The following is a passage written by Whoopi Goldberg for Denzel Washington's book on mentoring, A Hand To Guide Me.
In grammar school there was a boy in my class named Robert. He wasn't particularly popular and I wasn't particularly popular either, and we were friends. We were 8 or 9 years old and we were not in the crew. We were our own little world.
One day we went on an outing with the rest of our school. On that day somehow I was running with the popular folks. You know how that is. Every now and then, there are satellite groups hovering around the popular folks, and on that day I was one of the satellites. I was in the crew. Robert was not. And I didn't treat Robert very well. At all. It wasn't overt. We weren't hitting him or making fun of him. He just didn't exist. It's like I left him behind.
I remember getting home and my mother was kind of cool to me. I asked her about it because she seemed kind of distant. I said, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said. "How was the day? Tell me about the trip."
"Oh, the trip was great," I said. "We had a great time."
She said, "Do you think everybody had a great time?" in a leading kind of way, like she knew something. She always knew when something was up.
I kind of shrugged and said, "Oh yeah, it was just so great."
"What about Robert?" she said. "Did he have a great time?"
I kind of shrugged again, I guess because I realized where she was going with all this and because I had left my friend behind.
And she said, "Well, you were one of the popular people today, huh? Everyone was your friend?"
"Yes," I said.
"But they're not like that every day, are they?" she said.
"No," I said.
"And do you remember how you feel when they're not like that?"
"Like you made Robert feel today?"
It was like being kicked in the stomach. It never occurred to me that I had done to my friend what these folks had always done to me. That on this day at least I was part of that group of kids who could on occasion make me cry, just by the way they treated me. It really messed me up. I went to school the next day and talked to Robert. I made sure he knew that I knew I'd messed up. I apologized, but it was a kid apology.
A kid apology is different from an adult apology. A kid apology is, "Yo, let's go over here and get some pretzels." An adult apology would be, "Oh, I realize the ramifications of our relationship have changed ..." and blah, blah, blah. But he was cool about it and that was the end of it. I guess it might have taken him a while to trust me, but for the most part that was the end of it.
Over the years it's stayed with me, what I put Robert through. From that day forward I've been really, really careful about all my friendships and really, really conscious of other people's feelings. If I mess up I try to cop to it. I'm a human being, so I make lots of mistakes. But if I've unknowingly been neglectful or cruel or hurtful to someone, I try to rectify it as soon as I'm aware of it.
...[When I was a guest on The View] we were talking about fame and how kids these days seem to want to be famous. I began to talk about the fact that you don't have to have talent anymore to become famous. People can eat a bug on some reality show and become famous. I didn't realize that the young lady on the show had come from one of those reality shows. That was her claim to fame. And it wrecked me once I realized how I must have made her feel. So I apologized and I apologized, and the next day I sent over some chocolate, because that's what you do when you mess up and call someone out in front of millions of people: You send over some chocolate. We're human, right? We say things and we don't really realize what we're saying, but we've all got to do a better job. We've got to carry it, you know. That's what I learned from my mom.
January is National Mentoring Month. Why the need for a National Mentoring Month? Most successful people say they had mentors along the way who guided and encouraged them. The Harvard Mentoring Project has been conducting videotaped interviews and collecting written essays in which prominent people from various fields talk about their mentors. Maya Angelou cites a grade school teacher who sparked her love of poetry, Quincy Jones points to the powerful influence of musician Ray Charles, and Sting credits a teacher whose energy inspired a lifelong passion for learning. Other participants include President Bill Clinton, Clint Eastwood, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Tom Brokaw. Watch or read the stories about mentors in their lives, or read a list of famous mentor-mentee pairs. So, who mentored you? Think about individuals in your own life who offered you encouragement, shared their experiences and knowledge, and sometimes just listened when you needed to talk. Do they know what a lasting difference they made? Find out how you can thank them. --The Harvard Mentoring Project
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