated with strong feelings of fear. Hammond points to a study in which people with arachnophobia were asked to look at spiders — the very object of their intense fear — for 45 seconds and they overestimated the elapsed time. The same pattern was observed in novice skydivers, who estimated the duration of their peers’ falls as short, whereas their own, from the same altitude, were deemed longer.
Inversely, time seems to speed up as we get older — a phenomenon of which competing theories have attempted to make light. One, known as the “proportionality theory,” uses pure mathematics, holding that a year feels faster when you’re 40 than when you’re 8 because it only constitutes one fortieth of your life rather than a whole eighth. Among its famous proponents are Vladimir Nabokov and William James. But Hammond remains unconvinced:
The problem with the proportionality theory is that it fails to account for the way we experience time at any one moment. We don’t judge one day in the context of our whole lives. If we did, then for a 40-year-old every single day should flash by because it is less than one fourteen-thousandth of the life they’ve had so far. It should be fleeting and inconsequential, yet if you have nothing to do or an enforced wait at an airport for example, a day at 40 can still feel long and boring and surely longer than a fun day at the seaside packed with adventure for a child. … It ignores attention and emotion, which … can have a considerable impact on time perception.
Another theory suggests that perhaps it is the tempo of life in general that has accelerated, making things from the past appear as slower, including the passage of time itself.
But one definite change does take place with age: As we grow older, we tend to feel like the previous decade elapsed more rapidly, while the earlier decades of our lives seem to have lasted longer. Similarly, we tend to think of events that took place in the past 10 years as having happened more recently than they actually did. (Quick: What year did the devastating Japanese tsunami hit? When did we lose Maurice Sendak?) Conversely, we perceive events that took place more than a decade ago as having happened even longer ago. (When did Princess Diana die? What year was the Chernobyl disaster?) This, Hammond points out, is known as “forward telescoping”:
It is as though time has been compressed and — as if looking through a telescope — things seem closer than they really are. The opposite is called backward or reverse telescoping, also known as time expansion. This is when you guess that events happened longer ago than they really did. This is rare for distant events, but not uncommon for recent weeks.
The most straightforward explanation for it is called the clarity of memory hypothesis, proposed by the psychologist Norman Bradburn in 1987. This is the simple idea that because we know that memories fade over time, we use the clarity of a memory as a guide to its recency. So if a memory seems unclear we assume it happened longer ago.
And yet the brain does keep track of time, even if inaccurately. Hammond explains the factors that come into play with our inner chronometry:
It is clear that however the brain counts time, it has a system that is very flexible. It takes account of [factors like] emotions, absorption, expectations, the demands of a task and even the temperature .The precise sense we are using also makes a difference; an auditory event appears longer than a visual one. Yet somehow the experience of time created by the mind feels very real, so real that we feel we know what to expect from it, and are perpetually surprised whenever it confuses us by warping.
In fact, memory — which is itself a treacherous act of constant transformation with each recollection — is intricately related to this warping process:
We know that time has an impact on memory, but it is also memory that creates and shapes our experience of time. Our perception of the past moulds our experience of time in the present to a greater degree than we might realize. It is memory that creates the peculiar, elastic properties of time. It not only gives us the ability to conjure up a past experience at will, but to reflect on those thoughts through autonoetic consciousness — the sense that we have of ourselves as existing across time — allowing us to re-experience a situation mentally and to step outside those memories to consider their accuracy.
But, curiously, we are most likely to vividly remember experiences we had between the ages of 15 and 25. What the social sciences might simply call “nostalgia” psychologists have termed the “reminiscence bump” and, Hammond argues, it could be the key to why we feel like time speeds up as we get older:
The reminiscence bump involves not only the recall of incidents; we even remember more scenes from the films we saw and the books we read in our late teens and early twenties. … The bump can be broken down even further — the big news events that we remember best tend to have happened earlier in the bump, while our most memorable personal experiences are in the second half.
The key to the reminiscence bump is novelty. The reason we remember our youth so well is that it is a period where we have more new experiences than in our thirties or forties. It’s a time for firsts — first sexual relationships, first jobs, first travel without parents, first experience of living away from home, the first time we get much real choice over the way we spend our days. Novelty has such a strong impact on memory that even within the bump we remember more from the start of each new experience.
Most fascinating of all, however, is the reason the “reminiscence bump” happens in the first place: Hammond argues that because memory and identity are so closely intertwined, it is in those formative years, when we’re constructing our identity and finding our place in the world, that our memory latches onto particularly vivid details in order to use them later in reinforcing that identity. Interestingly, Hammond points out, people who undergo a major transformation of identity later in life — say, changing careers or coming out — tend to experience a second identity bump, which helps them reconcile and consolidate their new identity.
So what makes us date events more accurately? Hammond sums up the research:
You are most likely to remember the timing of an event if it was distinctive, vivid, personally involving and is a tale you have recounted many times since.
But one of the most enchanting instances of time-warping is what Hammond calls the Holiday Paradox — “the contradictory feeling that a good holiday whizzes by, yet feels long when you look back.” (An “American translation” might term it the Vacation Paradox.) Her explanation of its underlying mechanisms is reminiscent of legendary psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s theory of the clash between the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self”. Hammond explains:
The Holiday Paradox is caused by the fact that we view time in our minds in two very different ways — prospectively and retrospectively. Usually these two perspectives match up, but it is in all the circumstances where we remark on the strangeness of time that they don’t.
We constantly use both prospective and retrospective estimation to gauge time’s passing. Usually they are in equilibrium, but notable experiences disturb that equilibrium, sometimes dramatically. This is also the reason we never get used to it, and never will. We will continue to perceive time in two ways and continue to be struck by its strangeness every time we go on holiday.
Like the “reminiscence bump,” the Holiday Paradox has to do with the quality and concentration of new experiences, especially in contrast to familiar daily routines. During ordinary life, time appears to pass at a normal pace, and we use markers like the start of the workday, weekends, and bedtime to assess the rhythm of things. But once we go on vacation, the stimulation of new sights, sounds, and experiences injects a disproportionate amount of novelty that causes these two types of time to misalign. The result is a warped perception of time.
Ultimately, this source of great mystery and frustration also holds the promise of great liberation and empowerment. Hammond concludes:
We will never have total control over this extraordinary dimension. Time will warp and confuse and baffle and entertain however much we learn about its capacities. But the more we learn, the more we can shape it to our will and destiny. We can slow it down or speed it up. We can hold on to the past more securely and predict the future more accurately. Mental time-travel is one of the greatest gifts of the mind. It makes us human, and it makes us special.
Time Warped, a fine addition to these essential reads on time, goes on to explore such philosophically intriguing and practically useful questions as how our internal clocks dictate our lives, what the optimal pace of productivity might be, and why inhabiting life with presence is the only real way to master time. Pair it with this remarkable visual history of humanity’s depictions of time.
Photographs: Public domain images unless otherwise noted