Not Everyone Should Get a Second Chance

How to figure out what to do when you’ve been done wrong.

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Photo by Eric Ward via Unsplash

We want to be good people. For the most part, people seem to make it through their day without intentionally transgressing against others. Sometimes, though, we find ourselves in a position where we’ve been horribly let down by the behavior of another.

Whenever someone lets us down, in a way that’s big or small, we have to decide what to do with that. Forgiveness feels good whether we give it or receive it. The most common practice when it comes to this is simple. People deserve a second chance.

If whatever they have done is a first offense, we tend to let it slide. Our inherent desire is to believe, at their core, that people are good and remorseful. Once they understand how what they do affects us, they will avoid causing further pain or aggravation in our lives.

This is a slippery slope. If people had the self-awareness we expect them to have in order to truly understand the effects of their behavior so that they don’t let us down again, they probably wouldn’t have let us down in the first place.

There are significant flaws with the concept that everyone deserves a spiritual “get out of jail free” card. This may be a horrifically pessimistic view of the matter, but I think it has some merit.

It begs the questions that if the majority of us are of the thinking that most people deserve a second chance, then why wouldn’t I believe that most people wouldn’t bank on getting that second chance.

My friend runs a business with a lot of part-time employees. They accept assignments at will and she has had issues with employees canceling on assignments at the last minute.

The company put a policy in place that was a “three strikes, you’re out” rule. After three instances of calling off without proper notice, the employee would be terminated.

Employees still had no problem with calling off at the last minute because they knew they could do it two times and keep their jobs. Employees would contact their supervisor and state that they wanted to use their first strike or their second strike. It doesn’t work that way.

Getting a second chance is a privilege, not a right. No one should get that granted automatically. I’m not sure when it became standard practice to correct behavior by issuing warnings. Sometimes, we need to deal with the consequences of our behavior the first time.

Before we start doling second chances like we’re a pediatrician with lollipops, there are several things to consider.

Did we make our expectations clear? It’s difficult to clear a bar when you have no idea where that bar is. You can jump all you want but your chances of success are greatly lowered. If we communicate what we expect from people, this sets boundaries.

Is there a consequence for a second transgression? People do well when they understand the consequences of their behavior. Letting people know what is at stake and getting their firm acknowledgment of this should be our first rule of order in granting a second chance.

Are we willing and able to follow through on consequences? Empty threats have never served anyone well. If you’re a pushover and know that you’ll cave under the pressure to forgive a second time, reconsider putting yourself in that position. The only thing it does is open the door for someone else to take advantage of that second chance. It will carry no weight and no meaning.

Does the punishment fit the crime? If we choose not to forgive someone, it could seriously change their life. Firing someone for showing up late for work once is probably not the best time to institute a zero-tolerance policy. Small crime, huge consequence.

However, no one should have to endure the anxiety of forgiving an unfaithful partner. Even though not granting a second chance to them can drastically change their life, the consequences fit the crime and no one should feel bad about doling that out.

Second chances are a gift. We reserve the right to give them freely or to deny them. Forgiveness should be a pressure-free, guilt-free experience on the side of all parties. Our mental health depends on our ability to make the right decision when we need to and have the space to stand by it.

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Flaming pinball, nerd, music lover, wine snob, horrible violin player. No, I won’t stop taking pictures of my drinks. vanessaltorre@gmail.com IG: vanessaltorre

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