On Thinking Before Acting

What a tragedy that Farrah Fawcett not only is suffering from terminal cancer, but that her 24-year-old son, Redmond O’Neal, was arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle drugs into a jail to give to a friend. (How comforting it must be to know that your son has buddies in the slammer.)

Then there’s Sarah Palin’s daughter, who got pregnant by an 18-year-old punk who not only backed out of marrying her, but decided it would be real classy to go on national television and tell tales about the Palin family.

These stories of celebrities’ kids screwing up go on nonstop. And they remind all but the luckiest of parents that one of the not-so-fun aspects of having children is that they all too often don’t take into consideration how the results of their actions might impact their families.

Which brings me to my 20-year-old son. A few months ago, he was in an automobile accident and nearly totaled both his car and that of the other driver. It was nighttime, and the black car in front of him had run out of gas and come to a stop in the right-hand lane. The driver said he had his emergency lights on, but my son – perhaps due to a momentary lack of concentration – thought the car was moving.

In any event, he looked over his left shoulder to make sure he could switch lanes, and, as he looked forward again, the right front of his car slammed into the left rear of the immobilized black car in front of him. Though my son was going under the 40-mile-per-hour speed limit, the impact was great enough to trigger his airbag and spin his car around several times.

Of course, you’re always at fault when you hit a car from behind. However, considering the circumstances (black car… nighttime… the other car out of gas and stopped in the road… and my son driving under the speed limit), it didn’t seem necessary for the police officer to charge him with reckless driving. But that’s what he did.

A reckless driving conviction can bring a very stiff fine, the suspension of one’s driver’s license, and, in extreme cases, jail time. But, thankfully, no one was injured. And the other driver was a sympathetic gentleman who was just happy that his wife and small daughter were okay. He even called our house later that evening to see how my son was doing.

As with all negative occurrences in life, a lot of good came out of this one. During a recent conversation I had with my son, he told me that he couldn’t believe how much he had learned from the experience.

When I asked him to elaborate, the first thing he said was that it made him realize how easy it is to have a serious automobile accident. He emphasized how much more careful and alert he intended to be in the future.

He also said he had never imagined how involved being in an accident could be – dealing with insurance companies, finding an auto-repair shop, coming up with the $500 deductible for his share of the $10,000 repair bill, finding an attorney and coming up with the money to pay his fee, going to the DMV to get a copy of his driving record for the attorney, making two court appearances, and, above all, the stress of waiting for both his first and second court dates.

Best of all from my perspective is that he said it made him realize what a major effect his actions could have on others – especially his family. Kids normally learn this simple truth the hard way, over a long period of time. But we adults have no excuse. We should already know that virtually everything we do impacts others, particularly those closest to us.

Which is all the more reason why we should think doubly hard about the consequences of our actions ahead of time. As I told my son, it’s a heck of a lot easier to avoid a serious mistake than to repair the damage caused by one.

In my article “Learning from Saddam,” I said that it’s a good idea to learn to “look backward from the future.” By that I meant that you should make it a habit to picture the possible consequences of your actions before acting. There’s not a person reading (or writing) this article whose family wouldn’t be better off had he/she always applied that rule.

Of course, your perception of reality is a critical factor in all this. If you delude yourself about the odds and the possible consequences of your actions, looking backward from the future is an exercise in futility.

But having an accurate perception of reality is another subject for another day. Right now, a good start is just to think about the efficacy of the “looking backward from the future” principle – and start teaching it to your young children.

What if your children are already in their teens or early twenties, you ask? Answer: Good luck.

[Ed. Note: To learn how to survive and prosper during the turbulent years ahead, check out Robert Ringer’s powerful audio series Succeeding in a World of Chaos. And be sure to sign up for a FREE subscription to his one-of-a-kind e-letter A Voice of Sanity in an Insane World.]