Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why Blame?

"Nothing's cold as ashes, after the fire is gone" ~ Conway Twitty

A boy playing with matches started a Southern California wildfire that scorched more than 38-thousand acres and destroyed 63 structures, according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. "After talking with the suspect, he admitted playing with matches and starting the fire," the report said. The boy was released to the custody of his parents, police said. The case will be presented to the Los Angeles County district attorney for possible charges.

How should he be punished? He says it was an accident, but does he deserve criminal charges? Do we have an obligation as a society to take action, or should this be left up to his parents? Does it matter how old he is? What would you do if this were your son?

This was the subject on the "Grandy and Andy Morning Show" this morning on WMAL radio.

My question is this:

Why must there be any punishment at all? Why do we have to have someone to blame for everything? Is it not possible that sometimes things are simply an accident, and nobody deserves punishment? Isn't the regret and remorse the boy undoubtedly feels adequate to assure this kid will be more careful with matches?

Why must we always have to have somebody to blame?

Yes, I know there have been tremendous losses as a result of this fire, and yes, the victims deserve some sort of recompense. But then, that's what insurance is for, isn't it?

Fred Grandy (remember "Gopher" from Love Boat?) suggested if the boy is not old enough to be responsible (the report did not specify the child's age), perhaps his parents should be held responsible. Why? Does anyone think the kids parents actually taught their child to be irresponsible or foolhardy?

We've all been kids. and now and then, it made no difference how many times we were instructed to be responsible and not to do something that might result in injury or other serious consequences, we often did it anyway.

That is the nature of children.

When I was a child, I remember my older brother and I were playing with matches on one occasion. It was an Indian Summer day in Wichita, Kansas, and it was dry and windy. (Those who have spent any time in Wichita know it's always windy) My brother dropped a lit match into some dry grass, with a predictable, but unintended result. The dry grass blazed, and soon we were stomping and beating the flames with our coats trying unsuccessfully to put the fire out.

After the fire department brought the fire under control, just in time to prevent a propane tank in the midst of it from exploding, a fireman questioned my brother about his role in the incident. I don't remember if he or my parents were punished, but I do remember the look of fear on my brothers face. I had never seen him so vulnerable, so frightened and so traumatized, and I have never seen him in that way since. As far as I'm concerned, the terror experienced by the thought of what might have been was punishment enough.

Were my parents responsible? They weren't even there. They were at work. They had no doubt warned us many times of the danger of playing with matches, but we were kids. Kids do stupid things.

As a parent I can attest that kids sometimes don't listen to their parents and do irresponsible, even stupid things. It isn't that I don't teach my children responsibility and integrity. But sometimes they don't do as they've been instructed. Should I be punished because my children chose to disobey me?

I know there are parents who are completely irresponsible themselves. Parents who don't instruct, discipline, or serve as good role models to their children. Some are criminals themselves. In that case, I believe holding them responsible would be appropriate.

But I'm referring to the majority of parents, who try their best to instill good values and judgement into their progeny. There is no value in punishing them for their children's irresponsibility.

I know I incessantly talk about personal responsibility, but in what way can the parents be held responsible for the disobedience of their children? And why should they?

I say don't punish the kid. Don't punish the parents. Just this once, can't we just accept the fact that accidents happen, and understand that sometimes irresponsibility has unfortunate consequences? Those consequences in themselves are punishment enough. Let him make a sincere apology and move on. This kid will no doubt remember the rest of his life that playing with matches isn't smart.

And after all, isn't the assurance that he won't do it again the whole point of punishment?


Dan Trabue said...

I'm with you. If this was some stupid, horrible accident committed by a child (under 16, say), man, I bet he's already traumatized beyond all words or any punishment.

Mark said...

Dan you agree with me?

Well, then I must be wrong. I change my mind. The boy should be caned.

mudkitty said...

The boy should be watched.

BTW - there were a lot of fires, he couldn't have started all of them.

Hi, btw, long time no see, much to your delight, I'm sure.

I hope that none of you were in the line of "fire."

eyemkmootoo said...

Even if the parents and child are "held responsible" what are they going to do? Cough up the fantastic amount of money that will undoubtedly be required to repair the damage.
Then again punishment has a rehabilitative and a punitive aspect so I quess if they just want to punish the kid...
I don't know, sometimes crap just happens.

tugboatcapn said...

I think that the boy should be Aborted.

Trader Rick said...

Kid should be grounded for life.

Lone Ranger said...

