Sitting in Judgment

I was on a hearing panel that suspended a student yesterday.

It’s funny how everyone says, “This isn’t me.” Guess what? This is you. This isn’t all of you, but this is part of you. We are the sum of all of our actions. The kindnesses, the cruelties, the lies, the truths, the intentions, the regrets, the results. All.

I am no exception to this. I have done things I am ashamed of. I have hurt people, with intentional and unintentional cruelty. I have helped people, sometimes intentionally. Sometimes not. I have stolen, taking that which I knew was not mine. I have been scared of consequences, and chosen an action that I knew was not correct, and hoped that no ill would come of it. I have had moments of grace. I have had moments of failure. And all these things are the sum of me.

What I have learned is to try to keep myself out of the situations where I might be tempted do wrong. I have learned to be more mindful of the impact my actions have on others. I have learned that my intent and the result I obtain are not always the same, and so I must be cautious with my intent, cautious in my action, and aware, always, of what is going on around me. I don’t often succeed to the extent I wish I would.

When we suspend a student, we confront someone who has done wrong. Several wrongs. Rare does a student get suspended on a first offense. If one is, it means the actions were both premeditated and egregious. The student stands before the council and faces their least honorable self often with words of denial, ‘This isn’t me.’ Often with apologies. Often claiming to respect the honor code they have broken.

I don’t want to hurt them more, but I do want to say, “Yes, it is you.” But this is not the sum of what you are. You can take this experience, the darkness you’ve found inside yourself, and you can accept it. Learn from it. Learn to avoid putting yourself in a position where you will make a bad decision again. Learn how to put/keep yourself in positions to make good decisions. And you are greater, and will be greater than this one thing you did. No matter how horrible this one thing was. Let it motivate you to do better in the future.

And let it open you to compassion when you are confronted with others who wrong you. Remember this darkness is in all of us, but so is the ability to learn, change and reach for light.

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