Childhood Mistakes Will Haunt You

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I recently wrote an article for The Conference Board Review where I expressed my shock and concern that nearly one in three kids have been arrested at least once for a non-traffic offense by the age of 23.

That’s right: 30 percent of young people will have faced police handcuffs at some point.

Now that I think about the article, the increase in the number of kids arrested doesn’t surprise me. Life is different in 2012 than it was in 1965. We are now fighting ‘the war against drugs’ and private, for-profit prisons fund large portions of our economy. It’s a sad state for the American economy when a global corporation earns a profit when your kids are arrested and convicted as adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

But back in 1965, there wasn’t a push to try kids as adults in local, state and federal courts. There wasn’t equal justice for citizens who had to face a jury of their peers. We didn’t talk about hate crimes. And there wasn’t an awareness or dialogue around the links between race, class and conviction rates in America.

Times have changed. Now we have a man running for President who ‘made mistakes’ as a kid.

  • Right around the age of 17, Mitt Romney rounded up a posse of heterosexual boys who pinned a boy down and cut his hair.
  • The victim was perceived by his classmates to be a homosexual — and even though the word gay was probably never used, witnesses to the event recall certain euphemisms being used to describe the boy.

I think it’s interesting how we don’t hold people Romney’s age accountable for acts committed when they were younger — even though we do hold today’s children to a higher standard. And god knows Romney probably isn’t the first or last presidential candidate to taunt a boy for being gay. But I wonder — if this happened today, what would be different? Would you interview and hire a candidate who committed this act?

We have real-life examples of other kids being held accountable for bullying kids who are not openly gay. Dharun Ravi is a former Rutgers student who was just convicted of intimidating his roommate. The roommate committed suicide after learning his gay encounter was seen on a webcam planted by Dharun.

Knowing what you know about accountability and bullying, would you hire Dharun to work at your company? When this awful incident happened, both Rutgers boys were barely older than Mitt Romney was during the aforementioned haircut incident.

And what about the very young and impressionable followers of Sam Mullet, an Amish extremist? There are many young men who are in jail and awaiting trial because they are accused of cutting off the beards and braids of non-compliant Amish men and women in their community. Some are asking to be let out on bail so they can work to support their families. Would you hire them?

Childhood mistakes will haunt you unless you have money, power or good political connections to make those mistakes disappear. And even then they don’t always disappear.

I don’t have many answers about anything in life but I think that bullying in any form at any age is detestable and gross. And while 29 states can still fire someone for being gay, I think the HR community has some responsibility to talk about how we can use background checks on some candidates and not others.

What’s our hiring criteria for the President?

It’s an interesting topic. What do you think?

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