It is easy to sit in judgement of people you don’t know.
We all do it. I will read something in the newspaper or online and make a snap judgement about a person and their character, knowing that I don’t really know anything about them or even possess most of the facts about the set of unfortunate circumstances they find themselves in.
Knowing this about myself and human nature, I try to make an effort however, to step back from my instantly formed opinion and ponder a bit about what could have gotten this person into this terrible predicament.
We like to assign a reason, a singular character flaw that explains things for us in the simplest matter possible -- laziness, greed, lust, malice -- all good choices when we need to explain someone else’s bad behavior.
Then I look to myself and think about all the bad choices I’ve made in my life or the times when my character has been tested and found wanting.
Which brings me to the news of this past week. Two bad situations, two different sets of circumstances, two outcomes.
First on Wednesday, Justin Ross Harris, 33, of Marietta, left his 22-month-old son, Cooper, strapped into his car seat for seven hours while he was at work. The child perished in the brutal Georgia heat and Harris faces child cruelty and murder charges.
The next day -- the first day of summer -- 20-year-old Alicia Manigault was arrested in Augusta after leaving her 2-month-old son, Christopher, in the cargo area of her Toyota SUV for almost an hour while she was taking a cosmetology test at Virginia College.
Luckily, Christopher’s cries were heard by a passerby and sheriff’s deputies were able to rescue the infant before he too, succumbed to the awful heat building inside that Toyota.
At first blush, the two incidents seem similar, but there is an obvious difference. In the Atlanta case, it appears to be a case of a too busy father committing a horrible lapse of memory and parental responsibility.
The Augusta case is different, The young mother appears to have intentionally placed he 2-week-old in a hot car, hidden from view, so she could take care of her personal business. According to the police report, Manigault told deputies she had only been away for a few minutes and a friend was supposed to be watching her son.
One person appears to have acted with intent and the other without. One made a terrible error that resulted in death; one made a calculated decision to put their child in harm’s way.
What’s worse, the mistake that costs a life, or a conscious act that narrowly avoids tragedy?
Once again, I don’t have all the facts. None of us do, so although it would be easy to judge these parents, I will refrain from that while the authorities are sorting things out.
In the meantime I will think on all my poor decisions and near misses as the father of four children, and I will thank God for the undeserved blessings that have been bestowed on me.
I suggest we all say a pray for these poor souls and their children, and we should also say a pray for each other, so that we don’t find ourselves in the pages of tomorrow’s newspaper while our neighbors sit in judgement of our actions.