Self-assessment is your commitment to yourself

Self-assessment is your commitment to yourself


The mirror can only reflect what is in front of it.
It is for me to decide what to do about it


Performance Appraisals are things that are done in organizations and most people don’t like them. Except the winners, that is. Winners like to ‘show off.’ I mean that in a positive sense. They like to show what they have done. They like to beat previous records. They like to set their own records and take pride in them. Performance Appraisals are the flags that show their record. So write your own performance appraisal.

I recall my first appraisal which my boss, Nick Adams, wrote for me in Guyana in 1980. I still have it, thirty years later. He gave me the blank form and said, ‘Yawar, you know what you did better than I do. So write this appraisal and bring it to me and we’ll talk about it.’ I spent a couple of sleepless nights over it trying to be fair with myself. When I took it to him, we spent a couple of hours going meticulously over it, point by point.

He agreed with most of what I had written. In three cases, he upgraded what I wrote – ‘You should give yourself the credit that you deserve,’ he said to me.  He reminded me of two incidents that I had forgotten which showed me that he had not given me the form to fill because he couldn’t remember what I had done. That was his way of teaching me as well as of letting me take credit for my work. Then he signed it. The five years that I worked for him, I would look forward to appraisal time.

I have my own three-sixty-degree appraisal done by Potentia which specializes in it and see it as my greatest testimonial – faults and all – because it demonstrates commitment to quality and my own development.
Winners and Losers

