The power of our words and the power of our forgiveness

People outside of administration, and outside of the teaching profession in general, often ask what my motivation was for going into my role, and how could I love a job that entails all the “running around”, paperwork, dealing with parents, etc.  If only they could have been a fly on the wall in my school today, the reason would be crystal clear.

Some of our grade 7 boys participated in a restorative session today to discuss the impact their words have had on others, words that were racially derogatory and just plain ugly.  Our school social worker facilitated, and the homeroom teacher and I were part of the circle.  I also invited a colleague of mine to join and share his experiences and perspectives growing up and living with racial slurs being used against him.

I was incredibly nervous at first.  The magnitude of what I was asking of the boys, the other adults and myself hit hard for me just as we began.  Anxieties ran through my head: What if no one talks?  And if they do talk, what are people going to say?  Does my staff think I’m crazy?  Or some “bleeding heart”?  What if, what if, what if…

It was an amazing morning.  The boys were respectful, compassionate, open and honest.  They spoke about feeling powerless, whether it was in the face of being victimized by the words, or hearing them and not feeling as though they could be the lone voice against what seemed an insurmountable tide of ignorance and indifference.  One boy expressed how the powerlessness of being a bystander just served to reinforce his complacency and he had been struggling with it.  Others, adults included, shared intimate and personal stories of racism, bullying and anger, that as another boy put it, “felt good to just let out”. 

We’re working towards forgiveness.   At this stage, it seemed that the cathartic process of “letting it out” was enough to satisfy them.  We’ll meet again to see if there’s a way to forgive one another for the hurt.  I think we’ve begun moving in the right direction.

At that, my friends, is why I love my job.

4 thoughts on “The power of our words and the power of our forgiveness

  1. Wow.
    I had a similar experience this week. One boy made a cruel comment about another boy’s stuttering, and as we explored the hurt being felt, several other kids started crying as they tried to talk about being hurt by words in the past. It was a powerful experience, especially as kids apologized and forgave each other with genuine caring. Like you, I witnessed honesty, compassion and respect.
    I love my job, too.

  2. Hi Dale,
    One of the most moving moments happened when the boys were asked about a time they felt powerless. They all referred to times their friends were teased – one about a mole on his face, another for his stuttering as well, and on and on. And then there was the moment I realized that they actually do listen when I talk: The boy at the receiving end of the n-word was asked oif he was ready to hear an apology from another and he replied quite honestly: “No, not yet. Mrs. Paynter and I have talked about how saying sorry is just the beginning because they’re just words right now and don’t take on meaning until followed through with action. I’m going to have to see it first.” Awesome kids.

  3. Erin,
    Yes, one of the girls was crying about a mean comment regarding her deep voice (made by the boy who stutters and his friend) and she was not willing to accept an apology right then. The boys were devastated, but understood her pain. It was indeed an emotional moment.
    I’m so grateful for the opportunity to witness these moments.

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