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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Teenagers Steady State - A Systems Analogy

I came across this Yahoo link, asking why teens do stupid stuff . Ok, so teens do stupid stuff. Not all of course, many are smart and very mature. But lets discuss the group of teens that decide "heck, let me try this", so they end up smoking, drinking, dating, sniffing drugs, or worse stealing, lying, having babies out of wedlock and eventually with a broken, torn apart life to say the least.

We know that a system comprises of elements, and among those elements are people. So if we consider the society a system of system or even a system just to make things easier to relate to, and teens to be one of the many elements in this system, we should expect that at some point all the system elements will reach a stable state. Why is one teen's stable state in a run-down street smoking pot while another teen's stable state is with a friend researching the latest and greatest technology and how to put it into good use for the benefit of the society. Why is one teen's stable state with a girlfriend, while another's teen stable state is with a friend at the Masjid worshipping and reading the Quran. Dramatic contrasts right? Then we find a teen who is in between, neither with a girlfriend, nor in the Masjid, but in the movie theater watching an R rated movie, and the next day reading some Quran.

These are three different states. We know that a system structure defines the way it responds and reacts to external stimuli and how it behaves, and not so much the environment surrounding the system. We also know that depending on how the structure looks like, it will react or respond differently to the environment. I was first introduced to this systems engineering concept in a seminar in 2005 by Dr. Harold Kurstedt, Professor Emeritus, Virginia Tech. When I heard him explain this, I said "subhan Allah".. This is in the Quran. Allah taught us this more than 1400 years ago, and we are just discovering it today, similar to the stages of an embryo in the womb.

Allah says in the Quran in the chapter of Al-Isra, 17:36 "And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning)".

وَلاَ تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولـئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْؤُولاً

So all these senses are responsible for what they do, they do not have excuses because of the environment in which they are in. Interesting fact, right we go on and blame the evil that is out there. Sure evil should not be blamed but fixed, or removed.

Refer to Allah's revelation in the Quran in the chapter of Abraham (Ibrahim) 14:22 "And Satan will say when the matter is decided: "It was Allah Who gave you a promise of Truth: I too promised, but I failed in my promise to you. I had no authority over you except to call you but ye listened to me: then reproach not me, but reproach your own souls. I cannot listen to your cries, nor can ye listen to mine. I reject your former act in associating me with Allah. For wrong-doers there must be a grievous penalty."

وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلاَّ أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي فَلاَ تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُواْ أَنفُسَكُم مَّا أَنَاْ بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُمْ بِمُصْرِخِيَّ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَآ أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

A system developed with a certain structure will behave in the same way it was intended to, based on its structure. Dr. Harold gave the example of a slinky or spring, you hold it from one side, it oscillates down and up, why? Because of gravity? Wrong, because of the material of the slinky and its elasticity characteristics, to prove this, use a steel rod instead and hold it in the same vertical position as the slinky, will it oscillate up and down? No, hence gravity has nothing to do with its behavior.

similarly, those teens who sleep with their girlfriends, and those teens who spend hours in the Masjid learning the word of God, do so because of their structure. Indeed, their hearts are different, one has a heart full of darkness and disease, while the other has a heart full of light and belief. They have different structures and as a result will behave differently.

So does this mean the environment has no role at all, no it does have a role, its role is not a controlling role, but is a stimulator role. The gravity in the example of the slinky and the steel rod stimulated both, but they reacted differently based on their characteristics. Similarly, teens who are placed in the same environment that have different structures (hearts and belief) will react differently.

The Prophet (PBUH) ordered us to be in the company of good people in one of his Ahadeeth he mentioned that a person is on the same manners and style of life as that he accompanies, and ordered us to observe who we accompany. For we become affected by those around us, this effect is manifested especially if the structure is not sound. In other words even though the structure defines the behavior, placing the structure in contact with a bad environment could affect the structure itself and hence cause it to react differently.

Allah tells us in the Quran in chapter As-Saffat 37:24 "But stop them, for they must be asked"

وَقِفُوهُمْ إِنَّهُم مَّسْئُولُونَ

So we will be indeed accountable.

Allah also mentions in the Quran in chapter Al-Furqan in 25:28 "Ah! woe is me! Would that I had never taken such a one for a friend! "

يَا وَيْلَتَى لَيْتَنِي لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلَانًا خَلِيلًا

Here we see the dweller of the hell-fire regretting that he was accompanying the bad friends of this life. These friends were a bad stimulus that eventually changed the structure of this person and as a result is own behavior changed.

Another reference is in the chapter of the Cave (Al-Kahf), in 18:28 "And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face; and let not thine eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; no obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds".

وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ وَكَانَ أَمْرُهُ فُرُطًا

To sum up this discussion, take the example of a car. It was designed to move on paved roads at a certain speed limit, at certain temperature ranges. If there is a foot of snow on the road, the car will skid, not because of the snow, but because of the structure of the car (the wheels are not designed to operate on snow), but a snow plower will operate fine. Now lets take that same car and drive it over sulphuric acid, the wheels will get destroyed and now the car will not even operate over a paved road at the temperature it was designed to. So the acid affected the structure and hence a new behavior pattern emerged.

Teens are the same, their structures are affected by what is around them, and their behavior is defined by their structure. Do not ever think that their behavior is directly defined by their environment, it is not, but rather it is defined by their structure.

A conclusion I reached after 2 years of studying systems engineering. A system's structure is affected by its environment, and its behavior is affected by its structure.

Social service counselor, politicians and psychologists might find this useful in addressing complex problems, the solution lies in fixing the structure making sure it can withstand the environment.

Ah, we did not discuss that teen who is in oscillatory mode, one day near Allah, the next away and so one. This teen is going through the process of Mujadaha and has not reached a stable state, definitely better than the teen whose steady state has given way to Shaytan. This oscillatory state is where the structure is being patched, improved and then affected and so on... We should never expect that as believers once we are on the right path, we will stay there. That is why we need constant refreshing of our Iman and faith...

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