Recently, a 14-year old girl made headline news in northern San Diego County when she claimed she was abducted in broad daylight by three men, shoved into their car, raped, and then returned to the very area where she was abducted. She returned home to her parents, told them the story, and they called the police. She gave a detailed description of the men and the manhunt was on. This incident happened within 3 miles where I live, at the high school where I drop my 17-year old niece off every day. My sister, like nearly every other parent in the area, was extremely upset and of course, she cautioned her daughter on how to avoid something like this happening to her. What happened next stunned everyone; the police, the community, the media, everyone. Within 24 hours, the girl recanted her story, saying the whole incident was a hoax. The truth was she had met a man online and on the day when she was supposedly abducted by the three phantom rapists; she skipped school to meet the man she met online, so they could engage in consensual sex.
What happened THEN is what brings out my passion about this topic. Everyone it seemed, including local law enforcement, families, students, and even the captain of the local police department cried FOUL! This girl should PAY for this lie! How could she have cost us so much time and money on our law enforcement agency to search for three men who never even EXISTED?! How could she have caused so much concern to other parents and students for her childish and self-serving behavior?! The following article that appeared in the local newspaper illustrates my point:
You will see that not ONCE was any thought or consideration given to this girl's emotional state. To hell with WHY she did it or WHAT fallout would befall her for this story, the only thing people could think of was someone should PAY, in this case, this young teenager.
Now, before I elaborate, allow me to state that there is no doubt what she did is wrong. Period. But, the real question is, HOW can we help her? Think about it. Our society has become so accustomed that when a human being wrongs another, even when it involved a hoax such as this, then there should be JUDGMENT. Someone needs to pay, spend time in jail, and make restitution for the greater good of society. Why is that? Why have we become a people who favor JUDGMENT over COMPASSION?
I don't have easy answers to those questions and truthfully, that's not really the point of this topic. The reason I bring this particular incident into focus is because of my own personal experience with the fallout of my actions when it comes to transgressions against society. While I'm hesitant to bring my experience into this discussion since it would appear to the reader as self-serving or seeking sympathy, it serves as a means to drive home my point.
In the fall of 2008, after I left Elkhart for Liberal, KS., where I was required to seek further treatment and rehabilitation, I began searching for a new career. One that immediately came to mind was teaching. At that time, both my-self and my children were interested in reuniting in Tribune where they were born and where I had lived for many years. The thought occurred to me; why not teach math or something? After all, I was good with numbers and it would be a way to make my amends, as it were, to not only my children by being with them again, but also to some of the people whom I had harmed with my actions. What I discovered in researching the Kansas statutes and the law gave me pause. In spite of the fact that my "crime" was of a non-personal nature, that being driving under the influence, and because I was a 3-time offender, Kansas law prohibited me from obtaining even a substitute teaching position for something as insignificant as 5th grade math for FIVE years. Keep in mind this teaching position would have been in the town where I was born and raised, in a school with a total enrollment in grades K-12 of less than 250, and the smallest populated county in the state. In other words, everyone knew me! However, the way the law is written, I was treated no differently than someone who had committed a personal crime such as rape, murder, incest, aggravated assault, etc. I was stunned at what appeared to me to be an injustice. Whatever happened to COMMON SENSE I thought? I mean seriously, how could anyone with an ounce of common sense think I would have been a danger to teaching 5th graders math?
I could go on and on with that experience, as well as others I've had over the past 2 ½ years, with respect to my past actions and what limits society has imposed upon me because of those actions, but I'd like to take you back to that 14-year old girl. If you've read this far and read the article in the link above, perhaps you're getting my point. As I told my niece, "Don't you think this girl is already suffering enough emotionally and is in obvious need of counseling?" "Isn't facing her classmates such as your-self and explaining her actions punishment enough?" She didn't answer. Why? Probably because she has been exposed to the same thought process the vast share of society has; "Someone should PAY, there should be JUDGMENT, get the attorneys involved, take them to court, lock them up and throw away the key, get them off the road and out of our sight, they're a menace to society." Granted, I might be embellishing a bit with that latter part of that last sentence but perhaps I've made my point.
We as a people have lost focus on what's important. NO ONE's perfect and people will make mistakes like this girl did and like I did. But, what we need to ask ourselves is when do we have the right to judge and when do we have the obligation to show compassion for our fellow man? Certainly, there is a place for judgment. No one thinks someone who commits rape, murder, or incest should be shown much compassion. Still, those who do commit those crimes were once as innocent as you and I. We all came into this world that way. As innocent human beings, right? Where it gets tough is deciding on when we should seek pure judgment and being compassionate. There's a fine line between the two and it's definitely a delicate balance. Even the most-seasoned counselor will tell you it is very difficult to predict human behavior with any accuracy.
So, it comes down to a choice. Should we JUDGE another harshly or do we show COMPASSION first and give them the benefit of the doubt? Every case is different. My thought is this. If we always look for the GOOD in people, rather than always assuming the BAD, by doing so, we automatically instill that positive thought pattern in our behaviors with one another. People will then act accordingly and choose wisely with respect to their own actions. In turn, they will tend to overlook the bad, knowing that they themselves have their own faults. For these reasons, as well as the fact that this teenager girl's actions is a cry for help, I would definitely lean toward COMPASSION, and I pray she receives adequate counseling and a resolution to her emotional needs. In fact, I nearly always look for the good in others though, I must admit, I still tend to judge from time to time. After all, I'm human. Which would you rather be known as? Someone who is compassionate or someone who is judgmental? Easy answer, huh? But easier said than done as well. That paradox will exist as long as mankind exists. The trick is being introspective and critical of ourselves to recognize when we've crossed that line. As the bible says, "judge not, lest ye be judged."