Doin’ the Right Thing Isn’t Always Easy

So, here’s a case of doing the right thing. With a bit of a twist.

On CNN today, I found a story about a pair of young California burglars (age 19 and younger) who broke into a building and stole 50 blank CDs – or so they thought. When they began putting the CDs into their computer, they discovered some were filled with pornographic images of children.

Think about it. They stole property. They broke into a building. They discovered what they stole was illegal. Oh, my. What to do? What to do?

The easy choice? Trash the CDs and tell no one, hoping that the man whose stuff you stole would never report the theft to police because of what was taken (he did file a report, by the way).

The decidedly difficult choice? Ah, to suck it up and report the man’s penchant for child pornography, knowing that you’d pretty much have to come clean about how you managed to have the stuff in your hot little hands.

What would you do? (And you can’t choose the choice of not stealing the CDs in the first place.) That’s a tough situation. I’m happy to say that the boys reported the theft and the pornography. So police subsequently raided the man’s home, confiscating three computers, three laptops, and several external hard drives, and finding thousands of pictures and movies on the stolen CDs. Apparently the man had been downloading indecent images of children since 2004.

Pornography is reprehensible enough, but the real crux of this story becomes the two kids who had to make a pretty hard choice about what to do in that situation. Did their coming clean and reporting a much more serious situation mitigate the fact that they stole property? What do you do in a case like this? Do you overlook the less serious crime and focus on the more serious one? Do you prosecute both of the equally? Wow. What a choice. I think maybe the way it’s handled will make the difference in two kids who are either strengthened or weakened in their ethical and moral codes of honor.

There’s a 2007 movie called 3:10 to Yuma, starring Russell Crowe as an outlaw – an intelligent, likeable outlaw. When I read this story of these two boys this morning, this movie popped right back into my head. It’s an interesting psychological exploration of ethics, motivation, and honor. I encourage you to watch it.

These two kids remind me a lot of Crowe’s character. The man’s an outlaw. He robs, he kills, he’s altogether a bad guy. But he’s a gentleman, too, and he honors his own code. We see shades of decency radiate from him in sharp contrast to the men who follow him and call him leader. Most of the movie explores how the good guys (one a hard-working rancher) navigate him to the railroad depot, where they will put him in the jail car on the 3:10 to Yuma. Crowe’s gang is in hot pursuit to free him, of course. In the end, he forges a bond with the rancher and orchestrates the rancher’s redemption – perhaps along with his own (but that’s up to the viewer to decide).

Watch it. Track the progression of Crowe’s deep-seated and very personal code of ethics. My mind’s still puzzling over the effect Crowe’s actions at various times have on the rancher’s son. It’s fascinating.

And that brings me back to these two boys. Not that they’re villainous outlaws, but they have the same kind of situational ethics at play here. And where they go with what’s happened will shape their lives from here. My hope is that they grow from this experience and realize that sometimes there’s deep learning in mistakes. It makes you stronger and steels your backbone. It gives you ethics and morals and integrity and a sense of honor that can become unbreakable. I wish that for them.

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