Saturday, May 30, 2009

Men Without Chests and Eyebrow Shavers


image attribution: el juicio by drusbi


Penn Hills School District officials have recommended expulsion for a 15 year old girl because a random search turned up an eyebrow shaver in her handbag.  The same officials have expelled an exemplary college bound senior who was found to have a 1" utility knife on his key chain. Criminal charges are also being pressed.

Are these school administrators insane?  No, they are cowardly.  But don't be too quick to condemn them.  Our society has carefully cultivated cowardice, especially in anyone who must manage or administrate.

We we want brave, vigilant leaders who will watch carefully for threats and eliminate them whenever that is possible.

However, threats vary greatly in severity.  Most folks would agree that the loaded pistol, which slipped through Penn Hills school security  a few days before the eyebrow shaver incident, is the sort of threat which should be eliminated. Outraged parents besieged the administrators and school board at Penn Hills for more effective risk management.  So random searches were instituted.  

Even the searches may have been an overreaction.  But the real damage starts when the people empowered to search are incapable of making a judgment on what constitutes a genuine threat. When a threat is found, those same people must also make a judgment on the appropriate response, including disciplinary action if needed.

Good judgment is a virtue.  Good judgment brings justice.

Unfortunately, the idea of passing judgment on a person's actions has become confused with passing judgment on that person's worth or eternal destination.
 
How many times have you heard these phrases recently "Who am I to judge", "Who are they to judge?" and "We are in no position to judge".  This is relentlessly drilled into our collective consciousness.  Consequently, one of our great fears is that we will be caught passing judgment. It is a powerful fear because we know it may bring censure when we so desperately crave affirmation.   If we allow the fear of disapproval to goad us into committing an injustice, we are cowards.  Injustice is assured when we attempt to establish rules so particular and so inflexible that we are freed from the responsibility of utilizing judgment.  

Men Without Chests, by C.S. Lewis is a profound essay, worthy of a careful reading.  Echoes of Lewis' closing paragraph came to mind when I read of the "eyebrow shaver incident":

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

I would add that we abhor judgment, yet demand justice.
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