To Teach or Not to Teach

by Tabassum Saba

Many years ago a colleague helped me open my first email account. Those were the days when internet technology had just arrived to the mainstream and opening an email account was considered a great technological skill. The person made me promise that I will teach five more people to open an email account because he himself was fulfilling his own promise to the person who had taught him this skill.

If you are fortunate or content enough to achieve your career or family goals by the middle age then a question pops up:  ‘Is this all there is?’

This is perhaps the best time to pass down the knowledge and lessons of life to others, but many of us don’t find confidence in or the significance of doing this. We feel this contribution is as little as teaching someone to open an email account.

A teacher is a person who is confident, has a better control of his or her emotions, and is wiser and maturer. It’s his or her job to guide others by bringing out the best in them. The true leaders knows that they can teach by setting an example. It is also an opportunity for our own emotional growth because life is giving us another chance to straighten up our acts with wisdom and emotional regulation which comes with experience. The wise elders are empaths who can put themselves in others shoes and can have a glimpse of their struggles.

In a way, it becomes our obligation to pass on to others the knowledge and skills we have gained. Says Maya Angelou:

When you learn, teach. When you get, give.

Ashfaq Ahmed, Pakistani Sufi writer, in his masterpiece play “Mun Chaley ka Soda” describes a state in which a student is stuck in the role of a seeker and wants to stay in that role forever.  The student is scolded by his Sufi master who informs him that he cannot be a student all his life and has to step up and assume the role of a teacher. The seeker is afraid of taking this step. In a way it is much harder as it brings more responsibility and personal accountability.

The fear of becoming a teacher in our personal, professional and spiritual lives (all of which are inter-related) can be paralyzing. We may think we don’t know anything and are not good enough. Indeed, even the greatest spiritual teachers and prophets go through this feeling of inadequacy and reluctance.

The honor of assuming the role of a teacher is sometimes not even possible because in many cultures there was, and still is, a monopoly over this role which is granted based on caste, social status, or gender.

Teresa of Avila (1515- 1582) is such an example. She was allowed to be a nun but as a woman she was not allowed to study theology. She was required to take constant guidance from the theologians, all of them were men, many of them much younger than her. They would often tell her that some of her spiritual experiences and ideas were the work of the devil. She believed them until she was in her late 40’s. At age 47 she had an epiphany that she was fully capable of understanding, analyzing, and implementing her experiences and did not need validation from male theologians.

Teresa of Avila found that inner strength. This phenomenon of support and confirmation occurs when we finally discover who we really are.

Teresa let her fears go as she began the great works of the later part of her life, she proclaimed:

Not a fig do I care for all the devils in hell. It is they who will fear me!  “Oh, the devil! The devil!” we say, when instead we could say, “God! God!” and make the devil tremble. I am sure I fear those who are terrified of the devil more than I fear the devil himself. For the devil cannot harm me at all, but they, especially if they are confessors, can upset people a great deal.

After finding the confidence to have faith in herself, a different woman emerged. We now know her as Saint Teresa of Avila, the one who was a leader and a teacher of her order for her remaining years that turned out to be the most productive years of her life.

By the way I still use that email address after two decades. It is not only a collection of thousands of emails but also a journal of ups and downs of my life which reflect the life-lessons learned over the course of these years. I am thankful that someone had the courage to teach me how to open that account.



  1. Mun Chaley ka Soda (in Urdu) by Ashfaq Ahmed
  2. Fakir Rung (in Urdu) by Sarfraz Shah
  3. Dark Night of The Soul  (Explanation by a Psychiatrist) by Gerald G. May, MD
  4. Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss



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