Why do our morals change across situations?
It sometimes happens that the nicest of people turn nasty. These changes of mood are a natural psychological reaction to stressful situations. One moment a person is courteous and well-mannered, he speaks gently and is considerate of the people around him, he is patient and generous and looks upon the world with a happy smile on his face. The next moment his face turns red, his eyes bulge, his eyebrows are drawn, he opens his mouth and becomes totally unmindful of all the surroundings, he speaks obscenities and vulgarities, he is no longer complacent and patient, quite the reverse, he wants ‘justice’ here and now, the world can wait while he gets his bitterness assuaged. This is the way a moral person can lose his morality, or should we say, a normally moral person, for a truly moral person shall stay that way irrespective of the situations he is faced with.
Morality is a quality which is not only prescribed by the Holy Quran but is intrinsic to Muslims because of the sum of regulations and virtues ingrained in our faith. In real life circumstances some find it hard to stick to it, for when you are thrown off balance, it is your natural reaction to retort and to lose temper. This is when our morals change. But is this permissible for a true Muslim? Consider the two cases above. The first one brings visions of peace and tranquillity, joy and calm, in short, it brings visions of Heaven. The second one is war and disturbance, bitterness and raging fury, what else can it remind us of but Hell. So by succumbing to your emotions and letting your anger take the better of yourself you are simply making one step into the abyss of Hell. This is a reason good enough to have a second thought about whether it is alright to get angry from time to time. For a Muslim, changing morals to fit mood swings is out of the question. If you act morally in times of calm, behave likewise in times of turbulence and keep a close watch over yourself not to falter.
Many people will argue that this process is an instinct, that it cannot be controlled, that it is other people’s fault, that it is them who triggered the situation, that lack of a heated response would serve to the detriment of that person’s interests. None of this can be justified. “A believer is neither a slanderer nor a curser, nor is he obscene or vulgar.” (Sahih at-Tirmidhi, 1977) The Hadith doesn’t say that the Prophet’s testament was for a man to be neither a slanderer nor a curser ‘provided he is not forced to be otherwise’, not at all, it simply says a believer is neither, full stop. Which means it is the Prophet’s testament for each Muslim to control his anger. This is a difficult task at times but any difficult task is a blessing for it is Allah’s test and a promise of an ultimate reward for those who pass.
One might ask what should be done in a situation when the other party is asking for it or when your serenity may be construed as surrender? The Hadith advises us to stay calm no matter what and let Allah take care of the offender. “If a man verbally abuses you or shames you for something in you that he knows about, do not shame him for something in him that you know about; let him bear the evil consequences of it his abuse, and you receive the reward for it, so do not curse.” (Sahih at-Targhib, 2782)