An honest encounter.
By the sustained applause, I think the day went well. Several people lined up to shake my hand and thank me for the workshop. Given that this was a Friday and people must have wanted to go home, I was touched that they'd give up a few minutes just to say something nice. I was tired and after shaking the last hand, I was putting things away.
A man hopped up onto the stage and chatted with me for a few seconds. He said that he'd enjoyed my workshop, that he'd taken courses in disability studies, and that he wished I had come to lecture in his classes because I'd opened his eyes to some issues.
I knew there was more behind the chat. He pulled the chair beside me out and sat down for a moment.
When he came in he saw me and dismissed the idea from his mind that I could be the presenter. He was then startled by the fact that indeed I was the person doing the workshop and that I had done so competently. He realized that he had stereotyped me and he realized that in doing so he has made assumption and error.
I would never have known that I had been subject to an act of prejudice. I would never have known that his mind had categorized me differently, and less, than I was. I would never have known that I was owed an apology. But I did know, because he came and courageously admitted to what he had done. He acknowledged that he needed to work on how he saw people, what he expected from them and why he so quickly categorizes people.
Many people are victims of prejudice ... and yet go about their day not knowing that someone has tossed racial slurs silently, that someone has homophobic or sexist comments whispering along neural pathways, that someone has devalued and denigrated others because of weight, of looks, of mobility ... It may be good that we do not know. It may be good that, at least, we are spared the pain of experiencing every barbed thought that occurs to others.
But, here, I was glad to know. Glad that he was moved to come and mention that he had slipped up. I don't think he wanted my forgiveness, even though he kind of asked for it, I think he was creating for himself a moment that he will remember. A moment to remind him to be careful of how he sees others. A moment from which he can grow as a person and as a professional.
Give me people who can openly admit error, who can seek out and confess to wrongdoing for which they'd never be caught, who are willing to examine themselves into a state of growth.
I'd like to meet this man in ten years.
I'm guessing he's going to be a very, very, very cool guy.