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A threatened phrase

Besides being inborn for man to sin against Allah’s injunctions, it is also human for him to offend or hurt others. Given that even identical…

Besides being inborn for man to sin against Allah’s injunctions, it is also human for him to offend or hurt others. Given that even identical twins do not share the same abilities, interests, likes and dislikes; there are bound to be misapprehensions in every human social group. In the course of our routine interactions, we could hurt our spouses, children, friends, colleagues, supporters, disciples, students, companions or aides. Offending others can happen at home, workplace, market, hospitals, on the road, playground, motor parks, restaurant, school, bus stop, village square, or library. We hurt others through insult, disrespect, hot arguments, overstepping on their rights, failure to keep a promise, or misunderstandings arising from careless words or actions. It could be between two individuals or between one individual and an organization or a group of people.

It becomes a mistake if the misguided individual soon realized his fault; signifying that he would act otherwise if given a second chance. In any case, that which helps to preserve, sustain and strengthen the ties between two or more individuals is the follow-up response each time we hurt other peoples’ feelings. Simple words such as “I’m sorry”, can mend cracked walls in a relationship regardless of who is involved as a victim or perpetrator of the mistaken action. 

Man, an infallible and imperfect creature, finds reasons once in a while to say “I’m sorry” to fellow human beings. A person’s tribe does not matter because the phrase is available in all human languages. While circumstances that call for the use of this expression continue to live with us, our spoken languages today appear to have prepared enough ground for its extinction. The more you realize the need for the phrase, the less you find it on the lips of people. And like some human languages, the phrase “I’m sorry” is gradually becoming a threatened expression in modern Nigeria. The phrase is threatened because it is rarer among the most-populated speakers of every language in Nigeria; the youth. The phenomenon is, yet, more disturbing as it is scarcely used by leaders and most public office holders who, in recent decades, have a norm of failing in their mandates.

Although Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Vice President once tendered an apology on behalf of the then President Umaru Musa Yar’adua in the January 2010 New Year message over government’s inability to deliver 6,000 megawatts of electricity targeted for end of 2009, expecting today’s political office holders in Nigeria including the country’s president, governors, senators, members of the house of reps and state assemblies, local government chairmen or councilors, to say “I’m sorry” over their individual failures or incompetence, is like expecting a hen to grow some teeth or a fish to grow some feathers. 

In Nigeria today, it’s uncommon to find airline operators, vice chancellors, judges, lawyers, medical doctors, engineers, union leaders, mechanics, tailors, carpenters, drivers, technicians, telecom service providers, DisCOS and GenCOS apologizing with the phrase “I’m sorry or We are sorry” for any inconveniences caused by them even when there are genuine reasons to do so. Guiltier than others on this matter are nurses and midwives who find pleasure in insulting expectant women in labour rooms. Of course, not everyone among those cited can be accused of refusing to trail his shortcomings with words of apology. 

The phrase “I’m sorry” practically symbolizes humility. Allah (SWT) commands us to be humble and states in Qur’an 15:88 “…But lower thy wing (in gentleness) to believers”. With a decent and genuine sense of humility, we can always say “I’m sorry” when and it is desirous to do so. Saying “I’m sorry” should not be the headache of any leader who considers his position as a privilege to serve and make sacrifices. Prophet Musa (AS) had no problem apologizing to the servant of Allah (SWT), Khidr, during their voyage on the sea. The former could not suppress his curiosity in his search for divine knowledge from the latter. Therefore, we must not only learn to apologize to people for our mistakes or failures but likewise accept to do so at the right time, in the right place, and to the right people.

In our homes, it would be an act of chauvinistic arrogance if a husband, after offending his wife deliberately or accidentally, would not be humble enough to tell her “I’m sorry”. Similarly, it would be a classic act of contempt if a wife after misbehaving to her husband would refuse to apologize to him. The party at fault should be able to apologize to the other in a non-ridiculous manner. Every child, as a matter of moral obligation, should apologize and say “I’m sorry” at any time his actions or inactions provoke the anger of his parents. Allah (SWT) commands us in Qur’an 17: 23, 24 to be kind to our parents and “…lower to them the wing of humility…” We should, by the same token, say “We are sorry” to our neighbours whenever we fail in our duties obliged by neighbourliness; without prejudice to religion or ethnicity.

In the school, teachers and lecturers should be guided by a sense of responsibility to apologize to their students each time they fail in their duties for which they were employed. We expect a teacher/lecturer to say “I’m sorry” to his students if he went late to the class. A teacher/lecturer who left some of his lessons/lectures untaught but takes full salary at the end of the month is, in effect, tantamount to those described by Allah (SWT) in Qur’an 83:1-3 as cheats. A student should apologize to his teachers when found wanting. Unfortunately, the gross home-grown indiscipline among students especially in tertiary institutions is, nowadays, restraining them from remorsefully saying “I’m sorry” when they have to do so.

Let us not reserve today’s apology for tomorrow if only to save the phrase “I’m sorry” from extinction in Nigeria. As we interact with others in the office, school, market, hospital, filling station, and even on the road; let us remember to say “I’m sorry” when it’s necessary to do so. Nigeria would have become ‘heaven’ on earth any day you hear commercial motorcyclists (otherwise called Okada riders) apologizing to law-abiding road users. May Allah (SWT) have mercy on us, amin.

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