Several years ago, while attending a communications course, I experienced a most unusual process. The instructor asked us to list anything in our past that we felt ashamed of, guilty about, regretted, or incomplete about. The next week he invited participants to read their lists aloud. This seemed like a very private process, but there\’s always some brave soul in the crowd who will volunteer. As people read their lists, mine grew longer. After three weeks, I had 101 items on my list. The instructor then suggested that we find ways to make amends, apologize to people, or take some action to right any wrongdoing. I was seriously wondering how this could ever improve my communications, having visions of alienating just about everyone from my life.
The next week, the man next to me raised his hand and volunteered this story:
"While making my list, I remembered an incident from high school. I grew up in a small town in Iowa. There was a sheriff in town that none of us kids liked. One night, my two buddies and I decided to play a trick on Sheriff Brown. After drinking a few beers, we found a can of red paint, climbed the tall water tank in the middle of town, and wrote, on the tank, in bright red letters: Sheriff Brown is an s.o.b. The next day, the town arose to see our glorious sign. Within two hours, Sheriff Brown had my two pals and me in his office. My friends confessed and I lied, denying the truth. No one ever found out.
"Nearly 20 years later, Sheriff Brown\’s name appears on my list. I didn\’t even know if he was still alive. Last weekend, I dialed information in my hometown back in Iowa. Sure enough, there was a Roger Brown still listed. I dialed his number. After a few rings, I heard: `Hello?\’ I said: `Sheriff Brown?’ Pause. `Yup.’ `Well, this is Jimmy Calkins. And I want you to know that I did it.’ Pause. `I knew it!’ he yelled back. We had a good laugh and a lively discussion. His closing words were: `Jimmy, I always felt badly for you because your buddies got it off their chest, and I knew you were carrying it around all these years. I want to thank you for calling me…for your sake.’"
Jimmy inspired me to clear up all 101 items on my list. It took me almost two years, but became the springboard and true inspiration for my career as a conflict mediator. No matter how difficult the conflict, crisis or situation, I always remember that it\’s never too late to clear up the past and begin resolution.