The boy carries the same blame as a bolt of lightening would. There is more than enough blame to go around. The boy (under 12) might have sparked the flame, but the nitwit, self-proclaimed environmentalists who set up the conditions for such conflagrations are to blame too. How many kangaroo rats are living in the scrub brush now? Where is the brush and dead timber that homeowners were forbidden to clear? Blame the politicians who caved in to these leftist pressure groups to pass laws that fly in the face of nature. Blame also the people who built their houses in what is clearly a dangerous place. Blame the profiteers who have made southern California land too expensive for the common man. The kid was just an act of God.

Marie's Two Cents said...

Punishment is a deffinate YES in this case.

Some Community Service wouldnt hurt that kid one bit.

The kid did burn down half of California dont forget!

Al-Ozarka said...

As I've suggested on more than one occasion...leather straps sewn onto shirt-collars...good sturdy pegs on the wall.

Dan Trabue said...

The boy (under 12) might have sparked the flame, but the nitwit, self-proclaimed environmentalists who set up the conditions for such conflagrations are to blame too.

And THERE it is! Of COURSE this is the fault of "liberals," who couldn't see that? As was 9/11 and the death of unicorns, and LR's upset tummy last night.


Marshall Art said...

There's no way, as was suggested, that either the kid or his folks could pay for the damage caused. So full compensation is eliminated by it's vast size. But the kid needs to have a sentence attached to his conviction (by which I simply mean the conviction that he did it) to show that even accidents carry consequences. But of course, it's not an accident at all. He certainly broke a house rule regarding playing with matches, so that needs to be addressed and reconciled. And remorse is not punishment, but a sign that the kid is not beyond hope. It's a good thing for us, but does not address responsibility for one's actions. The community service idea is a good one. I'll bet there's some kind of clean up to which he could lend a hand for a few weeks after school and/or weekends.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Damn...and all along, I've been led to believe it was due to Bush and global warming.

Ms.Green said...

The boy admitted to playing with matches and starting the fire.

That's not enough information for me. Did he PURPOSELY start the fire?

When he realized what he'd done, did he tell someone immediately and try to get the fire extinguished?

There's always more to a story than what the media reports.

I'm with the wordsmith. I thought it was George W and global warming.

tugboatcapn said...

Was the boy's last name "O'leary"?

Wordsmith, Harry Reid said that it was Global Warming, but then he turned around and said that he didn't say it.

(Even though he said it.)

I'm with Lone Ranger and Dan Trabue.

I think Liberals caused the fires.

California is crawling with them...

Mark said...

Lone Ranger is right. Fires in Southern California would never burn out of control like they did if environmentalists hadn't pressured the state government. Because of their efforts to save California wildlife and natural grasses etc, the underbrush was permitted to grow to dangerous proportions and when the fire started, there was so much of the underbrish the government wouldn't allow homeowners to clear the out of control fires were a natural consequence.

Maybe there is something to Darwin's theory of natural selection after all. Liberals are eliminating themselves out of the gene pool everytime they pressure governments to try to "Save the Planet".

Lone Ranger said...

Dan, are you gainfully employed? I mean all the hours you must have spent to research that comeback, I can't imagine that you have anything else to do.

Gayle said...

Back to the subject of the post, and for once I agree with Dan. This is why:

I had two boys (now men) under the age of twelve. They were told many times of the dangers of playing with matches or lighters. My husband and I are responsible parents but who in the world can follow their kids around all day? I wasn't even working at the time, and my boys said they wanted permission to visit a friend. We were living in the country, as we are prone to do. The friend's house was a way off. Our boys came across a shack and got sidetracked. Yep... they went inside, and decided to start a fire in the old fireplace. Unfortunately the old fireplace probably hadn't been cleaned for fifty years or so and - you guessed it - the shack burned to the ground. My sons came running home scared out of their minds and feeling guilty, but as it turned out the county was going to get rid of it anyway and everyone was happy it was gone. Fortunately, it didn't set a firestorm in the countryside because of a lot of recent rain.

My point... how would what have happened been my fault? Kids will be kids, Mark, and you're right. What are we expected to do, follow them around all day or keep them under lock and key? They grew up and I can honestly say neither one of them turned out to be pyromaniacs!

Marshall Art said...

Not "fault", Gayle, but "responsibility". Though some parents are to blame for the lack of character in their kids, even good kids get into trouble and when damage is done, particularly to property belonging to someone else, the parents are responsible for compensation.