Saturday, January 9, 2016

Think Before You Speak

I have a saying printed out and hanging on my bulletin board in my office that reads, "Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out." I was toying with the idea of a blog post related to this idea and then a couple things this week made me decide to go ahead an do it.

The most recent "prompt" I got was from my wife's blog today. She wrote a post called "My 'Silent' Battle." In this post she gives a fairly comprehensive, yet high level, history of her struggle with stuttering. Truth be told, I rarely notice it, but that certainly doesn't mean she doesn't notice it. It's nice to be reminded that she struggles with it daily...some days more than others. The problem is that since most people don't know this about her, it's not uncommon for her to receive a little "good-natured" heckling about it because the person she's talking to just thinks it's a one-time "cat's got your tongue" kind of thing rather than an ongoing struggle. I know my wife doesn't take great offense at these people who are unaware of her struggle, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt her.

This example can be applied to any number of issues that people are struggling with. Jokingly saying something like "that candy bar is going to go straight to your hips" to a friend who weighs less than 100 pounds could hurt someone's feelings. The joke was assumed to be so absurd that there wasn't any concern about offending, but in reality, the friend could have been struggling with anorexia and you don't know it. Whatever the struggle and however obvious or secret it may be, one thing can go a long way to help you keep your foot out of your mouth: Think before you speak.

This leads me to the main thing that happened this week that got me thinking about this more in depth. It's an example where I have failed miserably many times in the past...and I pretty much failed again this time too.

The local public high school was in a "soft" lock-down yesterday because a threatening note was found in the school. For those of you new to the soft lock-down (as I was), it means the classroom doors can remain open, but no students are allowed in the halls while they investigate the threat. Regardless of the level of threat, it's a pretty serious issue in our day and age.

It all started from a note about a "suicide bomb" being brought to school. Long story short, there was no real threat (or bomb). The note was "found" and turned in to school officials by the student that actually wrote the note. Here's where the "think before you speak" part comes in.

My initial line of thought was thinking back to when I was a youngster. Twenty some years ago, a note like this was called a "hoax." It was just a dumb stunt by a silly kid with a plan to get out of taking an exam that day. It usually resulted in a slap on the wrist, detention or suspension, and on rare occurrences, charges for filing a false police report.

That is not the case today. With all the school shootings and mass attacks of every shape and form, this is no hoax or joking matter. There are most certainly going to be charges filed of some sort. Current laws may even take it as far as it being some form of "terroristic threat." This is probably why my initial thought was, "What a dumb kid. They should throw the book at him. You just can't do that these days." And, that's where I may have failed.

Yes, this could have been a credible threat (we've seen enough high school students killing their classmates), but it also could have been a cry for help. (Before you get the idea that I've gone soft on criminals, keep reading.)

It started with a threatening note about a "suicide" bomb written by a high school student. Now pause. Before you think about dumb move, what was he thinking, throw the book at him, etc., think about another topic you hear about all the time: Bullying and teen suicides.

In this case, there was no bomb. They have yet to release all that many details, so it's hard to say if there was ever any real intent to harm anyone. That hasn't stopped everyone from throwing their two cents worth in though. (I'm doing that right now too...) I have been told that the comment section on the city's public safety Facebook page shows a strong inclination towards throwing the book at the kid and generally trash talking him. (I haven't seen it myself since I dropped my Facebook account as I talked about in my last post.)

What if the kid is struggling with depression? Maybe looking for attention? Possibly a last ditch effort at a cry for help because he's contemplating suicide? If that's the case, how are the demoralizing comments going to help? If they push him over the edge and he (God forbid) commits suicide after all the cyber-bullying on Facebook, do we hold those people accountable for his death? I'll be honest....I certainly don't have the answer. I know that it's not doing anyone any good to post a series of negative comments.

On the flip side, I also don't believe in making excuses for the knowingly wrong and illegal acts of someone based on flimsy excuses (without proof) about how they were "mentally unstable" or the classic "temporary insanity" plea. If there's real intent, prosecute. If there's an underlying and curable issue behind it, prosecute with those circumstances in mind. No matter what the outcome ends up being, think before you speak about it now....without any real knowledge of the facts.

That's just an example that is fresh in my mind from this week...and close to home. I have no idea what all the facts are and I make no judgement either way on the individual involved. That's what the legal process is for. Sometimes the issues that touch closer to home just serve as a reminder to think about our own actions (including what we say) before we act. Until next time....