Second chances trump perfection

There are no stupid questions.

To err is human.

Learn from your mistakes.

Ah, the nuggets of wisdom most of us grew up with, passed on by well-meaning parents, teachers and mentors. These messages encourage thought and growth, as well as give a bit of leeway to the naivet‚ of youth.

The message common today seems to hold a more sinister tone: Don’t make mistakes – ever. And if you do, someone will find out and use them against you.

Just this week, The Columbus Dispatch ran a column about Megan Pappada, former director of Women’s Outreach for the Ohio Democratic Party. Pappada wanted to increase citizen participation in the electoral process, especially among minority groups.

But she’ll never have the chance to put her plans into action. A few hours after she was hired, the 25-year-old received a visit from her 18-year-old self. A letter she wrote as a freshman to the editor of The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper, came back to haunt her.

In the letter, Pappada expressed anger at Ohio State’s plan to bring more minorities to campus, complaining she felt discriminated against as a white student.

In response to her firing, Pappada published an open letter through the Buckeye State Blog, which covers political events across Ohio. Pappada expressed regret for her previous statements, saying she has grown since and “… that growth and evolution is often stunted because of the mistakes and missteps of our youth.”

Previous generations had more freedom to grow. It was anticipated, and in most cases, expected, that everyone messes up, at least a little. Experience is a great teacher. And by great, we mean the kind of teacher who fails a student caught cheating.

But that same teacher, in the past, would give students time to learn their lesson. That F might stay in the gradebooks, but they could have another chance to learn from their mistake and turn their overall average around. With luck, that grade might even be dropped at the end of the semester after weeks of good behavior.

Today, that student not only fails the test, but he or she is kicked out of the class. And even after spending a semester thinking about what they did wrong, they’re never allowed to retake the course. They’re blacklisted.

Whatever happened to forgiveness? What kind of society are we creating when we don’t allow people to make mistakes? We’re not talking about the kinds that seriously hurt others or are made with malicious intent. We’re talking about those slips of the tongue, the moments of inconsiderateness, the ignorances that can come from a lack of experience. These are the mistakes that everyone makes at some point in their life. The mistakes that, once realized as such, help to open one’s eyes.

The difference is that previous generations were able to do their growing behind closed doors. Our generation records everything – on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Photobucket, LiveJournal, Xanga – the list goes on and on. Letters to the editor, comments on stories in the media and messages in online forums are all saved forever in the depths of the Internet. All of this is available for anyone to find and use against you.

Where do we draw the line? How far back is it really fair to search for dirt against an employee, a peer or a competitor? When do we allow people to be human again?

The pursuit of absolute perfection is a dangerous thing. It eliminates transparency and encourages censorship.

So, be careful about what you do and say in the public realm. If you wouldn’t streak through a parking lot with your boss or your grandmother watching, think twice about tagging those photos on Facebook.

But when it comes to free speech, do take risks and speak your mind. If you change your mind later, so be it. It’s better to take a chance and grow than to spend your life stunted.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.