You’re leaving a dinner party, and a friend needs a taxi ride. You offer to drop her off, but her house is in the opposite direction, and yet you insist on dropping her home. You do it in-spite of traffic, and that report waiting for you at home to finish. You end up arriving at home hours later and with frustration staying up to a crazy hour to finish your report. It throws off your entire week. Why? because that’s what our culture teaches us!
We grow up as Arabs with the concept of putting others ahead. Whether or not it makes any sense. We insist on offering dinner guests food well beyond the point of reason. In business we nod in agreement to terms we don’t intend to honor. We go out of our way offering up support, advice, facilitating connections that we may not even have accessible to us. It is so overdone and exaggerated by most that our intent for generosity and altruism begins to lose meaning. And more so, takes a habitual form that cannot be maintained without it becoming disingenuous, and turns our lives into one big lie!
How often have you come across friends who complain about doing so much for others? They complain that they no longer have time for themselves or their families. Why? because they must “return” a dinner invitation, or they promised a neighbor to watch their children. They complain indirectly about the activities they volunteered to do. The favors they opted for. And at times make unkind references to those they opted to serve. Yet if you question their logic for doing it, their answer is “It’s only proper! It’s our culture! How can I not?”.
I was seated next to a colleague one afternoon when a mutual friend walked past. We both greeted him; my colleague went out of his way to address him with warm terms of endearment and salutations. As he moved away, my colleague exclaimed “oh my! he can be so annoying!”. The look on my face showed my utter surprise to the insincerity of his actions; his response “Aren’t you Syrian?” So matter of fact, like I was to know this is rooted in our culture. It is no wonder the Qur’an likened backbiting to the most vial actions. And yet everyone does it. Why? because we live in a social world where everyone overextends themselves to the point that it becomes unsustainable. That social etiquette overrides our genuine feelings and thoughts. And the only way to manage it, is by complaining about its impact on our overstretched lives or living a lie.
This behavior is so deeply engrained in our culture, that it would be difficult state to change. But there is hope. Hope that is found in the Muslim prophetic tradition, and in modern day self-help guides in bookstores worldwide. “Say the truth or be silent”. If you cannot be genuine and sincere, then its best not to speak, or act for that matter.