Last week I told you I had three observations about the Arizona killings that I wanted to share with you. My first observation (“All Behavior Originates And Proceeds From Beliefs”) was covered in last week’s article. If you didn’t get a chance to read the article, you can find it here.
Here’s my second observation:
OBSERVATION #2:But For The Grace Of God Go I
Most people don’t know this, but when I was in eighth grade at St. Mark’s in Peoria, Illinois, I almost got kicked out of school. There was an occasion when an entire wing of the school (where all of the seventh and eighth grade students were taught) had to be evacuated because of a terrible smell that, for no apparent reason, quickly spread throughout the classrooms. It turned out that a couple of students had poured skunk perfume in the ventilation system.
The students who were responsible for the incident were two eighth graders: me and my best friend, John Jones (not his real name).
Up until then, John and I were constantly getting into trouble. When we started seventh grade together, the large class of students was split up into two groups: 7-1 and 7-2. The students in 7-1 were the smart kids, and the students in 7-2 were the dummies. Can you guess which group of students John and I were in?
To my friend and I, the school was a prison. The principal was the warden, the teachers were the guards, and John and I were two restless prisoners longing to break out and be free.
Eighth grade was the same as seventh grade – two groups of students: 8-1 and 8-2. Of course, John and I were in the same group as the other dummies.
It was during our 8th grade year that we bought some skunk perfume from Midget Studio, a store that was located in downtown, Peoria. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but someone spoiled it by telling on us. After we got caught, the principal and the 7th and 8th grade teachers (there were 2 teachers for 7th grade and 2 teachers for 8th grade) had a meeting to discuss what they were “going to do with Harry and John.” Prior to the meeting, the principal told our parents that one of their options was to kick us out of school.
Fortunately for me and John, the principal and teachers decided to split us up instead of kicking us out of school. So I got transferred over to 8-1, and John stayed in 8-2. It didn’t take me long to realize that the smart kids in 8-1 weren’t so smart after all. In addition to being able to keep up with them, I actually did better than a lot my fellow classmates in a couple of the classes.
Anyway, after the skunk perfume incident, my dad came down on me like a ton of bricks. I was immediately grounded and had certain privileges taken away from me at home. I ended up being a prisoner in my parents’ home. Every morning I would leave the home prison, board a train (the school bus), and be transported to the school prison. Each day I was transferred back and forth between prisons. It was a miserable existence school prison. Each day I was transferred back and forth between prisons. It was a miserable existence.
My friend, on the other hand, wasn’t punished at all by his parents. In fact, his dad had a meeting with the principal because he felt his son had a history of being mistreated by the teachers. His attitude was that his son was a victim and was owed an apology. I was 13 years old at the time and I knew better than to try the victim act on my dad. Every time I got into trouble in school, my dad didn’t blame my friend, the teachers, or the school – he blamed me! Every time John got into trouble, his dad (and mom) blamed me and/or the teachers.
John and I ended up going to the same high school. I was happy to escape from the prison and start a new life on the outside. I was determined to get off to a good start. I have nothing but good memories of my 4 years in high school. I was in the music program all 4 years. I loved building things, so I took woodshop classes for 3 years. I was on the wrestling team for 2 years, and then I got into theatre. Because I was good at all of those activities, I was able to build up a lot of self confidence – confidence that helped get me through college and law school.
Things didn’t work out as well for my old friend John. He ended up hanging out with the wrong crowd and started doing drugs. During sophomore year, he got his girlfriend pregnant and they both quit school and moved into an apartment together. Of course, his parents were devastated, but there was nothing they could do.
What was the difference between me and John when we walked into the same high school for the first time? One primary difference was our beliefs. My dad hammered into me the belief that I was responsible for my own behavior. Any problems in school that I had were my fault and a result of my own actions. My friend believed that he was a victim who had no control over the environment around him. His dad never taught him to take responsibility for his own actions. It was always someone else’s fault.
Consider this: What if John had been born into the family of my parents, Carl and Kathryn Williams? And what if I had been the son of John’s parents? Would I be writing this article today? Would I be a happily married man (for over 30 years), with 7 children and 4 grandchildren? Would I be a lawyer with my own law firm? Where would John be today if he had been the son of Carl and Kathryn Williams?
We can speculate all we want about the madman who gunned down 6 people and wounded 14 others, but the one critical piece of evidence that we don’t have at our disposal is what type of environment he grew up in. Did his parents give him the unconditional love he was entitled to? Did they teach him, by words and example, about the importance of belief and faith in God? Did they discipline him appropriately and teach him to take responsibility for his own actions? Did they stress the importance of compassion and empathy toward others? Did they teach him how to work?
Most of us go to bed each night with a certain level of satisfaction and pride in our own accomplishments. Although we don’t realize it, most of the time we subconsciously take full credit for who we are what we have become. But should we really be taking credit for our intellect, skills, talents, abilities and faith? Or should we give all of the credit to Almighty God? After all, it is because of His grace that we were born into the family we were blessed with. It was because of His grace that we had relatives in our lives who influenced us in a positive way. It was because of His grace that we became who we are today.
What would I have become if I had been the son of the parents of Jared Lee Loughner, the madman who was responsible for the killings?
I’m not trying to pin blame for my friend’s behavior (or the madman’s behavior) on their parents. I’m attempting to point out that we are not who we are because of our own personal greatness. We are who we are because of all of the gifts God blessed each of us with. Yes, we have a free will and have made the right choices at critical times in our lives, but without the gifts that God gave us, along with the people He put into our lives to influence us, we would have ended up as complete failures.
This week, and every week, we should humbly thank God for helping to mold us into people of faith and character. But for the grace of God, we would have all been lost.