Who the cap fits : A perspective on the self, identity and value

Tucking myself in a corner of a quiet cafe. Last Friday before the upcoming Chinese New Year. Need me some space and time to get this report going. I have am nearing the already forwarded submission dateline and working hard to get it done.

Not going through the smoothest ride of my life, but as expected for 2019, I am taking this year like a storm (no, no, not Stormi.. she is just the cutest thing ever from the Kardashian-Jenners). Reality shows, and actual reality .. two different things. Whether whatever which is being upheld by the do-ers and say-ers really means something, or anything, really depends on the perspective of the beholder. Only we know the purpose, the objective and the reasons of our actions, and thereby the consequence, good or bad. Period.

Part of what I am covering in my Master’s psychology research is on self-esteem, burnout and personality. Self-esteem is an interesting construct. Its meaning maybe misunderstood, abused in utility, but at the same time underlies many, MANY issues related with out inner core, our character, and how we react to the energies around us. It may skew us to the left, or right depending on the direction of the energy. It can pull you right down (imagine rain droplets.. there’s only 1 way… DOWN!) the same way it has the power to give you that boost, those kind you get when on a crazy roller-coaster ride, going up, and forward. Nothing held back!

These are external validations which some of us depend on from time to time (or all the time) as ‘reasons’ to do, behave and think the way we do. The energy and forces of these realities really do have an impact on us and our ‘self’. But being dependent too much on it can cause the inner soul to be hollow. Being externally validated all the time can cause the things done, or is being done only for the primary purpose of achieving and gaining those external validation. Cut those external validation, forces and energy, the yearn to achieve success or anything done becomes a question in itself. Why should I do this? Do I deserve this? You’re wasting my time! You’re not up to my standards ! Superficial and short-term at its core for some of us who depends on external validation on almost all things.

Self-esteem is a core principle in my religion, Islam. It is fitrah. It is there. And when in a healthy balance, makes us a strong person. In and out. We believe that the only reason we are here is to do ibadah, and by ibadah it means anything which is aligned with what Allah Likes, not restricted to ubuddiyah acts. That includes working, living a healthy and positive life, paying respect to others, treating elders and loved ones with respect, becoming persons of piety, humility and many more positive attributes. The Muslim person knows that values related with the self is very much clarified in our holy texts, including the traditions of the Prophet. Almost manual like, but so much rich and complex, that whichever corner and nook in our already complex life, there will always be a reference to which we can refer to.

Of course being in the ‘advance’ age we are right now, those sources have quadrupled to non-holy sources, some scientific ones, some secular ones (meaning the start and the end is ‘man’). Having a strong identity is core to any Muslims, as our self value is bench marked right there- and this obviously extends beyond our religious duties. It covers the personality, the being, the behaviour, the words… all that, so that the Muslim identity is the base from where our self-value is rested on. I know for some of us who is unfamiliar with this, it may be a bit to process. I am trying to make this sound as simple as possible (not in arrogance/ignorance hopefully). A Muslim whose self-esteem is based on the tenets of Islam understands that only Allah has the power to judge, hence put a value on you, based on our actions, doings, thinking, effort etc. Nothing escapes the view and evaluation of Allah, simply put. But that does not at all give an excuse that we disregard other’s evaluation. We have to put it in context, obviously.

The paradigm shift even for a regular Muslim like me, which needs to take place in order to align myself to the fitrah, is simply reverting back to those tenets set by Islam and demonstrated by the Rasulullah. And in the ‘advance’ age we are living now, between me and those tenets, I am free to choose my course whichever ways or sub branches of any sciences, as long as it doesn’t contradict the tenets and the fitrah. As simple as that (construct wise)

Even better if its based on the prophetic tradition where applicable or relevant. Consultation with the trustworthy and subject matter expert being one of it.

﴿ وَ شاوِرْهُمْ فِي الأَْمْرِ فَإِذا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ﴾

“And make counsel with them in the affair; so when you have decided, then place your trust in Allah; surely Allah loves those who trust”1

Source : Al-Islam.org

What I am getting at is that: it is hard to sway a strong Muslim who has a healthy and balance self-esteem anchored on those tenets. I am not saying we are robots. We are subjective beings who may drown by the crushing waves, or exhaust by the unapologetic heat of life.. but when we come back up should/when our self-esteem becomes intact and strong, it should be in that way (points up with hand), that direction of fitrah.

