Sunday, 24 May 2020

Teachers Should Ask For Forgiveness


It Is Hari Raya Today! Hari Raya is known as Eid around the world. For those who don’t know, during Hari Raya, we Muslims (especially those in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia) ask each other for forgiveness. You see this on Hari Raya e-cards and posters such as the one below.

It reads, “Selamat Hari Raya! Maaf Zahir dan Batin! (Or Maaf Lahir & Batin - Indonesian version).

Translated it means “Happy Hari Raya! Forgiveness upon the  outer things and the inner things; this means that the person saying this to a friend is actually asking forgiveness for all the things he has done wrong which his friend knows of and all the wrong things that his friend does not know of. 

This routine is a mechanism for Muslims to set things aright with their families and friends annually. We need not and should not wait for Eid to ask for forgiveness but to those who are a little too proud, Hari Raya allows them the opportunity to ask forgiveness from those he knows he has caused hurt to. On Hari Raya, you can see children kissing the hands of their parents and asking for forgiveness for whatever they have done wrong. And so do adults towards other adults. Some do it mechanically while others mean what they say. To the persons asking forgiveness and being asked forgiveness, this process is therapeutic – it reduces or removes the pain in the heart. 

This year, some students that I taught 3 years back greeted me with a “Selamat Hari Raya! Maaf Zahir dan Batin!”. Immediately,I was transported back in time.  I was reminded of a lesson when I shouted at the boys. It pains me till today. In my mind are episodes of many, many mistakes I have made in the classroom and many other scenarios. These mistakes remind me to not think too highly of myself. I don't want to forget these tools for the heart.

I messaged, “Selamat Hari Raya, Maaf zahir Dan Batin. Boys, I want to apologize to all of u, especially XXX for the times I misbehaved during the tuition sessions. Do forgive me.” I did not want the mechanical version. I wanted them to know that I am sincerely asking for forgiveness, and so I messaged what I messaged. I was forgiven. Alhamdulilah (God be praised).

To me, asking forgiveness from the students we teach or team members we lead is very important. In a position of power and authority, the teacher or leader is bound to cause hurt, even if he does not intend or know about it. Lurking underneath could be  a pain in the heart of the students or followers. A sincere sorry and asking for forgiveness is what is needed to soothe the hurt and cure the heart. Routinely, I do this at the end of a course taught or at the end of a project. Yes, at the end of the year, I say sorry to my students and ask for forgiveness. Teachers and leaders should do this because it soothes hearts and teaches humility. Unfortunately, this is seen as a weakness by some. Whenever I apologise to students at the end of a course, The children are usually wide-eyed, perhaps they rarely hear this from teachers. O teachers, we make mistakes and so why not remove the pain from the students (even if we do not know we have)? 

I got divorced about 14 years ago, and I know the divorce hurt my 2 sons. Ever since then, I have repeatedly asked for forgiveness. But what is done is done. Time does not flow backwards. What is left is the soothing of hearts. And I am sure this asking-for-forgiveness process helps the healing. I am sure it has for my sons. So when do I stop asking them for forgiveness? Well, even after more than a decade has passed, I do not intend to stop any time soon. Why? The hurt which we divorcee parents had experienced may have disappeared but how sure are we that the hearts of our children are healed? We don’t know. So I carry on.

One may ask - what if my students do not forgive me as a teacher?  Well, that is the risk of being a human being. I have to take that risk. However, in asking for forgiveness, I know I have reduced some pain (if not all) and I have taught my students something very important – it is only human to err and more importantly, those who err should humble themselves by saying sorry sincerely.