Okay, you're a parent. That's probably not a stretch for many of you, but I'll continue.
Your daughter plays on her high school team, and you find out that some of the girls from a rival team spiked their water cooler with a cup of urine.
It's not a hypothetical situation; this actually happened. http://tinyurl.com/czdmaln
On the surface, it's a prank amped up way past going too far - it's nasty to even think about. Delving deeper, and with the known and unknown perils in today's society, the act takes on dangerous overtones.
So how do you react? Outrage? Do you seek an Old Testament kind of punishment; retaliation -- suspension - expulsion - a criminal trial? Or do you have the calm and lucidity to let reason rule?
And how do you react if you were the parent of one of the four girls who participated in the "prank"? Do you wave it off as kids being kids? Do you simply want the furor to die down until the incident goes away? Or do you want to see your child grow and learn from their mistake?
What to do, what to do, what to do?
While the girl whose urine wound up in the water cooler is being tested for communicable diseases, the debate rages: What's the next step?
While there has been an outcry for severe punishment, officials at both schools involved have asked for restraint.
But something has to be done, doesn't it? At the least, it's a teaching moment that can't be allowed to slip away, and at the worst it is ripe to become an example of uberpunishment.
At some earlier point in my parenting career I would probably have leaned towards seeking some sort of frontier justice for my daughter. But somewhere in that wisdom I'm supposed to be acquiring as I get older, I realize that suspension, or even expulsion, is simply throwing the baby out with the bath water. What lesson does it teach these girls, keeping them out of a learning environment when learning right from wrong is exactly what they need to get out of this episode?
So what's the lesson?
Owning up to the mistake is one. Being accountable by apologizing face-to-face to the other team's girls would be another. And then finding a way to pay it forward would be third. But only to those they wronged and no one else.
Even as a member of the third estate, I would decree that any media involvement ends with the initial reporting of the story, for a time. This is for the cooler heads of the two schools involved to handle together, away from reporters, lights, cameras, and even Facebook and Twitter. We gave up publicly pillorying criminals a few hundred years ago, and let's be real; the girls involved are just that - girls, not adults. Let the pranksters stay in school, but time should be quietly set up outside of school hours for the two sides to meet, supervised; apologies made, contrition emoted and felt, and then a reasonable punishment should be served that benefits the offended school.
What should that be? Hey, I'm not Job; just a parent. But I'd stop short of public humiliation. The girls that came up with this prank need to know that they were wrong, in no uncertain terms, and be shown that this type of stuff doesn't fly -- but don't cast them as criminals for a few moments of bad judgment.
Punishment in front of one's peers - or opponents, as the case may be, can be punishment enough. Painting the gym, repairing books, landscaping the grounds; some kind of lasting testament of a wrong leading to a right - and above all, showing the willingness to be accountable on one side, and the ability to forgive on the other.
Then, after it's all over, bring it to the public's attention, and put the good that came out of it on display.
And that might be the lesson; one that not only the girls in the wrong could learn from.
Until next time...