At The School of Courage, in Seoul, I found myself talking to one of my old school teachers.
I don’t remember his name, and he almost certainly doesn’t remember mine, because he never actually taught me. But I remember the damaging impact he had on me at a school careers evening. He told me, or seemed to tell me, that I couldn’t grow up to be an artist. (More details here.)
In the exercise devised by The School of Courage, I was able to tell him what he’d done, and how I felt about it.
Like everybody in that workshop, organised by June Yang, I started by writing a list of people who have caused us any kind of pain in the past. Then June asked us to choose just one of those people, and to draw a picture of him/her on a plain paper bag. I was pleased to be using, essentially, an artistic process to capture a likeness of this destructive and seemingly bored art teacher.
Then the young Korean woman beside me put my paper bag on her head so that I could talk to my teacher. As I spoke, my words were simultaneously translated into Korean.
Afterwards, I returned the favour by wearing my neighbour’s illustrated paper bag, and listening to her describe her own frustration and hurt feelings.
After that, having removed the bags, we wrote each other letters of apology, on behalf of the person who had caused the pain. We read them out loud, and handed them over as keepsakes.
An apology from my teacher, as imagined by my neighbour.
Now, I am fully aware that the “apology” came from a young Korean woman, and not from my actual teacher. But all I can tell you is this: it was extremely satisfying.