In any long-term endeavor you are engaged in, whether it is to raise a family, establish a business, start a religious community, or change the world by social or political action, you are working with companions who share your vision. But you can become discouraged by looking at others who are more successful than you. This aya advises us not to look wistfully at what others have. Instead, we should focus our efforts on nurturing those who are with us.
There is very little that a person, however talented he or she may be, can accomplish alone. There are many brilliant ideas in books written by ingenious individuals which went nowhere because there was no team to implement them. Therefore, a crucial component of carrying out any plan is to build and maintain a team of people who care about each other and their purpose. Having companions who share your purpose results in miraculous progress because the power of the human spirit multiplies tremendously in supportive company. One plus one is really more than eleven.
For example, when people get married, they are acting on the wisdom that you are much more likely to find happiness as a team than by yourself. The marriage is successful only to the extent that you can maintain trust and love. You have to learn to cooperate with each other toward common goals of raising and educating children, helping each other be physically and emotionally healthy, making your home a pleasant and safe environment, and building financial well-being. A marriage flourishes more if it is supported by people in the extended family who are committed to the couple’s happiness.
A business is a team with the purpose of making or selling a product. The business can succeed if it has a team of people who work together with positive attitudes toward each other and who believe in the value of the product.
Many organizations are formed with the purpose of doing social good or bringing about political change. Only those succeed where there is a team that has mutual trust and long-term commitment to their ideals.
A mosque, a church, or a temple consists of a group of people who seek guidance from a particular scripture. There is spiritual growth in the community if they can worship together in a spirit of harmony and devise goals on which they can work together.
There is a lag time in creating significant new results. This is how nature works. If we want to grow food, we have to till the soil, remove weeds, fertilize the ground, plant seeds, deal with bad weather, and wait for our efforts to bear fruit. Similarly, in any significant human endeavor, there is a period of waiting between the formulation of our plans and their achievement. The mission has to go through a lean period in which you put in the effort and here is no visible fruit. If you are committed, you have to learn to deal positively with frustration during the waiting period.
In the meantime, we can see others who are more successful than us. They are in the limelight and not us. This can be very discouraging. God advises the Prophet in this aya not to look longingly at what others have and not be upset because they don’t pay attention to his message. Instead, concentrate your efforts on what is crucial to your success, and that is to nurture those who share your vision.
Love and harmony are the essential ingredients from which the power of a team is derived. Two people may have different personalities and different cultural backgrounds, but they can like each other for the sake of the goals they share. But if the personal differences become more important than the common purpose or there is rivalry, the team loses its power. Sometimes even one person with a quarrelsome or distrustful personality is enough to derail a large group.
The metaphor used in this aya is that of a bird that lowers its wing in loving solitude over its young. Your task is to nurture the people who are with you by caring for them, by supporting them, by being concerned about them, by strengthening them, by loving them. The basic glue that holds any group together and gives it power is love, and we must actively seek to love one another if we want our team to accomplish its mission.
Since “love” is a word with which people associate different meanings, it is important to clarify the spiritual meaning of love that is conveyed in this aya. The Prophet is being asked to love the people who have faith in his mission. Spiritual love is more, much more, than a feeling. It is seeking to promote growth in the people you love, to expand their capacities, to help them overcome their limitations.
Perhaps the meaning will become clearer if we also describe what love is not. Love is not dependency. If the people you love are not able to function independently of you, then they will not have the confidence to do things to help themselves or contribute to the purpose of the team.
Love is not obedience. In order for you to grow to your potential, you have to become your own person; you need the freedom to develop your own thinking. You can contribute to your own life and to the common mission only if you are free from the feeling that you have to obey another person.
Many well meaning people seeking spiritual guidance become trapped in groups where “love” is taught as obedience and dependency. There is a guru or a sheikh who is assumed to know the Truth, and the price he demands for teaching it is complete obedience. The sheikh decides when you wake up and go to sleep, when and how you pray, and when and whom you marry. Such misguided arrangements are destructive to the spiritual growth of all concerned.
The spiritual love mentioned in this aya is enabling and non possessive. The bird who spreads her wings on the young wants them to fly, and if they hesitate, the mother bird pushes them out of the nest, forcing them to spread their own wings.