We all make mistakes. Even leaders. Especially leaders. The important thing is to realize you made a mistake, and to correct it. Hearing a leader admit he’s wrong can be inspiring and freeing for someone who is following. It can establish a human connection and a sense of trust without which deeper relationships cannot develop.

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The entire exchange took place in the mirror—we never looked directly at each other.

The conversation in the mirror went like this:

“Dad—can I have more toothpaste?”

“Are you going to brush your teeth with it, or just suck on it like last time?”

“Brush my teeth!”

“OK, sure. Here—hold out your toothbrush and I’ll squeeze some out for you.”

“Thanks, dad,” Finn smiled at me in the mirror, and then watched open-mouth as I squeezed a small amount of Crest’s “Original Paste” onto his small-fry bristles.

He didn’t brush, though, he sucked the paste, which made his small inexperienced mouth salivate.

“Dad?” he said, with his brush in his mouth like a doctor’s “Ah-stick.”

“Ya, Finn?”

“Can you see my epiglottis, dad?”

“No, Finn, I can’t. Remember, it’s not an epiglottis, is called a uvula, remember?” I said.

Finn is into Finding Nemo these days, and his favorite part is when Marlin and Dory are trapped inside the whale’s mouth—the whale is actually helping them find Nemo, but they don’t realize that at the time. Well, the whale opens his mouth real wide, and we can see the little teardrop-looking fleshy thing at the back of his throat. “What’s that?!” Finn exclaimed the first time we watched the movie. “Dad, what’s that in the back of the whale’s mouth?”

“That’s his epiglottis,” I said with certitude. I took, but failed, Human Anatomy at university (I was better at performing rhetorical analysis than memorizing the Latin names of body parts). And every time we watched Nemo from then on, Finn would announce the epiglottis at that point in the movie. We even looked in our own mouths one time to see our own epiglottises.

Wanting to know more about the little fleshy teardrop one evening, I Googled it. Then I Googled it again, and to my horror I realized it was not the epiglottis; it was the uvula!

‘How am I going to explain this?’ I wondered, as I poured myself a glass of Justin Merlot one evening after Finn had gone to bed. He’s learned epiglottis; he’s not going to like randomly unlearning that and relearning something else. How am I going to explain I got confused, and the epiglottis is a “is a flap of elastic cartilage tissue covered with a mucus membrane, attached to the root of the tongue,” and not the little thing he can see at the back of his throat?

Back in the bathroom brushing our teeth, I said, “I made a mistake, Finn.”

“What, dad?” he asked, looking directly at my reflection in the mirror.

“I made a mistake,” I repeated. “I thought the little thing in your throat was called an epiglottis, but I was wrong—it is actually called a uvula. Can you say it? Say: U-vue-la.”

“You-vew-la,” he said.

“Right, I made a mistake. It’s called a uvula. Sorry about that.”

“That’s OK, dad,” he said, “I made a mistake, too. It’s called You-vew-la. Sorry about that.”

And that was it–epiglottis was out, uvula was in.

© John Dila 2009

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