University students are known to demand the integrity of others, be it that of their government, university, or their own student bodies. One question: can students themselves show integrity? Most especially in moments when honesty will give very realistic detriments, while at the same time dishonesty will not be caught. Can they?
The answer is: YES. Check out the story of one of my best students.
This story dates back to 2015, after the International Law mid semester exams. I started correcting the exam papers right away. There were two parallel classes, with a grand total of 80 students. Maybe students will never understand how difficult it is to correct exam papers, until they become teachers themselves. Not just the physical burden to examine every single answers (especially when some handwritings can be very similar to hieroglyph). Yet there is a mental strain also that can be high.
It breaks my heart when I have to give bad scores. From a maximum of 100 points, sometimes I gave as low as 9, 5, 2, and even a zero. Call me cruel, but I do my best not to give any more or less than what a student deserves. My heart lifts when there are some who get very high scores, including the one who got 96 on that exam. I cant resist a smile when I wrote the numbers down.
Yet this story is not about that student who got 96. Without any disregard for that 96 score student, this story is about a student who makes me more proud. More than anything.
When I have finished marking, I usually publish the grades on my blog together with the answers of the questions (because it takes quite some time before the office announces the grades). Before long, some students asked to meet me to discuss the results and ask why they get such grades. This story is about a visit I had from three students at the same time, let us call them X, Y, and Z.
X was very passionately arguing with me because he believed he deserved more. Y was walking in and out of my office like a complete potato. Z, who is the center of this story, was silently reading her exam papers and the marks I gave her. She was also browsing through the list of grades of both classes which so happened to be on my desk also at the time.
Suddenly Z interrupted me, and she said something so amazing. She said, “Sir, based on our exam papers, I got a D, W got C. But in the grade list I got C and W got D. I think you mixed up our grades.” I was stunned. Only partly because of my own carelessness, but mostly because of her honesty. She knows full well that her honesty will get her grades reduced from C to D.
“You are stupid,” X and Y said to Z. “You should not have told! W was content with a D grade!” but Z did not seem to hesitate. It was true that W was content, since the grades were out for some time at this point and I have met W a number of times and she said nothing and was not among those who wanted to discuss her grades.
What Z did was extraordinary. It may seem small, but to me it means a lot. The reaction of X and Y may represent what a majority would do in such a situation. I was once a student myself. I know how far students would go to get their grades. I have seen how idealism fades, and slowly (or abruptly) replaced by pragmatism. They say ‘in the real world, honest people get nothing’, or ‘everyone does it anyway’, or even ‘even the haram jobs are hard, the halal ones are worse’, etc, to justify their dishonesty.
This crisis of honesty seems to be highly reflected in my field: Law. In Indonesia there is a very high level of distrust towards the integrity of the judicial system. Corruption is rampant, even in the judiciary. There, honesty is a virtue which is believed to be almost inexistent. Yet it is in the darkest of night when the slightest candle means the most.
Rasulullah (ﷺ) said:
عَلَيْكُمْ بِالصِّدْقِ فَإِنَّ الصِّدْقَ يَهْدِي إِلَى الْبِرِّ وَإِنَّ الْبِرَّ يَهْدِي إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَمَا يَزَالُ الرَّجُلُ يَصْدُقُ وَيَتَحَرَّى الصِّدْقَ حَتَّى يُكْتَبَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ صِدِّيقًا وَإِيَّاكُمْ وَالْكَذِبَ فَإِنَّ الْكَذِبَ يَهْدِي إِلَى الْفُجُورِ وَإِنَّ الْفُجُورَ يَهْدِي إِلَى النَّارِ وَمَا يَزَالُ الرَّجُلُ يَكْذِبُ وَيَتَحَرَّى الْكَذِبَ حَتَّى يُكْتَبَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ كَذَّابًا
“It is obligatory for you to tell the truth, for truth leads to virtue and virtue leads to Paradise, and the man who continues to speak the truth and endeavours to tell the truth is eventually recorded as truthful with Allah, and beware of telling of a lie for telling of a lie leads to obscenity and obscenity leads to Hell-Fire, and the person who keeps telling lies and endeavours to tell a lie is recorded as a liar with Allah.” (Sahih Muslim)
Back to the story, I told X and Y that what they did is unacceptable. Not only that they prefer dishonesty over honesty (which is bad in itself), but also actively discourage those who want to be honest. I told them that I was *THIS* close to reducing their grades because of this. It is hard enough to find someone who is even willing to be honest under such circumstances, we don’t need other people discouraging it!
To Z, I told her a few things. I revised W’s score and gave back her deserved C. For Z, I said that she can keep her C. We are first to punish acts of dishonesty, but what do we do to extraordinary displays of honesty like this? Just give a pat on the back? She would normally deserve the C, but I believe that this is no normal situation.
I told her also that it is very likely that other lecturers will not appreciate her actions the way I do. Honesty may bring some hardship. Yet, I told her, I pray that it does not deter her from maintaining her exceptional character.
Since then, I have shared her story to so many people. I hope that people can be inspired and take example of this story. It may not be easy, it may require a great change in us to do, but I believe that it is imperative to do so.
I hope this story inspires you too.