What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9
Kids. Can say the darned-est things. As best as I can remember, this dialogue took place a few years ago, after an incident at recess...
Student: Yes, I hit him.
Teacher: Thank you for taking responsibility for your actions. Is there something you could have done differently? Something more appropriate than hitting?
Student: No, I was doing what you always tell us to do.
Teacher: Really? What do I always tell you to do - that involves hitting another student?
Student: You told us we should follow the Golden Rule.
Teacher: Yes, we talked about the Golden Rule. I don't understand how following the Golden Rule allows you to hit another student.
Student: The Golden Rule says we should treat others how we want to be treated.
Teacher: That's right. So, you hit the other student because you wanted him to hit you?
Student: No, he hit me first.
Teacher: I still don't understand how hitting back is following the Golden Rule...
Student: I figure he wouldn't have hit me, unless he wanted me to hit him. I was just doing to him what he did to me - the Golden Rule.
Real conversation. Real student. I remember being a little bit impressed by the child's unique interpretation of Do unto others... Impressed and horrified. This child was twisting what I had always considered to be a moral standard. Twisting it into justification for violence. I flashed forward a few years in the child's life and could only imagine what other actions he'd try to justify by manipulating the words of moral standards. Or laws. My brain literally exploded into snapshots like a music video - current images alongside historical images - made movie-vivid, 3-D real - genocide, slavery, rape, violence, violence, violence....
There's a science activity that's really powerful for teaching kids about erosion. They set up a mixture of sand and clay in a flat, plastic tray. Kind of like building a miniature topographic map. Instructions call for a 'cliff' - usually about a third of the way up the tray. Sometimes the kids get to put 'buildings' on the map, or get to design land features. Then they get to make it flood. This is the best part. The water comes from a cup, suspended above the tray, with a hole for the water to pour through. The size of the hole determines the speed of the flow. And the water does some amazing things to those little topographies. It creates floodplains, and streams; it carves canyons, and deposits deltas. The kids are mesmerized by how quickly the changes occur, by how forceful the water can be.
But it starts off small. And it's only water. Soft, pliable, flexible water. Soothing, comforting, refreshing water. One drop at a time. The drops gather. Speed, intensity, volume. And they become a force to be reckoned with - a force that can move mountains. Literally.
So it is with our actions. It only takes a small excuse to open the door to bigger and more. It only takes a little manipulation, a little justification to twist something good into something evil. To explode into violence.
I was surprised to see this in Proverbs today. My student, years ago, wasn't being original in his manipulation of the Golden Rule. He was doing exactly what mankind has been doing for thousands of years - starting small. King Solomon, that wise old King, called it. Been there. Done that.
Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me; I'll pay that man back for what he did."