Punish or forgive?

The post on social media featured a short video recording of a woman stealing a recently delivered package from someone’s front porch. The response of the person posting this video was to wish for the perpetrator to spend her Christmas in jail as punishment.


We have learned that a large segment of our society generally prefers punishment to forgiveness. We also know that, regrettably, a culture of punishment can lead to abuse. We see and read reports of this regularly, particularly in educational settings where the emphasis is on conservative values.

As a young reporter I once covered a conference of religious leaders and laypersons who were swapping advice on preferred corporal punishment techniques to be used on children. Many years later, I still remember the enthusiasm of the mostly female participants. It was scary.

Punishment for crimes is appropriate. I believe in consequences. If you commit the crime, you do the time, goes the old saying. Today, as we Americans and our friends around the world witness the misdeeds of our elected government officials, we yearn for payback, a way to punish those who violate our laws and values. But what is appropriate? What makes sense?

We who shout ‘Lock her up” or “Impeach Trump” also smile and nod in support and empathy when we witness extraordinary acts of love as a widow in a courtroom reaches out to hug and forgive the person who murdered her husband.

I don’t know what will happen to that woman whose act of petty larceny was caught on a surveillance camera and was shared on social media for all to see. She should face the consequences of her crime, and that public display of her act surely is one consequence she hadn’t counted on. Perhaps she will pay a fine. I hope she learns never to take what is not hers.

I hope she spends Christmas at home with those who love her.

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