In a series of sessions, sociologist and religious researcher Emad Afroogh tries to introduce the thoughts of Imam Ali (AS). In the 15th session, he talks about Letter 31 of Nahj al-Balagha. Here is a summary of his remarks:
One of the emotional letters of Imam Ali’s (AS) Nahj al-Balagha that is full of illuminating contents, is Letter 31 that Imam Ali (AS) wrote to his son Imam Hassan (AS). This letter is very enlightening and instructive.
One part of the letter is about keeping the heart alive. Imam Ali (AS) says: “Enliven your heart with preaching, kill it by denial, energize it with firm belief, enlighten it with wisdom, humiliate it by recalling death, make it believe in mortality, make it see the misfortunate of this world, make it fear the authority of the time and the severity of some changes during the nights and the days, place before it the events of past people, recall to it what befell those who were before you and walk among their cities and ruins, then see what they did and from what they have gone away and where they have gone and stayed. You will find that they departed from (their) friends and remain in loneliness. Shortly, you too will be like one of them. Therefore, plan for your place of stay and do not sell your next life with this world.”
In ethical discussions, there is a golden principle that says ‘Do to others what you like to be done to you’.
Imam Ali (AS) says, “O my child, make yourself the measure (for dealings) between you and others. Thus, you should desire for others what you desire for yourself and hate for others what you hate for yourself. Do not oppress as you do not like to be oppressed. Do good to others as you would like good to be done to you. Regard bad for yourself whatever you regard bad for others. Accept that (treatment) from others which you would like others to accept from you. Do not talk about what you do not know even though what you know be very little. Do not say to others what you do not like to be said to you.
“Know O my child, that livelihood is of two kinds - a livelihood that you seek and a livelihood that seeks you, which is such that if you do not reach it, it will come to you. How bad it is to bend down at the time of need and to be harsh in riches. You should have from this world only that with which you can adorn your permanent abode. If you cry over what has gone out of your hands then also cry for what has not at all come to you. Infer about what has not yet happened from what has already happened, because occurrences are ever similar. Do not be like those whom preaching does not benefit unless you inflict pain on them, because the wise take instruction from teaching while beasts learn only from beating.”