In a recent post, Hazrat Inayat Khan spoke about not troubling oneself over the faults of others. Just as it is today, mureeds of the time asked questions, trying to understand how to fit this teaching into daily life, and it is evident that some students had difficulty imagining a life without criticism. Some of the exchanges are given below.
Q.: Murshid, what you have said just now, does it hold good, does it count also for good friends?
A.: No. When you are good friends, then there is some responsibility for one another. And where there is responsibility then you are entitled to say something to one another. But those who criticize, they don’t criticize their friends, but they criticize their enemies.
Q.: Should one never say a truth when it is disagreeable? Never or sometimes?
A.: Well, I say that every manner that is hurting must be avoided. Every action that is hurtful, every word that hurts must be avoided, even if it hurts a little child.
Q.: Can it never do good?
A.: Sometimes the knife also does good in the hand of a surgeon. But at the same time I would rather that surgery was avoided, and medicine could cure. If you can open a package by cutting the knot, it can be done, and it is soon done. But if you wish to save the string and the package both, the best thing is to open the knot. That takes time.
Q.: I have a friend, a Sufi, who I think does not quite understand the Sufi idea, and speaks and makes propaganda for it in his way.
A.: This will always come up. If there is one thoughtful person among a hundred, there will be ninety-nine quite the contrary. And this will always be the difficulty. But if we go and correct that person, that means that we do greater harm to the Movement., because correcting that person may have such an effect that the more you correct the worse he becomes. And most are like that, so contrary. The little harm that he made was not so much as the harm done by correcting him. My policy in such cases is to just drink it; any impulse that comes, drink it, take it and let it be left to time to correct him, and your patience will correct him one day.
But now you might say: is there any place for advice or suggestion? Yes. Or if there was willingness on the part of that man, if the person came himself and said, “Have you any suggestion?” You will wait for that time. Or, if he is your friend you can, not directly, but on the side say it in such a way that you don’t hit him directly and at the same time give him your suggestion, that perhaps he could have done it better. Or maybe that you will take it upon yourself, saying ‘that problem has come to me,’ and in such a case what I think about it, how I would answer, how it would be right. In that way you would do better than by telling him how to do it. Always remember this, that grown up people apart, even a child does not want to learn. To teach a person is worse than to hit a person. And the human ego cannot tolerate correcting. A person may not be right, it is his mistake; but as soon as you begin to correct that person, he will not do it.
I will tell you the story of Ali who corrected a person. There is a certain way in the Mosque which is shown by the Prophet, that in a certain way the hands must be washed for the service, and the face must be washed in a certain way. There are rules of ablution among Muslims. And this young man was always doing the ablutions without considering those little ways that are necessary, and Ali was by his side. So Ali, instead of telling “You must not do it this way,” kept it in his mind, and one day it happened that this person was close to him. Ali said, “Will you help me to take ablution?” and the man was very glad, he thought, “It is a great privilege to help Ali.” Therefore he took the bowl and stood before Ali, and Ali made ablutions before him. And then this man knew how to do it.
This will always hold with every person. One must try one’s best not to correct anyone, no matter what position you are in, the position of guardian, father, mother, teacher, even then the further you go in the path of wisdom the less you feel inclined to correct anyone or teach anyone. The only good way is to teach him indirectly, that has a great effect.
Q.: If all criticism was stopped, would not progress be hindered?
A.: Suppose a criticism worked as a knife which cuts the fruit. But it is just as well that another person were that knife and not oneself. If one can avoid being that knife, someone else may be it. Nothing always does harm, and perhaps in the harm there is always some good. I think as far as I have experience in the work of teaching and in my own work, I have always seen that blame and correcting is not always fruitful. I think one can correct better without correcting, and one can help a person without blaming.
Q.: Some people are so hard that they are only able to feel by criticism.
A.: Yes, but there are many methods of doing it. May be that one can find out a method by which one will not hurt anyone, and yet do it.
Q.: Murshid, for an actor for instance, criticism is necessary.
A.: Yes, but that is another thing. That has nothing to do with every day moral principle. That is teaching.
Q.: Yes, but when we use our discrimination, can we not sometimes criticize openly?
A.: Yes, but a silent criticism is still more. Perhaps the one who silently criticizes may inspire a person to do, better than the one who criticizes openly.