Shakespeare tells us in Othello: ”Tis the soldiers’ life. To have their balmy slumbers waked with strife.’ In other words, it is part of the job description of men at war that they will often be woken from whatever pleasant sleep they could be having by the unexpected call to arms; or a surprise enemy attack; or by some other reason that pits them against some imminent danger. A soldier’s life is a life lived on the edge; ever ready to engage struggle and strife. (In Othello’s case, he and his wife, Desdemona are woken on their wedding night by the drunken brawling and clamour of some of Othello’s soldiers.)
When we talk about strife in war, we are talking about violent conflicts and discords. Though when we speak of strife in terms of our daily life, we tend to mean things like arguing, bickering, heated disagreements and undercurrents of anger or discontent. We can experience strife with family, friends, work colleagues, or just the day-to-day tasks of life.
To keep quarrels, conflicts and friction out of our lives, we must be ready and willing to avoid conversations which will lead to such dissension. In conversations that are getting hot, we need to learn to back off or just drop it because, what is being debated is, often, something trivial or not worth arguing about. It may even be something we do not have sufficient knowledge about to be discussing anyway. This last situation is so often the case when it comes to religious discussions. The Qur’an strictures: Do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. [17:36]
But here’s the rub. The ego’s desire to be right frequently leads us into strife. We could keep conflict at bay simply by entertaining the possibility that we could be wrong. But pride, conceit or just being pigheaded will not allow us to do so. The Prophet, peace be upon him, warned: ‘Three things destroy: greed that is obeyed, desire that is followed and a person enamoured with his own opinion.’ [Al-Bazzar, Musnad, no.80]
All kinds of problems come about by trying to insist that we are right. And what good does it usually do in the end? It satisfies the self. It assuages the ego. But it also stains the soul and hardens the heart.
Strife blocks God’s blessings, incites enmity and opens the door to all types of ills. At a more communal level, strife weakens us – as per the saying: ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ The Qur’an states: Dispute not with one another lest you falter and your strength departs. [8:46]
Truth be told, being right is often overrated. Next time your discussion with someone begins to get too hot under the collar and an argument begins to erupt, ask yourself if what you are discussing is worth breaking the peace for and sliding into strife. Rein in the ego and let peace reign; you’ll feel much better for it. One hadith presents us with a further motive for backing off from arguments: ‘I am a guarantor for a house on the outskirts of Paradise for whoever leaves of arguing even though he is in the right.’ [Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.4800].