Dignity and meanness of the soul are some of the most influencing aspects of a man. The dignity of the soul compels him to follow the path of loftiness while the meanness or wretchedness of the soul drags him towards beastliness. A dignified soul is the source of good for one's own self and for others, while a mean or undignified one is the source of evil. There are people who confuse dignity of the soul with ambition or desire to achieve worldly greatness. The ambition makes a man aspire for exaltation in worldly affairs, and it inspires him to climb material heights. There have been many great ambitious people, such as Alexander the Great who conquered the world. They made conquests their sole aim and so they were great in that respect, but they were not dignified in a moral sense. They led life for the material goals and did not have nobility of spirit or loftiness of soul. They may have been successful in achieving their aims but the aims they aspired to were of temporary significance and more inclined towards selfish, worldly ends. Their greatness declined and vanished with the decline of their worldly possessions. The treasures and wealth they accumulated disappeared, while later generations regarded them as selfish and mean who plundered the world for their mean desires.
Allah has created man to be noble and lofty in spirit. The seeking of worldly aims while demeaning oneself is mean and abominable. A person who values his self-respect and is glorified in his spirit will not commit mean acts which can lead to humiliation and disrespect. Such a person will not set low and mean things as his aim or purpose in life. He will aspire for the best and would keep away from the meanness. He will set high, lofty goals and would refrain from mean and low ones: "O my soul! You are pure and therefore do not accompany the impure, and you are bright and luminous, so do not mix with darkness. You are alive and speaking, so do not accompany the dead. You are knowing and just, so do not become intimate with the corrupt, unjust and ignorant. You are also distinguished by discernment and intellectual will, so do not associate with those who wander around in uncertainty and confusion." (Breaking the Idols of Ignorance)
Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) has said to one of his companions, "Make the world the object of your fasting, and let death be breaking of your fast." One of his disciples told him one day, "O spirit of God! We pray as you pray and fast as you fast and remember God as you remember Him, nevertheless we cannot walk over water as you walk." The Prophet responded, "Tell me of your love for this world." They said, "We love it." Then he said to them, "Indeed its love spoils religion; for me it's similar to stones and clods of mud."
The love of material objects causes and generates meanness and inclines the soul – which otherwise has been created for lofty goals – to do low deeds. Ayatollah Mutahhari, in his lecture on nobility of the soul, says: "Ali, peace be upon him, says to his son, Imam Hussain, peace be upon him, 'Uplift your spirit above every mean act, and think that your spirit is worthier than to be polluted by meanness.' He advises his son to think himself nobler than to demean himself by lies or by abasing himself before others. Ali, peace be upon him, says that an honorable person never commits adultery and this is irrespective of the fact that it is forbidden by the divine law and punishable in both worlds."
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) has said: "I emphasize the importance of good morals for you because God Almighty has sent me especially for this purpose." Imam Ali (peace be upon him), in a letter to his sons, emphasizes on nobility of character which he planned for them in their upbringing. "I took care to help you to develop a noble character and to fit you for the life which you will have to lead, to let you grow up to be a young man with a noble character, an open and honest mind and clear and precise knowledge of things around you."
Imam Ali said about the soul: "The soul is like a precious jewel: whoever strives for its protection, it will help him in attaining exalted positions, and whoever acted negligently in its protection, it shall pull him towards humiliation...Whoever knows the worth of his self will never allow himself to indulge in passing worldly amusements and shameful deeds...Whoever discovers the nobility of the soul shall guard it against lowness of passions and false desires...Whoever possesses the nobility of the soul will become free from wants."
Greediness, backbiting, lying, fraud, corruption, and other vices are all different forms of meanness and evil which originate from meanness of the soul and baseness of character. A noble and dignified soul will be free from such evils as these are too low for a noble soul. Imam Ali said about some evil deeds and their bad affects on man: "He who adopts greed as a habit devalues himself; he who discloses his hardship agrees to humiliation; and he who allows his tongue to over power his soul debases the soul."
He also said that a self-respecting soul does not beg as begging is mean: "Remember that the little which is given to you by Allah is going to be more useful and serviceable to you and is more honorable and respectable than what is granted by man in abundance...The bitterness of disappointment and poverty is, in reality, sweeter than the disgrace of begging."
All of these acts which lead to meanness and humiliation are results of basic choice, and the choice is of preferring baseness over nobility and wretchedness over glory. A person who has reached the goal of life and has kept his base nature in control leads a free life – a life free from slavery by base desires and a life free from slavery by despots and arrogant rulers. His nobility of spirit does not allow him to bow before anyone except the Almighty Glorious Lord. He denies all false powers and submits before only the Most Powerful. He is a slave of His Creator so he denies the slavery of other false gods.
This is the noble advice of a noble Imam, Imam Ali: "Take care, my son! Be warned that you do not make yourself a slave of anybody. Allah has created you a freeman. Do not sell away your freedom in return of anything. There is no actual gain and real value in benefits that you derive by selling your honor and self-respect or by subjugating yourself to disgrace and insults as there is no real good in wealth and power that you acquire by foul means." (Nahj al-Balagha, Letter 31)
Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) reflects the same divine light of high and noble character and of lofty soul when he refuses to pledge allegiance to Yazid ibn Mu'awiya (may Allah remove His mercy from him): "Imam addresses his companions in Karbala and in that sermon: 'he declares that life under tyranny is not worthy of man, unless the people rise in an attempt to restore the higher values .Don't you see that what is true and right is not acted upon and what is false and wrong is not forbidden? In such a situation, the man of faith yearns for the meeting with his Lord. Indeed, (in such conditions) to me death is happiness, and life under the yoke of tyrants is disgrace.'"
His immortal words of "Hay-haat minna dhilla" (which some translate to mean "disgrace is far away from us") which he stated while he refused Yazid and instead chose martyrdom, have energized and enchanted the hearts and souls of all revolutionaries to date. The words are still echoing in the revolutionary atmosphere of today's Islamic world.
This is heartening to see that the Muslims living under puppet and tyrannical regimes have risen against the disgrace of leading a life under tyranny. These brave men and women have enlivened Karbala in their lives by refusing to bow before unjust tyrannical power. "Hay-haat minna zilla" is their slogan, because a life of disgrace is far from them.