Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My mother taught me a lot of lessons throughout my life, but one that has always stood out for me as the key to how I should strive to live my life is this: Be the better person.

When Mom was in high school, she earned some academic honor that her best friend did not. The bf, so upset that she did not earn the honor, did not congratulate Mom. BF simply never mentioned it. Naturally, Mom's feelings were hurt.

About two years later, when the two were both at the same university, both were again vying for an academic honor. This time, BF earned the honor while Mom fell short. Mom, like BF before, was upset that she had not succeeded herself. In her frustration at not making the grade, her first instinct was to think, "BF didn't congratulate me two years ago, so I'm not going to congratulate her now." But then her second instinct kicked in. She remembered how hurt she had been by her best friend's behavior before. Though the two were not as close as they had been in high school, Mom realized that she did not want to treat her friend the way she had been treated. She decided she would be the better person and so went to the ceremony where BF's honor was awarded.

Ever since my mother told me this story, I have tried to be the better person. I often fall far short. I can often be petty, small, and mean-spirited. But if I give in to those first instincts of lashing out in my own negative feelings, I generally try to make some kind of amends when that second instinct kicks in. Whatever I do in life, I try always to ask myself if I'm acting the best way I can. On a daily basis, the issue isn't that I am better than those around me. It means that I am being the best version of myself that I can be. When I am in the type of position my mom was, where someone else has done something hurtful to me, I still try not to respond in kind. Not so I can feel morally superior to the other person, but because even if that person has hurt me in some way, I still don't want to hurt him or her.

I think this is what most bothers me about the way people in the general public often talk about criminal defendants. People always say that defendant should have whatever he did done back to him. They write ugly comments on message boards, explaining in nasty detail all of the heinous things they would do to the child rapist or murderer. They say, "He didn't respect his victim's life, so why should we respect his?" Why should we treat him better than he treated his victim?

To all of them, I say, we should treat him better than he treated his victim because we should be the better people. We as a society don't like the way that individual treated his victim. It was wrong, often brutal, sometimes heinous. We don't want to tolerate that behavior because we don't want people in our society to be treated that way. So let's show those who violate our code just how much we respect life and just how much we don't want to tolerate that kind of treatment by treating the defendant better than he treated his victim.

We generally don't want to be rapists or murders, so why allow ourselves to be brought down to that level? Instead of responding in kind to the bad guys, let's be the better people. Don't respond to the bad guy the way he treated his victim. Don't give in to the baser instinct of inflicting pain for pain. Respond to the bad guy the way you would hope to be treated. Be the better person.

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