Winners and Losers



There are two kinds of losers.
1.    One is a loser who lost despite his best effort but doesn’t accept defeat. He analyses what happened, accepts what he needs to change in order to win. Then he disciplines himself and works ceaselessly until he wins.
2.    The other doesn’t even understand why he lost, doesn’t bother to reflect on it, accepts defeat and tries to adjust himself to his new situation as a slave.
The biography of Genghis Khan is a good place to study Loser # 1. His story is a litany of woes and losses and defeats one piled on another right through his childhood, teens and twenties. But what shines through is the almost irrational belief in his ability to win, when there was nothing happening in his life to indicate that there was even a modicum of proof to show that his belief was true. I am sure there were people in his life who thought he had gone mad. Yet his life shows that he didn’t waver in his belief and continued to make attempt after attempt, shrinking at nothing which he thought would enable him to win. As they say, history is then witness to a man who created the largest empire that the world has ever seen in his own lifetime of just over 60 years.
The biography of Muhammad the Prophet of Islam, 7 centuries before Genghis Khan is another example of a man who didn’t accept defeat when there was no sign to show that he would ever win. His life, after he declared prophethood, is usually divided into two parts – the Makkan period of 13 years and the Madinan period of 10 years. The first part, the Makkan period is a story of defeat after defeat without a ray of hope, piled one on top of another. It was almost as if anything he touched, failed. He lost his reputation, his position in society, his wealth and influence, even the love and friendship of his people which was legendary before he declared prophethood at the age of 40. It was as if 40 years of gain in his life were wiped out with one fell stroke when he declared prophethood and proclaimed Islam. Yet he never faltered, never gave up hope, never accepted defeat and never stopped doing what he believed to be right; working for his mission when there was nothing to show that he would ever succeed.
I am sure there were people in his life who questioned his rationality. But once again, history is witness that in his own lifetime he once again became the most beloved man in Arabia, the uncrowned king of his people. A king, temporal, emotional and spiritual whose kingdom continues fourteen centuries after his death.
I have quoted two examples which are almost opposites of each other in terms of focus – one completely worldly, merciless, ruthless, materialistic and which though it spread like a forest fire, like a fire, it died out in less than 200 years such that there is not a single sign of its passing – disappearing as if it never existed. The other not only continues undiminished but grows continuously despite all forms of opposition. There are lessons in this about the longevity of empires of greed compared to empires of love and compassion but that is not my aim in this article except to simply place a marker so that we can also reflect on that aspect.
The lessons that I want to draw from these two very different examples are that the laws of winning and losing are like the laws of physics, universal, which give the same result every time. And these are three – the unwillingness to accept defeat, willingness to learn from their own lives and the discipline to do whatever it takes to win.
Let me give you a more modern example as well – the example not of one man but of an entire nation which refused to accept defeat or slavery. Japan – a classic example of a nation that refused to accept its crushing defeat as anything but a temporary setback. An entire generation dedicated itself to building the nation. Unlike other similar situations, crime and hopelessness didn’t dominate the scene and instead examples of selfless service were the order of the day. History is once again witness to the fact that in the lifetime of that one generation – in less than 50 years Japan emerged as not only one of the most powerful economies in the world but as a leader in scientific development, innovation, creativity and productivity.
Once again, the same three lessons are visible:
1.               unwillingness to accept defeat,
2.               willingness to learn from their own lives
3.              and the discipline to do whatever it takes to win.
The Japanese demonstrated the three critical requirements for winning:
1.    Willingness to analyze what happened,
2.    Learn from it and make tough choices and ..
3.    Support them with moral and material investment to make a difference.
     Today if we look at the plight of the Muslim Ummah (nation), generally speaking, we find the absence of all these three factors which can change defeat to victory. We have accepted defeat, we refuse to face the facts about our own mistakes and we have no discipline to change our lifestyles or to make hard choices.
The history of slavery in America is a good place to study what happens to people who accept defeat. Once again generally speaking, the average black person in the South had accepted defeat to such an extent that black people brought up, served and protected their masters, sometimes with their own lives. Masters who treated them worse than they treated their pet cats or dogs. Yet not a single hand was raised to protect the dignity of the human being. True, that the masters used heinous ways to punish the rebellious because the purpose of such punishment is to serve as a deterrent to future aspirants and not merely as a recompense for the sin. So, it always exceeds the gravity of the crime. Yet instead of fueling righteous anger, the punishment fulfilled its intention by striking terror in defeated hearts, further confirming the belief that they couldn’t win. It took action outside the purview of their lives to eventually free them from slavery – Abraham Lincoln and his comrades from the North – and we are left to imagine how much longer slavery would have lasted had this war not happened. Naturally there are exceptions to every rule that go on to prove the rule – that people who accept defeat are condemned to slavery.
That is our situation today. We have accepted defeat. We have accepted slavery. So, we do two things – we speak of days of bygone glory forgetting that the key word is bygone; and we wait for an Avatar to come to save us, forgetting that Avatars exist only in mythology and Facebook. Meanwhile we engage ourselves in the equivalent of slave pastimes of drinking and singing sad songs – intoxication in an attempt to forget the horrors of our existence.
We spend money in ostentatious pomp and splendor, in fat weddings, in self-indulgence and materialism but not in anything which has a chance to take us out of our slavery. How else do you explain personalized aircrafts, 13 million-dollar Christmas trees, solid silver cars, multi-million dollar colored rocks and a collective reading average of ½ a page annually. How do we explain a society which has palaces known for their shameless ostentation and luxury and universities known for the bankruptcy of their ideas, teaching and learning?
We fight anyone who talks about freedom and do our best to discredit him and ensure that he doesn’t win. We don’t support him, call him insane and refuse to help him even to the extent of what we spend on our mindless entertainment.
We must choose; we who refuse to accept defeat and we who seek to change the path of the destiny of an unwilling people. We must accept that we will not be supported easily so we must stop relying on support from those who have chosen to accept slavery and defeat. We must understand that behind the resistance is fear. They have learned to be afraid. You and what you represent scares them ****less. They don’t want you to rock their boat even when they are mere rats in the hold. They have forgotten what it felt like to stand on the bridge with the wind in your hair and the spray of the ocean in your face, guiding the destiny of the ship. Until you can help them conquer that fear nothing will happen. Remember that to the uncommitted, commitment always looks like insanity. But only the totally committed can take risk. Commitment removes the fear. When they call you mad, understand that this is a sign that you are on the right path.  Walk on and you will find that slowly they will awake, remember and start following you. Walk on. 
You will need supporters because nobody can win alone. Don’t hire rabbits to climb trees. Don’t try to convince the frightened. Find those who resonate to your goal. You need people you can rely on. One you can rely on is better than a thousand who need pushing. Great goals need engines of power not bogies that need pushing. Finally remember that if you want to soar in the heavens you need condors for companions, not chickens trying to fly. Both are birds but worlds apart.
And remember that as I mentioned earlier, the laws of winning and losing are like the laws of physics; universal, which give the same result every time. Results depend on choices, not on who made the choice.  So, choose well. 

