“Mistake” versus “Choice”

August 6, 2009

I’ve had it with the euphemism world out there. Specifically, the one world where people believe the words “a series of bad choices” can be intermingled, intermangled, and interchanged with the words “stupid mistake”. Let me explain.

Here, in my relatively “safe” local suburb, a police officer was recently arrested for riding his motorcycle at 149 mph down a country road. Yes, that number IS correct: 149 MPH!

First, I can’t stand motorcycles. And don’t even bother to respond to this post if you own one and want to tell me how wonderful they are — I will never be convinced. They are dangerous to ride and even more dangerous to have to drive anywhere near. I can never see the bike until it’s within smacking distance. Sorry — but all the safety training in the world won’t guarantee you will come out of a 25-foot skid over asphalt unscathed if you choose to ride your motorcycle wearing only flip flops, shorts and a wife-beater shirt. For people who choose to do that, thank you for your willingness to “thin the herd” of stupid people.

But this rant isn’t about motorcycles. It’s about what happens when people are caught doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing, and the excuses that stream from their mouths once they are standing before their local judge.

In the case of High-Speed Willy, his only comment to the judge was: “I made a mistake.” And this is where my head exploded.

A couple years ago, the principal of my children’s middle school was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI or DUI for some). It was 2:00 am, he was going the wrong way down a one-way street, and when asked for his driver’s license, he handed the arresting officer his Blockbuster card. Yea, he’s REALLLY coherent. He blew twice the legal limit on the Breathalyzer.

Of course this made the local news — TV, newspaper, etc. His name was everywhere along with the name of the middle school my kids attend.

While I am not opposed to adults getting their “drink on”, I am vehemently opposed to drinking and driving and was very irate by this principal’s words to the press: “I made a mistake.” No, a mistake is accidentally dropping your cell phone in a river while fishing, or accidentally leaving a wallet filled with money on a table in a high school weight room after you’ve left for the night. (Both of which have occurred to family members of mine).

What these two morons (the police officer and the principal) did were make bad CHOICES. The police officer didn’t accidentally stomp his foot down on the gas pedal and clutch, causing an unexpected acceleration — for which he kept it down (again, by mistake?) for an extended period of time. He didn’t suddenly find himself  “swerving” on the road, around cars that mysteriously “appeared” beside him.The principal didn’t “accidentally” walk into a bar, unknowingly order shot after shot of alcohol (or beer, whatever the case may be), unwillingly open his mouth, surprisingly pour it down his throat hour after hour, then get back into his car and inadvertently drive off into the night.

The drunken principal’s situation hits closer to home with me. Not because it’s the school where my kids go, or the fact that I am a teacher. No, it hits home with me because of what happened two days before he was busted for DUI. My son was caught goofing around during a fire drill, and was given a “Saturday school” for this. The principal pulled my son into his office, said “Because of your CHOICE to screw around during school, you can come to Saturday school.” And when the principal called me to tell me what he had done, I agreed with the principal’s use of the term “choice”. My son earned that extra day in school for the poor choice he made.

But, when the principal was busted for DUI, what do you imagine was the consequence for his behavior? Jail time? Personally, I would have loved to see him serve 3 days in jail. But, of course that didn’t happen. Instead, the school district gave him 10 days, suspended leave, with pay. WITH PAY.

Sorry, but that is not a “consequence” for a school principal — that’s a freaping vacation! How am I, as a responsible parent, expected to teach my son and daughter about “consequences” when the adult leaders aren’t taking responsibility for THEIR own actions?And THIS chaps my hide.

Fortunately, the students were smart enough to recognize the actions of the principal were abhorrent. Conversely, the principal lost all respect from his student body immediately after the incident. None of the students were able to resist a good “So I threw a spit wad at Suzy, so what? At least I didn’t get busted for drinking and driving and gave the cop my Blockbuster card!” As disrespectful as that sounds, you cannot argue the logic behind that.

For the police officer, I believe his career is officially over. The local city government has issued a statement concerning the officer’s conduct and how it is detrimental to the overall “perception” of the police force.

There is some wonderful irony to both of the stories above:

The officer’s story is an ironic metaphor for motorcycle riding. He threw himself under the bus, and came out in a world of hurt.

The principal was demoted to the rank of “assistant principal” and is now responsible for disciplining disruptive, behaviorally challenged, high school students.

All because of the “mistakes” they claim to have made. Yea, right.

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