A couple of weeks ago, while teaching a class for Cypress, I made a mistake. We were just starting the class on Zoom, doing a silly icebreaker about our favorite office supplies – when I casually used a word that I didn’t realize held deep cultural significance, history, and pain for an individual in the class. During the lunch break I received an email from the participant, expressing their hurt and anger. When I first read it, my heart dropped straight into the pit of my stomach. I was angry and disappointed in myself. I should have known better. I felt so ashamed. And for a moment, I questioned whether I could even go back and teach the rest of the class.
But my Granny Kiyo taught me what to do in a situation like this. In my mind, I heard her voice: “If you were wrong, you have to apologize.” So I wrote back to the participant, acknowledging my mistake, conveying my sincere apology, and opening the door to further conversation. When we returned to class after the lunch break, I apologized to the group too – letting them all know that I was now aware that using that word in the context of an icebreaker was offensive and hurtful. I expressed my gratitude for the participant who so eloquently advocated for this awareness and took the time to educate me – even when it wasn’t their responsibility to do so.
I was deeply grateful that the class accepted my apology in that moment. I was glad that it became a moment of learning and healing for all of us. But even more than that, I was struck by something the participant who emailed me said when they stayed after class to chat. They said, “I do this all the time. And it’s rare that someone responds or does anything about it. I’m proud of you for saying you’ll make a change.” For me, that comment highlighted a couple of things: 1) we all mess up; and 2) we have to be willing to have hard conversations.
We will all mess up. Even those of us who work really hard to be aware of the impact of our words on others, who hold the best intentions, who truly want the folks around us to feel valued and seen and appreciated . . . we will make mistakes. We will use words that hurt people. We will fail to acknowledge someone in need. We will give the “wrong” response when someone asks us to listen. And when we do, not only should we apologize and be actively accountable for our actions and words – but we should also be willing to have hard conversations about it. We need to be willing to be uncomfortable, to listen to feedback, to gain self-awareness, and to move forward together. Without this conscious effort we won’t see progress toward a society that is safe and accepting for all.
The work that Cypress does is about people – real human beings with feelings and lived experience. Because of that, it is imperfect and messy and challenging . . . and so beautiful! It is a privilege to hear new perspectives, engage in those hard conversations, and learn from our class participants. And even when we mess up – or maybe especially when we do – we have an opportunity to become better versions of ourselves.