When I was 17 years old, I worked in a grocery store. One day a co-worker and I were pushing a giant skid full of milk cartons through the store. The skid was piled high with milk crates and was much taller than we were. We were using a skid mover, which was being steered by yet another coworker; driver in the front, two “engines“ in the back.
Those of us pushing from the back thought it would be fun to see how fast we could push this towering skid full of milk through the store, knowing full well that it was dangerous. We didn’t tell the kid upfront, who was steering. He was a total rule follower and a very conscientious worker, so we had to make him participate without his permission. The skid had reached an impressive rate of speed when the involuntary driver began to protest, telling us to slow down. We didn’t.
When we approached the curvy part of the aisle at full speed, the driver swerved quickly, causing the entire thing to topple, narrowly missing a customer. The crash and splatter of the falling plastic milk jugs sounded like giant claps of thunder. I don’t know how much milk was spilled, but I can tell you it was a lot!
The store manager was furious and blamed the whole thing on sloppy driving by the conscientious rule follower. But the accident would never have happened if the other engine worker and I hadn’t been pushing at a purely “punk-ish” high speed. My push partner and I didn’t really like the conscientious kid, but we did feel a little bad about the loud, angry, scolding he was getting from the manager. We thought the kid might even get fired.
He didn’t, but it wasn’t because of me or the other pusher. We both stood by and said nothing, as the driver kid was put on some sort of employee probation, and sternly warned not to screw up again.
The three of us never spoke to each other about the milk incident, although we had attained instant break room fame (or infamy, depending on your point of view). The conscientious kid was ashamed. My push-partner and I should have been ashamed.
We were silent instead.
When I was about 10 years old, we often hung out at our elementary school and played on the playground and in the sports fields. We’d come home from school, change clothes, and go right back down there with the same friends we’d just spent all day with.
There was a convenience store near the school. Outside the store, by the street, was a fiberglass sign that lit up at night. It was red and white, with the Pensupreme name and logo displayed. The sign was a little worn and even had a few small holes in it.
One day, after my friends and I were done playing, I decided to take a solo trip to the convenience store. But on the way, I stopped right under that fiberglass sign and sat down. I remember staring up at it, marveling at all that must have been involved in creating it; the cool design, the lighted parts, the pole. Then I noticed the holes. I wondered how destructible the sign was, so I grabbed a handful of small stones from the ground and started throwing them.
The sound that came from the stone cracking through the worn sign was very satisfying. The whole it left was even better. I kept throwing. Even though I was right on the sidewalk by the street, nobody noticed what I was doing. About seven stones in, it suddenly occurred to me that what I was doing was wrong. I was intentionally damaging property that wasn’t mine. I was a vandal! I went straight home and felt horrible for the next few days.
I was never held accountable or judged for my actions in either of these stories, but I would hate to be judged now for my actions back then. It was more than 30 years ago. The damage, in the scheme of things, was minimal. I am a different person now than I was then. In fact, the me that existed back then has been totally replaced.
I don’t raise this point to say that criminals should be exempt from their past crimes. Instead, the point is that people can grow and change over time, and we should resist the temptation to judge them now based on what we knew of them then.
That jerk from 10 years ago might have turned into a truly wonderful person by now. People deserve a second chances. We should do our part to make sure they get them.
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