Top

Do Character and Inner Spirit Matter in Choices?

 

The Choice Factor post discussed a matrix with two dimensions – quality of character and depth of inner spirit – and how they potentially facilitate making better choices or recovering from bad ones. To continue exploring these concepts, there is a recent story which needs to be included as part of the discussion.

First, thanks to GetReligion.com for highlighting this story. Second, there is always a danger in using a single article to discuss choices and consequences, but this is the only information really available. Keep this in mind as we continue.

The actual article appeared in the Casper Star-Tribune entitled Reconciled. The article is very well done, and it is a story which hits you in the middle of your heart. Please take the time to read it.

A quick summary of the story follows.

Rob Spaulding is a very talented person in his studies, music, and community relationships. During college, he discovers his calling and is on his way to becoming a priest. On break from seminary, he is walking around the lake on campus and runs into a friend. They decide to go to a local sports bar and pizzeria to relax and meet some other seminarians. After a few long island ice teas and lots of conversation, they decide to leave, and one of the friends asks him to drive since Rob has had the least to drink. They are only a mile from campus.

A short drive turns into a drive around the lake, and one of the passengers urges Rob to go faster. As you can feel this story unfolding, you are right – there is an accident. Two – Matty and Jared – of the four in the car die. Rob, the driver, is one of the survivors.

This is a very short version of the story, but it gives you a sense of what happened.

Choices made.

There are many decision points for Rob. Becoming a priest is one that can be placed in the positive category, but there are several which happen that fateful night, leading to many life-changing events.

  • Deciding to have the second long island ice tea. For those who do not know, these are extra potent alcoholic drinks.
  • Deciding to take the keys and drive the car.
  • Deciding to take the urging and drive faster.

Each of these decisions could have easily gone the other way. Would anyone give him a bad time about saying “no”? I don’t know the people, but they all are attending seminary. Seminarians are not perfect, but they probably would have understood, you would hope, making the choices the other way.

Thought point:  What triggers people to “go along” in these situations?

Responsibility accepted.

As the story continues, Rob pleads guilty to the charges – two counts of reckless homicide and one count of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol. The consequence of the choices is a possible sentence of 10 years in prison. However, it is for a judge to decide, and the families involved have an opportunity to speak on behalf of the victims.

As you might guess from the article title, the families suffering the loss decide there is little value in Rob spending this time in prison; they plead for probation. For a parent who just lost a child, this is an incredible, forgiving step.

Thought point:  Should Rob get this type of support from the parents of those killed in the accident?

Rob had demonstrated two key things:  responsibility for his choices by pleading guilty (accepting the consequences) and going to visit each of the families to express his sorrow for what he had done.

Still, it was up to the judge to decide, and she outlined three criteria:

  1. “Is Rob Spaulding likely to commit another crime?”
  2. “Will Rob likely comply with probation?”
  3. “Is a sentence necessary to deter others from committing the same kind of crime?”

In the judge’s opinion, Rob was unlikely to commit another crime. I am guessing this is because of his clean background and his pursuit of priesthood. Rob also had complied with all elements leading up to the sentencing. However, how can others be deterred if he is not held accountable?

Thought point:  Does being in seminary give you an automatic “get of jail free” card?

The judge decides to sentence Rob to “30 months of intensive probation, 18 months of house arrest and 250 hours of community service;” he also must pay “$5,000 to the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.”

A penalty is set, but not the ultimate one of going to prison. It may be a safe assumption that Rob will live with this choice long after any penalty served by the judge.

One of the most important points in the article is the following:

“People sometimes tell Rob that God must have had a reason. God must have needed Matty and Jared in heaven.

‘I don’t think that’s how it works,’ Rob said. ‘God did not cause this to happen. I did.

But God has been part of rebuilding it since the time of the crash.’”

Rob did not assign some responsibility to God for calling Matty and Jared home. Rob decided to take the keys and drive, and Rob decided to speed up. There is personal responsibility in choices made, not some sign of fate.

Thought point:  Does God play a role in stories of bad choices? If so, what role?

Do character and spirit matter?

Rob had the quality of character and inner spirit to make good decisions, and he seemed to do just until September 14, 2005. As we are all human, he made a series of bad choices on that day which led to life-change consequences.

Rob had a barrier built to survive or recover from these choices, in jail or out of jail. He seemed to have the humility and the core ability to do what was right after the fact.

My guess is that if Rob went to prison, he would have found a way to serve others and exhibit a stronger faith through his actions and words no matter where he had to serve his time.

There seems to be a law of thin difference in choices. No matter how good the character or the inner spirit, sometimes the wrong choices just happen. However, my argument would be that fewer bad choices happen when strong quality of character exists and when deep inner spirit is present within an individual.

The difference in this story may have been the alcohol which clouded the character and the spirit, but it was still his choice to drink.

The difference may have been that after the first bad choice was made – taking the keys, it was easier to make the second bad choice of speeding up.

The difference in the outcome in Rob’s life may have been his character and inner spirit. A person with questionable character and flimsy inner spirit probably would have been sent to prison.

The crux of this story may be that we cannot widen the line when making certain choices. A thinness does exist between right and wrong paths when certain choices are made.

What can occur, if a wider line or barrier exists, is the ability to recover from a bad choice. Recovery is more than just going on with a normal life; it is a life renewed in calling or better enabled to serve more uniquely, using the background of a bad choice.

In this personal story of Rob, it seems to be the case.

Jon Mertz

Jon Mertz

Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and is a leadership populist, writing to empower Millennial leaders. When we share experiences rather than focus on differences, we realize a thin difference between two generations and a vast opportunity exists to create a big leadership story.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

Latest posts by Jon Mertz (see all)

, ,

  • http://www.ryanjwitt.com Ryan Witt

    This is a very inspiring post, Jon!  I made a few “bad” / could have done better choices, which have been hard to get over.  It’s very comforting to remember that life goes on, and it must/should.  There are so many other choices and moments where one can make a choice with the better result, with another opportunity ahead.  However, if we shy from choice itself–if we characterize ourselves as failures and “bad” people–we won’t have that motivation and self-confidence to move forward.

    One inspiring truth is that “no matter how good the character or the inner spirit, sometimes the wrong choices just happen. ”  Everyone makes “bad” choices.  We aren’t bad people, and we can improve.   And, there is a thin difference between our choices, so we shan’t be so hard on ourselves anyway.   Stuff happens, you get dirty, now get up and move on. LOVE it.

    • Anonymous

      Ryan, Excellent points! We definitely cannot shy away from making choices. In fact, we need to be fully engaged in making them! No one is perfect; we need to do the best we can and center ourselves in what we do. Thanks for contributing. Appreciate it! Jon