For some time, I have been teaching, coaching, and mediating to help people with conflict resolution. It is easily my favorite service that I offer professionally. I envision a world where different religions, skin tones, and political opponents treat one another with the love and respect that all humans deserve, and I do everything I within my ability to facilitate that.
Recently, I was a guest speaker on this point in a class at Hendrix College, here in Conway, Arkansas. As usual, I addressed the common ways that people respond to conflict, including offense, in that people choose between unhealthy forms of fight or flight, or more healthy approaches such as discussion and apology/forgiveness. In my humble opinion, the most common form of “fight” these days is social media, and the most prevalent form of “flight” is the classic “hiding under the covers.” After discussing all this with the class in one session, I came back for a second round to discuss the healthy ways to deal with conflict or offense. We talked about things, thoughts, political positions, and words and phrases that cause conflict, and then we worked through what a sincere confession (or apology) and real forgiveness look like.
Here’s the problem: I went too far in my efforts to draw out what was offensive, and became offensive in doing so. So I became the offender in my efforts to teach the subject. By the end of the class, I could tell that I screwed up, by the countenances and body language of the students.
I felt more and more awful about this as the next days wore on, and became convicted that I should go back to the class and apologize for my reckless insensitivity. This very morning, as I was driving to my office, I decided to contact the class leader and set up another visit to offer my sincerest apologies, but before I could do that I received a call from Hendrix asking me to come in to talk to an administrator about the incident.
Now let me get something straight. I don’t place a lot of value on “political correctness,” but I certainly do value human respect and sensitivity to others, even though I obviously sometimes don’t show it as well as I would like. The line between the two is a pretty fine one.
So now, out of humility and love for my fellow humans, I will take a lesson from my own teachings:
The racial words and phrases I used and wrote on the board last Monday were offensive, regardless of my intent. I will not repeat them here so as to not further offend. The “N word,” is a word that brings up images and memories of violence, hatred, bigotry, and lynching. I am aware of this because I have studied it in African American History, discussed it with people at the Underground Railroad House in Memphis, and again with a wonderful lady who actually witnessed the riots in Selma as a child. As a middle age white guy, I admit that I forget all this sometimes.
When a guy like me gets sloppy like that, it stirs up the reasonable fear and suspicion and anxiety packed into modern students by centuries of hatred and prejudice. I would have never done this intentionally, but I did it unintentionally.
For this reason, I have been asked not to return to Hendrix to avoid re-igniting these flames. I accept this, because nothing in me wants to cause pain to innocent people.
I have learned to be more general in my talks about offense and conflict, so as not to open up wounds unless specifically invited to do so. I will alter my behavior accordingly.
Finally, I humbly request forgiveness from the students in the class and the student body of Hendrix.
Thank you for teaching me more about what I teach.