As a teacher here at Legacy Institute, so far I have made eleven demerit requests in four separate incidents. All of them have been for the same precise offense, leaving Legacy Campus without permission. According to what I have gathered from other teachers, it is normally customary to make only two or three demerit requests a year, so the fact that I have requested eleven so far indicates that I am probably far more strict than the average person (a reader of my blog, especially anything where I talk about the enforcement of God’s law, would probably come to the same conclusion). Interestingly enough, I can think of at least half a dozen incidents where I did not request a demerit even though I could have (and perhaps should have in a couple of the incidents). In short, even as strict as I am I think myself far too generous with others.
It is curious, though, that I should become known to myself, as well as to other people, who was particularly fussy about knowing where other people are. As a point in fact (as my family can attest to) it was this rule that got me in the most trouble as I was growing up. Almost all of the trouble I got in from the age of 5 to 17 was because of being somewhere without the prior knowledge and permission of my family. In one case this was compounded by being out after curfiew (which a couple of the dermit requests I have made involved also). In short, I have a particularly strict record in dealing with those offenses at which I have been the most guilty in the past. Only now I understand where my family was coming from, at least in that respect.
I am not very harsh when it comes to granting requests to leave the campus. I am inquisitive—I like to know what people are leaving for, what they are getting, why they are going—but I am not particularly harsh. But I do want to know where people are and how to get in touch with them (especially if they are gone for the weekend). Yesterday there was an incident in which half a dozen students were playing soccer next door to the school without permission, but being a very nearsighted person with partial deafness, I could neither see them nor hear them, and I had a meeting with information to gather from the students about their fasting plans for Atonement (or the lack thereof, as happened to be the case), and so there was trouble to be had, because I happened to be the only teacher on campus and the one who is the strictest when it comes to such matters.
But since I am a generous person to requests, it bothers me that people are so unwilling to ask me and that they so often go off and do their thing without permission. It bothers me to write demerit requests. I don’t like getting other people in trouble, I’m not fond of punishment at all (it brings me no pleasure or joy), but at the same time I am a firm believer in fairly and justly enforcing the rules, and so if it has to be done I am willing to do it. I would much rather be asked permission than asked forgiveness. I suspect God is the same way—there is much that we want that God may in fact be willing to grant, perhaps in an even more spectacular and wonderful way than we can imagine (this is especially true for those of us of a rather pessimistic frame of mind by nature), and yet we far more often ask Him for forgiveness when we have screwed things up than permission to pursue the deepest dreams and fiercest ambitions of our hearts.
I realize now, being older and (slightly) wiser than I was a child and teenager that there were some barriers to my asking permission from my folks as often as I should have. For one, I have long believed (perhaps in error) that my family was not concerned with my own social needs. It was my thought that they were rather indifferent to my need for company and not likely to consider it important or worthwhile. I did not ask because I did not think my request would be accepted. Additionally, my family has not always made communication very easy (we are often a very elusive lot, not exactly easy to communicate with). My mother and stepfather still do not use cell phones, for example, and thus I had no way of communicating with them if they were away from home if I happened to have someone willing to give me a ride home from school rather than waiting a couple of hours (or more) for them to pick me up. Being home two hours early might mean more time on the computer (which has always been important to me), but it usually also meant being grounded for a few weeks as well because I was not there when my mom and stepfather showed up to pick me up at school.
I would like to think that I am not as harsh as a disciplinarian as my family (that would be a very hard standard to meet), but in looking at it, the apple doesn’t really fall far from the tree. Even making an intentional effort to be generous and merciful leads me to be thought of by others as an awfully strict and severe person. I would like to think they would judge me more mercifully if they knew what sort of background I had, but at the same time I think it would be difficult for them to imagine just how strict a standard I grew up with (or that this standard was in turn far more generous than the even more draconian standards my family grew up with). Again, what seems generous to us because of our background may often seem very harsh to others who come from vastly more permissive backgrounds. And great harm can be done either by being too harsh or too lenient. One must know the right treatment at the right time, and this is a very difficult balance to master. I am sure I do not have it right, so I try to be merciful to others knowing my own need for such mercy myself.
Nonetheless, even where there are parents willing and interested in showing generosity and not as difficult to communicate with as my own family is, I have still seen children whose personalities are not too dissimilar from my own having trouble asking for permission. In 2009, for the Feast of Tabernacles, as I was unsuccessfully courting a lovely young Chilean lady, I had the chance to see an intriguing incident involving her younger sister. The young lady was very harsh with her sister for getting ill after going to a pool party with some young friends without prior permission, and it still bothers me that someone who should have been generous knowing her own tendency not to entirely tow the straight and narrow herself should have been so harsh to another fellow sinner with the same problem of following her heart’s desire without doing so in the proper manner.
I was considerably more merciful to the girl myself, since I knew very well how it felt like to have an invitation, to be afraid that it would not last if I had to take the time to get permission, and to not want to miss a rare opportunity to spend time with friends. I know very well what that is like, and have paid a very heavy price for choosing the pleasure of the moment without having received prior permission, so I am more understanding of such matters than most. But as an authority figure myself, my understanding of the drives and feelings that lead people to go places without permission does not overturn my duty to fairly and consistently enforce the rules.
I ponder myself when dealing with my students here in Thailand how it is that I can convey to them that I am not some harsh and mean person that likes to be cruel to others but simply wants to be informed about what they are doing, when, and to make sure that this does not interfere with what I am responsible for doing. I ponder what it will be like to have children, and how to let them know that I will be very generous with their requests, but that I want to know where they are, so that I know they are alright and know how to get in touch with them wherever they might be. My desire to know does not mean that I will deny their requests—I deny far fewer requests than I accept, and counteroffer even those I do deny as a teacher. I expect I would be the same as as partent. But I wonder how I can communicate that my desire to know is not being strict or mean or harsh, but rather being concerned, and needing to know because I am responsible for their safety and well-being, even while I am a person who cannot hear or see at great distances, or see well at night, because of my own physical limitations (which I often try to transcend through an interest in electronic or cellular communication or through keeping lights around me). And in pondering these matters, how to explain myelf so that I may be understood by those I am responsible for (and responsible for disciplining), I also ponder if that is in fact what God feels often when it is His unfortunate but necessary duty to discipline us. Maybe He feels the exact same way that we do, saddened when He has to discipline us because He would rather it not be so, wishing our best interests, but wishing we would ask Him for blessings instead of taking what we want without His permission in a timing and manner against His will.