We all make mistakes, but it is upon owning those mistakes and taking steps to correct ourselves is what really matters. There is path of seeking for forgiveness, and promising to Allah those mistakes will not be repeated again. Allah is forever forgiving, and will always open the door of mercy. Nothing is the end until we reach our last breath. Even then, the door of repentance will still be opened as long as we seek and believe in it.

But should this self-esteem be low..or even too high, than that is where the trouble could start (even non religiously speaking.. ). Psychology for example has proven time and again the danger and toxicity of a low self-esteem .. or too high, for that matter. Arrogance, ego, false self-belief, narcissistic personality, the list goes on. It is extremely hard to get to the bottom of people who has these traits. It is like extracting that deep malignant tumour which has to be physically dugged out in the OT, injected dose of medicine to kill or treat the disease.. and added with a systemic kinda intervention that even those healthy cells are affected. All that to kill that one resistant tumour, which left ignored can cause some serious damage to the organs and systems surrounding it due to its contagious and toxic nature.

And such is life, another chapter opening every day, every second. Too much drama, that we get lost in translation. But by having a real and authentic sense of self can serve as a tool to really pull us out from the intermingled chapters, to really understand the story as it should be objectively viewed, and perhaps rewrite some of those chapsters. That way, one would have a plan of action or strategy. Do away with subjectivity to get objective with strategies. Melodramas– save it for the TV set, or the Netflix nights. This is real life, and there is that much of time we have to live to our fullest.

In the Muslim perspective, we live once, but what we do now has consequences in our next life, the akhirah. Hence, making the best out of it here, is important as long as its in the way of fitrah, permissible and encouraged by the religion. I know, or can imagine, how constrictive (is that even an adjective?) how this may sound for a non-Muslim, just in case you are. Just to be fair, I will explain this. Even the value we put on religion may differ. How you view religion and its role/influence in our lives, to what extent, etc may differ. So I am in no way implementing anything to anyone. I am saying, just because this difference in putting value on religion, it has caused some of us to agree/disagree in many things.

A Muslim or a Sikh may believe that it is a holy responsibility to don certain way of dressing ,regardless of situation. Just like two surfaces sticking hard on each other due to the strong glue, or a magnet force. It attracts, it binds..and nothing beyond nature will change that. Another person (whichever religious/non-religious background) who has partial or little value on religion, may discount this relationship. Hence the feel of authority in ‘implying’ their values on those who believe the prior. That itself is disrespect, thinking one is better than the other, and discrimination. Differentiation or distinction doesn’t take place. There is no effort or even need to understand this uniqueness.

Well, I can go on and on. But I think I have relayed about 80% of the story here. 20% to be digested, to be researched, reflected what may you. This is an open discussion to why many of us are without real authentic identity/ getting there (don’t worry, I believe you have..!) hence having issues with self-esteem and self-evaluation. We allow ourselves to submit to the short-term convenience and externally attractions. There is exclusiveness of deep-thought and long self-talks. Not much research either. What matters is the now. Just like satisfying the whims of a young child, screaming for a lolli only to be discarding it the next 2 minutes after getting it.

Our life is just too precious to have wastage of moments, resources and relationships. Hence we gotta be informed human beings who is always looking for a better journey and experience in this short life.

Giving credits to this Nenek Aliah.. Taken so much inspiration from her especially, especially on the part of being true to one-self, not living on self-pretense, and not going south when trouble hits! Hard core and still on grandkids school run etc. You rock nenek Aliah! p.s. safe ride in Port Dickson !


2 February 2019

Ampang, Kuala Lumpur

This post title was inspired by Bob Marley’s song ‘Who the cap fits’ — which title is based on an English idiom ‘who the cap fits, let them wear it’. What does it mean? Check it out here. Some relation with this post: being true to ourselves, and having that check and balance going on.. no matter what. Life is not just about validation, but also accepting constructive and healthy criticism for us to become better. People with too high self-esteem or very low self-esteem typically do not take criticism very well as their self-value is based externally.


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