The One who controls the language controls the debate

The One who controls the language controls the debate


May Allah  help this Ummah but we are living in very difficult times. The biggest challenge seems to be to maintain emotional and psychological equilibrium in the midst of the battering as if in a storm. While we are battered by storms, some of our own making, we still have to keep walking on the path of life, trying to make sense of whatever little we can see through the haze and fog and keep hoping that when we step off into the darkness of the unknown, there will be something solid to stand on or we will be taught how to fly.

In times like this it is only natural to fall into the trap of defining ourselves in the terms that the propaganda wordsmiths set for us and to respond in their language without realizing that by definition it is to our disadvantage.

Language has and will always be a weapon in the hands of the experts to be used to color the picture in the hue of their choice. For example, British historians called the 1857 War of Indian Independence, “The Sepoy Mutiny”. Intrinsic in the term being the need to legitimize the colonial rule. If you call it a ‘Mutiny’ then any draconian measure to crush it becomes justifiable and that is precisely what they did. Of course to our own eternal shame as Indians, Maratha and Sikh troops fought under the command of British officers and did the deed and literally hundreds of thousands of brave Indian patriots, Hindu and Muslim, were brutally murdered. All in the name of the great British civilization.

Today the same tactics are being used where freedom fighters are called ‘insurgents’ and ‘terrorists’. Their brave attempts to fight an overwhelmingly superior force invading and illegally occupying their countries are called ‘acts of terrorism’. And the real terrorizing of the whole world is called ‘War on terror’ and the people committing these terrorist acts are called ‘democratic forces.’

When they die in this unequal fight at the rate of about 1 to every 100 of the freedom fighters (ICH: as on August 29, 2007 – 3732 US troops to 1,025,092 Iraqis) their death is called ‘heroic’. And when whole neighborhoods and cities are wiped out in genocidal acts, this is called ‘collateral damage’. When random acts of violence happen where misguided people take the law into their own hands and attack innocent civilians, their actions are and are called ‘dastardly’. But when bomber pilots of the so-called ‘Democratic Forces’ shoot missiles that destroy hospitals, schools, mosques, bomb shelters with men, women and children smashed to rubble it is called a ‘surgical strike’. I can go on but won’t.

The point I want to make here is not about what the wordsmiths of the fascists do. But about our own people falling into their trap. For example as we speak Buddhists in Myanmar are carrying out a state sponsored genocide of the Rohinga people who are inhabitants of Burma/Myanmar for centuries. Men, women and children are being slaughtered, burnt alive and their homes, mosques and schools are being torched. All this while the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama are silent witnesses who don’t even speak a word against the oppressors. I believe it is essential to look at the reality and stop fooling ourselves if we want to find a solution to the problem. As long as we keep calling it a problem of Islamic fundamentalism there is no solution to the problem. Once we accept that the problem is to do with the ongoing push for Western Imperialism (albeit today in the name of ‘democracy’) push for global domination, then we will be well on the way to solving the problem.

