Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Zero Tolerance is for Computers

Today's blog follows up on a post I made a week or so ago about the basketball player at BYU. I was reading my recent issue of Time Magazine the other evening and ran across a well written editorial by Nancy Gibbs titled: Zero Tolerance, Zero Sense

I urge you to take a minute to read the editorial because I believe that she points out some real inequities that are appearing in our society as we become more and more unable to apply common sense to everyday situations and wind up  ruining lives, like the high school career with a promising student: "A Florida honor student faced felony charges when a dinner knife — not a steak knife or a butcher knife — was found on the floor of her car, which she had parked at school. "A weapon is a weapon is a weapon," the principal said."

It is the inability to determine both intent and discern the difference between a knife intended for killing and spreading butter which makes these types of things happen. It is the same as letting a computer make life decisions for us--without any quality of humanity or mercy. It is easier that way, but it ignores what makes us humans and not machines.

And at the heart of it all is the battle cry of: Zero Tolerance.

Really?

Yes.  And the cost?  Destroyed lives. The Time article also highlights a 15-year old young man who made a big mistake, admitted it, and then as a result of the consequences of his actions and the lack of mercy shown by the system became so despondent that he killed himself. And who lost? We did because we are deprived from knowing this really special young man.

As a parent, I am appalled. As a grandparent, I am afraid for my grandchildren. As I man, I know this is wrong.

I was reminded of a story in the bible as I read this article.  You probably know of it--John 8:3-11 about the young woman caught in the act of adultery. (Of course I have always wondered where the guy was in this incident). The law was very clear on the penalty for adultery--death.  And Jesus knew this. It was an open and shut case and in our present day world of zero tolerance a very different ending to the episode would have happened. Jesus did not dispute the law and the penalty--but his words smack at the very heart of zero tolerance: “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7b - NET Bible. 

No one could stand up under this requirement--except for the one who spoke the words. All the assembled people who were calling for her to be killed according to the law, departed without throwing a stone at her.  And his final words to her were very simple: And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” John 8:11b - NET Bible.

The next to last paragraph of the article in Time really spoke to me:

"Making distinctions is part of learning. So is making mistakes. When authorities confuse intent and accident, when rules are seen as more sacred than sense, when a contrite first-time offender is treated no differently from a serial classroom menace, we teach children that authority is deaf and dumb, that there is no judgment in justice. It undermines respect for discipline at a stage when we want kids to internalize it."

More is learned from mercy than can ever be obtained from vengeance or the mindless application of zero tolerance.

Who among us has not shown bad judgement or sinned? Show mercy to others because we certainly cannot throw the first stone.
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