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Don’t think ‘choices’ and ‘mistakes’ are the same thing

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

How we define words and concepts helps us to see human behavior in a realistic way. When people make bad choices, and do bad things, things they know are wrong, they ARE still CHOICES, not accidents or mistakes, even though the consequences were unforeseen when they are caught and punished.

I’ve frequently heard people refer to what I consider to be deliberate and knowing “choices” as “mistakes.” In the sentence, “he made a mistake and robbed a liquor store,” my inclination is to scream, “NO, he did NOT make a ”˜mistake,’ he made a deliberate choice to rob a liquor store.” The mistake was he didn’t figure he would get caught, and he was wrong. He got caught and went to prison. The mistake, if any, was in thinking he would not get caught.

Wikipedia defines mistake: “A mistake is an error caused by a fault: the fault being misjudgment, carelessness, or forgetfulness. Now, say that I run a stop sign because I was in a hurry, and wasn’t concentrating, that is a mistake.”

Wikipeida also defines choice: “Choice consists of the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them. While a choice can be made between imagined options (“what would I do if …?”), often a choice is made between real options, and followed by the corresponding action.”

Every living human starts making choices the moment we awaken each day. Do I get up, or do I stay in bed? Do I brush my teeth first or start the coffee? Sometimes our choices lead to unforeseen consequences that we do not want, but the mistake was in figuring out what the consequences of our actions would be, not in the choice we made, unwise though it may have been. The choice was a deliberate one.

Dickey Ray Chance

According to the public records held in the Marion County, Arkansas, Circuit Clerk’s Office concerning the investigation and arrest of Dickey Ray Chance for child pornography and Internet stalking of a child on July 19th, Chance is quoted as saying, “I realize what I have done is wrong and I am really sorry for the wrong I have committed. A terrible mistake on my behalf and  (I) wish that it had never happened.”

Chance’s behavior over a one-year period to carry on a sexually explicit Internet conversation with a person identified as a 14-year-old girl was a choice. The mistake was in judging the consequences of his behavior, and finding out that the “girl” was a Marion County sheriff’s deputy. He immediately lost his job, his benefits, his home, his wife and family, as well as his status in the community and his ability to make a living.

The unintended  consequence (being arrested)  of his behavioral choice  was a mistake, but what he did was a choice.

Making excuses

Many times the people we think have a high level of psychopathic traits will excuse their choices as “mistakes” in an effort to shift the blame for those choices off themselves. There is no doubt that Chance knew it was both legally wrong and morally wrong for him to carry on a sexual discussion over the Internet, or any other way, with a 14-year-old girl, yet he chose to do this action multiple times over a one-year period. This was no error in judgment; it was a deliberate choice. His error in judgment was in thinking he could get away with this behavioral choice without having any legal consequences, and without being exposed as a pedophile.

My psychopathic son, Patrick, knew it was “wrong” to steal, he knew it was “wrong” to kill, yet he made the choices to do both. The mistake he made, however, was in thinking that he would not get caught, even without making much, if any, effort to disguise who had committed those crimes. In fact, he actually bragged about his intention to kill his victim before he did so, and afterwards as well. The choice to kill her was just that, a choice, but the biggest mistake in his life was in not realizing that some other people, even among his petty-criminal associates who, while they may have been dishonest, were not full-fledged psychopaths, and would not view his choices as admirable and macho.

People high in psychopathic traits frequently make choices that harm other people, thinking they can get away unscathed by consequences for these choices. The man who decides to cheat on his wife, but when he gets caught, cries about what a “mistake” it was and how “sorry he is for having hurt her.” The person who steals something, then when caught cries about how they “made a mistake,” hoping the victim of their choice will give them unearned trust again and forgiveness for their “mistake.” The criminal bank robber or rapist wants the public to view his/her behavior as a “mistake,” almost an “accident,” that  happened rather than as a deliberate evil choice to do wrong.

The word “mistake” even indicates to me an “accidental” nature of an event, rather than a consequence of a deliberate choice.  When we choose to give unearned trust to a repeat offender of bad choices, the same way a parole board lets a bank robber out of prison early when he pleads “I’ve learned my lesson, it was just a big mistake,” we are also making a choice, and we will have to deal with those consequences of our choices. In dealing with a psychopath, I can almost guarantee it will be a mistake with consequences we won’t like.


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Hens- too funny!!! It’s nice to hear the funny ones.

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