Here & there: Snowballs and bad apples

Apples in a pile, undated | Photo by OLEKSANDR PEREPELYTSIA/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — Fourteen and a half years into parenting and I finally got “the message”. What message? The message that one of my boys had been sent to the principal’s office.

This particular message came in at 1 p.m. via the app his teacher uses to communicate the weekly newsletter and book report due dates. “Hi. Please talk with [your son] tonight about throwing snowballs during lunch recess today, which led him to the principal’s office. Thanks.”

While driving home from a meeting across town two hours later, I phoned the principal to get his take on the incident.

Yes, my boy had been caught throwing snowballs from the school field onto the road that flanks it. Yes, he’d spent some time in the principal’s office. And yes, he’d been assigned a two-hundred-word essay on “Why Snowballing can be Dangerous.”

But the principal said he believed my son – and the four other boys – understood their mistake and wouldn’t do it again.

I was ready to let the incident rest there and told my boy as much when we both arrived home after school.

My husband once lit a hillside on fire as a youth and his dad, instead of doling out the punishment my husband surely deserved, took him to 7-Eleven for a Marathon candy bar.

It felt like Disneyland to that soot-covered boy.

That act of mercy has stayed with my husband to this day. Nearly 40 years later. More than any punishment likely would have.

I thought this could be one of those transcendent moments for my son, too.

But then he started complaining. It was casual enough. He mentioned how he didn’t like the paraprofessional who had caught him in the act. A few minutes later, he lamented about the handful of other kids who had been throwing snowballs, too, but got away.

“Did you throw the snowballs,” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied.

“That’s the only fact that matters, then,” I said.

I went on to explain that if he continued to complain about who else did what, it meant I couldn’t let this be the end of it. He’d need consequences at home to help him fully accept responsibility.

You can only learn from your mistakes if you own them. It can’t be someone else’s fault.

Stephen Dimmock and William Gerken recently reported their findings on the contagiousness of employee fraud in the Harvard Business Review. Like the old saying goes, they found that one bad apple, or employee in this case, will ruin the bunch.

“. . . bad behaviors of one employee spill over into the behaviors of other employees through peer effects,” the authors note. “And while it would be nice to think that the honest employees would prompt the dishonest employees to better choices, that’s rarely the case.”

If their findings can be extrapolated to other walks of life, that is pretty bleak indictment of the entire human experience.

There are bad apples in every single group.  It would only be a matter of time before we all turn.

But not everyone who’s exposed to bad apples becomes an embezzler, crook or thief.  That’s not what my life experience bears out anyway.

My life experience says the bad doesn’t have to win out.

And my life experience says the good can be contagious – perhaps even more so – if we let it.

Parkland high school students inspired thousands of kids across the country this week to honor the 17 who died at the hands of a gunman at their school.

An 18-year-old restaurant server in La Marque, Texas helped her elderly and ill customer cut his ham. People noticed her quiet act and the town awarded her a $16,000 scholarship for college as a thank you.

40 years ago, my father-in-law treated my husband to a 7-Eleven candy bar instead of a heavy punishment; my husband thinks about that every day as he tries to parent our boys with love and compassion.

Mother Teresa, the resident expert on goodness, told the world: “Spread love wherever you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

Now that’s the kind of apple I want to be.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: katdayton@gmail.com | news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • dogmatic March 18, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Retributive justice is a theory of justice that holds that the best response to a crime is a punishment proportional to the offense, inflicted, in this case the punishment has been well served by having to sit through a snow flake lecture about the dangers of throwing snow balls by a snow flake principal.

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