by David Sisler

The counsel is centuries old. You have probably said it countless times, and never knew that it was first published in 1546. John Heywood's Proverbs is the earliest collection of English colloquial sayings, which means that people were saying it long before that. The advice: "Look before you leap."

It is advice two Lakeside (Augusta, GA) Middle School students should have heeded. One put instant-bonding glue in a teacher's coffee mug, the other placed it on her glasses. The boys, ages 13 and 14, were arrested and spent a weekend in the Regional Detention Center before being released on $5000 bond each.

The father of one of the boys said three nights in the detention center was too harsh a punishment. "This is outrageous," he said.

When the Columbia County school discipline tribunal upheld a long term suspension for one boy, but lessened the punishment of the other, 71 Lakeside Middle School teachers and staffers might have uttered their own cries of outrageous behavior. In an unprecedented move, they appealed the reduced sentence, stating that the diminished punishment "sets a dangerous precedent in regard to safety of students and teachers."

I have been married to a school teacher for almost 28 years -- a teacher who was injured twice, and hospitalized once, while performing her assigned duties, so I disqualify myself from making any judgement concerning the actions of the two students or the tribunal.

Guilt or innocence is not the issue I wish to raise, nor is it proper or improper punishment. Personal responsibility, responsibility for one's actions is the issue.

When the two boys undertook their prank, I doubt that they considered for one minute the possibility of spending the weekend locked up, being expelled from school and facing criminal proceedings.

I did not consider the results of my own actions more than 35 years ago (I was 14) when I held a razor blade knife over Linda Ritchey's hand in a high school art class and then said, "Linda, look!" She looked down, saw the knife, jerked her hand away, and sliced the top of her hand. Because she did not require stitches, I was not expelled. The results could have been much worse -- for either of us.

An impulsive act. Unforseen consequences. And a frequently uttered lament, "If I had only realized. If only I had thought."

For most of his life, church was not a consideration. Religion was something others should practice. Then one day he fell in love, with a church-going woman. One thing led to another and eventually those things led to the altar. He soon started attending church and made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.

Several years later he said, "I'm getting a divorce. My wife is committing adultery."

Her partner was her pastor.

The man said, "I am trying to keep this quiet. I still love her very much."

Maybe the adultery began with a counseling session -- a hurt parishioner who needed extra attention. Maybe it was a deliberate flirtation. But at this point the "why" is of little consequence. One family has been destroyed. A second undoubtedly will be. Add to that the destruction which a church faces.

A veteran of World War I was asked, "How did you lose your leg?"

"I never could resist a band," he said. "The band came marching through our town, and I just fell in with them. I found out they were volunteering, so I volunteered. My leg is somewhere in France."

At a celebration honoring the birthday of Josef Stalin, the mayor of a small Russian town leaped without looking. "Let's stand and give honor to our Leader," he said and started the applause. Five minutes later, the ovation was still going strong. Everyone was afraid to stop. Six minutes, then ten, eleven, twelve, and people were still clapping. One old man fainted. Finally, to the relief of the audience, the mayor stopped clapping and sat down.

A few days later, he was arrested on charges of unspecified treason. When he was loaded onto the prison train one of his guards whispered, "Never be the first one to stop applauding."

Do we really take the time to consider the consequences of our actions? Jesus said that no real estate developer starts a project without first counting the cost, attempting to anticipate the full line of credit needed to finish the job. No king, Jesus said, goes to war without first understanding the strength of his own army in comparison to the overwhelming odds he may face.

Like a pebble thrown into a calm lake, the ripples of our actions spread outward, affecting the water far beyond the point where the projectile entered. The voices which say, "It isn't fair," or "This is outrageous punishment," would never need to speak, if we each took personal responsibility for our actions. Look before you leap. Count the cost of your actions. If the price is too great, do not place the order.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 2/24/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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