The only good thing about an egotist, say some, is that they don’t talk about other people, but this is not entirely true. The devoted egotist will talk about everyone in an effort to blame every ill on someone or something else. The true egotist is an expert in the art of self-pity. They will not necessarily express a high opinion of themselves, but their conduct indicates that self-regard is their dominating underlying characteristic.
Fifteen years ago I had low self-esteem to a horrendous extreme. When I started at college my personal tutor referred me to a mentor who tried her best to lift me out of my negative morass, but there was nothing anybody could do to help me because I was not prepared to help myself. Whenever my mentor suggested a solution to a problem I would dismiss it, for they were not actually obstacles, just excuses. Hearing my lamentations about my solitary existence, my mentor would remind me that I had a bicycle that could carry me far and wide, only for me to respond that I was always getting punctures; I had an answer for everything. My mentor went as far as identifying for me puncture resistant tyres, but she was wasting her time. I was not ready to help myself, preferring to wallow in self-pity, for I found it easier to blame others than to take myself to account.
I was reminded of that period of my life yesterday when I received a phone call from a friend which irritated me immensely. As soon as I had heard what he had to say, I was somehow recalling those tyres of mine and that period in my mid-teens when no solution to a problem would ever satisfy me because I refused to help myself. Thinking back to all those mostly repetitive conversations we had had over at least five years, I was suddenly reminded of a famous Qur’anic verse: “God does not change the condition of a people until…” I think we have reached that stage my mentor once arrived at after working with me for over a year: there is nothing I can do for him except pray. If a person does not want to help him/herself, no external force will have any effect.
A couple of years after I became Muslim a close friend of mine travelled 430 miles north from London to give me advice that I didn’t want to hear. Over the preceding months he had witnessed my struggles in my new faith, whether in my emails or telephone calls from Scotland. One afternoon, although he had a phobia for heights, we ascended Myreton Hill rising to 387 metres above sea level in the Ochil Hills of Clackmannanshire and began to discuss what was holding me back. There came his advice for me: God had done his part in guiding me to faith. Now it was my turn to repay Him. It was not advice I wanted to hear, but I have treasured it ever since. I may have wanted sympathy at that moment in time, but what would I gain from that? Sometimes we need to receive uncomfortable advice. Sometimes we need to be pushed out of our comfort zone. Sometimes we need to be told to help ourselves. If you find that something is holding you back, look inward: “Is the obstacle actually me?”
Individual personal accountability is central to our faith. I only started making progress in life when I realised that I had to help myself and thus acted accordingly. There is no aid for one who will not help him/herself, who prefers to wallow in self-pity, blaming others rather than taking him/herself to account. This applies to individuals, communities and nations. If you want to get on in life, help yourself.
NB: This post has been edited.