Frankly I am not even against the idea of global domination because I recognize it to be the natural outcome of economic and military power. However it is the means adopted to dominate which must be questioned. When these means sow the seeds of global suffering and slavery hiding behind a veritable fog of lofty ideals, then they must be resisted and exposed for what they are. For a nation to seek markets is not wrong provided others can share in its economy and are not reduced to abject slavery albeit in another name. However the West, which is the ideological heir to the Roman Empire, continues to use the language of Julius Caesar and Imperial Rome – ‘bringing civilization to barbarians in the name of the Republic’. That enabled them to create a state which was based on the logic of perpetual war which was the engine behind their commerce and trade. I believe that for anyone wanting to understand global politics today, reading a history of the Roman Empire is essential.

To return to our subject of how language is used as a tool, even weapon, of domination, unfortunately we see independent journalists also using the language of the oppressors when defining Muslims and calling them ‘Islamist’, ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and so on. This is a big mistake and an indication of mental subjugation that many of us have become the victims of.

Muslims or Muslim countries have not invaded any other country. They are not the ones who are imposing their economic, religious or moral system on anyone. They are not the ones stealing others’ assets, looting their countries or attempting to overthrow their governments. They are not the ones who are imprisoning others for no cause, torturing them in heinous ways or passing life sentences on them because they demanded justice and spoke against oppression. The citizens of these countries, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and others, who happen to be Muslims are fighting for their rights. The right to life, to dignity, to not being murdered, tortured or raped. The right to education and clean water not contaminated by depleted uranium or sewage from the illegal settlements deliberately being dumped into the Palestinian aquifer that is the only source of their drinking water. The right of their children to play in the street without being picked off by snipers taking pot-shots at human beings. Yet they are called fundamentalist terrorists, most painfully of all, by their own simple minded brethren.

We as bystanders have a very important task. One that history will hold us accountable for and which we will answer to our Creator for on the Day when all will be called to account for what they did. And that is the task of bearing witness. Being truthful recorders of what is happening. We may not be able to change what is happening or to stop it from happening. But we can bear witness to it and name the beast correctly. This is a sacred duty of every citizen, irrespective of nationality, religion or race. To bear witness to the blatant oppression that has been unleashed on the world. Remember my friends to bear witness truthfully and not to use the language of the oppressors when you do it.

Call genocide, genocide. Not ethnic cleansing or riots. Call bombing cities and killing civilians as such, not collateral damage. And call Muslims, Muslims, not Islamists, Talibanists or Fundamentalists. ‘Terrorism’ is bad English. Terror is not an ‘ism’ – and ideology but a tactic used by various ‘isms’ to achieve their own ends. Anti-Semitism is to speak against Semitic people. While one may argue the purpose of isolating a single race to become the target of the world’s love, if one is to accept that Anti-Semitism is a crime, then to say anything disparaging about the Arabs will be a crime as Arabs are as Semitic as Palestinian Jews while European Jews are not Semitic at all. As in the story of the white bull, we die not on the day they come for us, but on the day we fail to raise our voice against the first innocent killed. The greatest cowardice is to stay silent in the face of injustice and the pinnacle of faith is to speak the truth in the face of the tyrant.

Changing the Script

“If you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got.
If you want to get what you never had, you have to do what you never did.”

Many times we find ourselves stuck in a negative cycle, especially with respect to certain people; parents, spouses, parents in law, friends; where with great regularity we find ourselves miserable, angry or otherwise in pain. Every time this happens we tell ourselves, ‘Never again. I will never let that happen again.’ But lo and behold we find that the next time around, in the same entirely predictable way we are enacting the same script all over again.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the play, ‘The Mousetrap’; the longest running play in London. It has been running for several decades. Naturally many of the original actors have retired. Some have died. Many new actors have come into the roles. But you know something; very strangely, the ending is always the same. Now isn’t that so strange??

‘Ha!! Ha!!’ you laugh. ‘How can you call it strange?’ you ask. ‘After all the script is the same. So how can the ending be different?’

‘Ha!! Ha!! Indeed’, I say to you. ‘Apply the same logic to your life Sir. Remind yourself that if you want a different ending, changing actors is no use. You have to change the script. See?’

