Encouraging people is a good thing and it is an important part of the Prophet’s sunna ﷺ. But the Prophet was balanced. He would also discourage people from wrongdoing. And he would do it in a wise way and have different approaches for different people depending on their individual personalities. For some people it was gentle or subtle. For others it was more direct and some today might even consider “harsh.” Ultimately, the intention with encouragement and discouragement is for the betterment of people because, as Muslims, we want the best for all people and all creation.
But we live in unbalanced times where people don’t want to hear the slightest bit of moral criticism and people reflexively reject or deny negative feedback, no matter how gently it is presented, and even take great offense.
Of course, there is tact and wisdom needed not only for giving advice (nasiha) but also receiving advice.
Unfortunately, the majority of people today want to be unconditionally praised and congratulated for their mere existence. They want to be told that they’re amazing and capable and the only reason they aren’t rich and famous is because they haven’t mastered such and such tips and tricks. Ever wonder why the self-help gurus and get-rich seminars are so popular, especially in America?
This inflated sense of self is so pronounced that people are even offended by the idea of being judged by God Himself. They ask, Who is God to judge me? Who is God to tell me that I am deserving of punishment? They reject the idea of God for these reasons. I have personally spoken to multiple individuals who have said such things verbatim, but the sentiment is quite common in our society. Isn’t this the very definition of Satanic?
And it all starts in school. The “self-esteem” movement has a history we should be aware of. I understand why people think “self-esteem” is important, but like many things coming from shaytan, it is conflated with 100 lies. Yes, it is important not to think of yourself as stupid, worthless, etc., and even the Prophet tells us in a sahih hadith not to belittle ourselves. But does that mean we should be regularly praised? That we should be congratulated for just being who we are? That we are all special? That we should build ourselves up and shut out people who don’t think we are as awesome as we think of ourselves? That we should consider all opinions equally valid and that our own opinions are the most equal of all other opinions?
Some sociologists even link the high levels of depression we find in the latest generations to the self-esteem movement that has been peddled in schools for the past few decades. When these kids grow up and realize that the world does not think they are as amazing and special and important as they have been hearing about themselves from a young age, that is a rude awakening.
Again, balance is important. We should find our sense of honor and self worth in our relation to Allah and serving Him. What is our internal state? Have we kept the all-consuming ego in check? We have to concern ourselves with the nafs and not whether or not others are appreciating us, etc.