Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"20 Minutes of Action"

It has probably been a year and a half since I wrote a blog post, but a recently published letter, penned by the father of a Stanford student convicted of rape to the judge responsible for his son's sentencing, has shaken me out of my comfortable inertia to seek the clarity and catharsis of writing.  So here goes:

In his ill-advised (and that is putting it mildly) plea for leniency for his son (who was caught and apprehended by two bystanders while raping an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster), Mr. Dan Turner argues, among other things, that a prison sentence for his son would be, "… a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life."

While the letter in it's entirety is an impressive example of entitlement, self-delusion, and lack of empathy, that reference to "20 minutes of action" has echoed in my mind for the past several days.  I almost want to ask the father what period of time engaged in atrocity is sufficient to warrant a harsh punishment?  Twenty minutes is more than enough time to make any number of awful, stupid, short-sighted or selfish decisions resulting in the death or serious injury of one's self or others.  Indeed, far more serious atrocities, such as the Sandy Hook Massacre, which took the lives of 26 people (20 of whom were children) took place in less time.

As I reflected on these words, my mind was brought back to a tough conversation I had with my father many years ago.  I don't remember exactly how old I was at the time, but it was probably somewhere between the ages of 10-14.  Like many young men, I was a moody adolescent going through puberty and subject to bouts of temper.  In this case, I must have either broken something, or had risked breaking something in a rage, and my father was dressing me down to relay some harsh truths. 

Now my Dad was renowned for his lectures, which usually lasted at least half an hour, and took place under the withering stare of his icy blue eyes.  I have forgotten almost all of what was said in this particular dressing-down (sorry Dad) but one particular comment remains fixed in my mind after all these years:  After observing that in a few short years I would be old enough to receive my Driver's license, my father asked me, in light of my recent behavior, how he could trust me to put my own life, as well as the lives of everyone else on the road, at risk by entrusting me to drive a half-ton steel vehicle, when I could neither control myself, nor adequately consider the consequences of my actions?

In short, I was not alone in the world and I could not assume that, in fulfilling my own desires or satisfying my own passions, I needed only to consider myself.  Moreover, by failing to consider the consequences of my actions, I could hurt, maim, or indeed kill people who had nothing to do with me, and should not have to pay the price for my recklessness or incompetence.  That my thoughtless acts, made with less than a second's consideration, could have repercussions for myself and others that could last a lifetime. Until I recognized these truths and lived my life in such a way that demonstrated that recognition, I was not a man, and would not receive the privileges normally associated with manhood.

I am now a father to three children that I deeply love, and I am beginning to have those difficult conversations with them in the hopes of preparing them to not only consider the effects their actions will have on others, but to take responsibility for those actions as well.  I am grateful to my father for having taught me these things and I wonder if Mr. Turner ever took the time to have similarly unpleasant conversations with his own son.  The fact that he fails to recognize even now, how his son's "20 minutes of action" could have lifelong consequences for not only his son, but also his victim (who eloquently described the traumatic effects that being raped hashad on her life) suggests to me that he has not.  More's the pity.

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