Cut to your real life’s negative cycles – many people change actors. They get divorces, marry again, change jobs, change friends, cut off relations with parents (they can’t change those can they?) and so on. And a couple of years into the new relationship they find that the same problems have resurfaced. And they are surprised. I always tell them to go and watch ‘The Mousetrap’. Not perhaps for the usual reason but to drive home the point that the problem is not with the actors but with the script.

So what can you do?

Well here’s my solution.

I call it my 3 – step solution:

1. Stop dead in your tracks
2. Take back the control into your own hands
3. Then do the opposite of what you normally do

1. Stop dead in your tracks
• Remember that until you are in the cycle, it will move in the same direction it always did. So get off. Stop in your tracks. Break the cycle. How? Tape your mouth. Say nothing. Leave the room. Pretend you are having a heart attack. Go to the toilet. Knock over the water – do anything but don’t say that thing which is on the tip of your tongue. DO NOT REACT.

2. Take back the control into your own hands
• DO NOT REACT: Remember that when you are reacting you are merely demonstrating that you are a puppet on a string. You are moving in whichever direction the puppet master pulls the string. So break the string. Let him pull it whichever way he wants to. Since it is not connected to you, it will not affect you. Remind yourself that NOBODY CAN MAKE YOU FEEL ANYTHING. People do whatever they want to. YOU DECIDE HOW TO REACT. So stop reacting. Instead RESPOND. What is the difference?
• Responding is what you consciously choose to do. Reacting is what someone else makes you do. So instead of reacting, respond. What does that entail? Well, for one thing, it requires that you stop (refer to step 1 above) and think about what is happening. Then it requires that you think of what is the best way to deal with it. Not what is the ‘natural way’ or the ‘instinctive way’ but ‘the best way’
• Remember that what is instinctive or natural is not always what is best. Emotional maturity is to act deliberately and consciously. To do what may not be natural but is wise, useful and productive. To do that you have to ask yourself another question, ‘What is the result that I want from this interaction?’ Then do that which will get you that result. Not what you are dying to do to score some cheap point. So stopping in your tracks is essential. Remember, anger is natural. Controlling it is not.

3. Then do the opposite of what you normally do
• There is a famous story of President Harry Truman (I think it is about him. Forgive me please if I’ve got the wrong president) who was locked in an argument with someone. It got to a point that when he was about to say something, the other man said, ‘Don’t even bother. I know exactly what you will do.’ Harry Truman stood up, did a summersault on the carpet of the Oval Office and said, ‘I bet you didn’t think I’d do that?’ That broke the cycle.
• So do the opposite. Suddenly hug your mother in law and kiss her. Maybe she will have a heart attack and your problem will be solved. Or even better she will see the error of her ways. Do the opposite of what you normally do. A good way is to be especially nice to those who are nasty to us. Be good to them. Serve them. Be especially thoughtful. And do it sincerely. That is important. Insincerity always shows up and causes more problems. Acting can’t be sustained. Be sincere. And be consistent. Don’t be nice only once. Be nice always.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAS) said, ‘I guarantee a palace in the middle of Paradise to the person who has the right but gives up his right for his brother.’ He said that because that is tough to do. So do the opposite. What is the best ‘opposite’ for you to do? Well, it is your life, see? So think about it for yourself. One rule though – it has to be the best that you can do. Not simply something to score points against the other person.

Because remember the fundamental rule? When life presents a problem for us to solve, if we solve it, we go ahead. If we don’t, the same problem will comes back to us again and again until we solve it. Complaining changes nothing. The problem has to be solved to show that we learnt our lesson. After all there is a reason for the problem to come in the first place, see? Nothing is without purpose. So we need to graduate from one class to the next. Until we are in the same class, no matter how many schools we change, it is still the same class, same exams, same books, same lessons; until we pass the exam. Only then will we be permitted to move to a higher class. So the sooner we demonstrate that we learnt our lesson, the sooner will be our graduation.

In conclusion, remember it is not about changing actors but about changing the script. You are the director. It is your play. But you are not the audience. So you have to act.