Have you heard about the story of Brian Banks? He was a top high school football player and prospect for major colleges in 2002, when he was 16, but falsely convicted of kidnapping and raping a girl in Long Beach, CA. There was never any evidence--DNA, eye witness, or anything else--linking him to the crime but his attorney convinced him to take a plea deal for five years of prison anyway because if he pleaded not guilty and was convicted by a jury, he could go to jail for most of his life. So Brian went to prison for five years for a crime he didn't commit and then spent another five years under house arrest before the girl finally admitted that she made the whole thing up.
Now, at age 26, Banks is trying to find an opportunity to play pro football for an NFL team. Several teams have given him tryouts. But that's not what makes the Brian Banks story worth noting here.
What's instructive and important is that Banks isn't bitter about what happened to him. He's positive and grateful for being finally exonerated, securing his freedom, and now having the opportunity to pursue his childhood dream of playing pro football. In an interview on SI.com he said:
"I like to tell the story of a little kid who has a dirty room. His mother tells him to clean the room. He says no, and he throws a tantrum. When he stops screaming, the room's still dirty, and he's still got to clean it. When I got to prison, of course I was mad. I didn't understand why the police didn't do a better job investigating the case, and why someone who clearly was not guilty could be put away like that. But I realized the more I thought that way, it kept me stagnant. I was becoming the label they tried to put on me. I made a vow to myself: No matter what happened, no matter what label they put on me, I knew who I was, and I wasn't going to let them turn me into something I wasn't.''
Or as Banks told Jay Leno, "no matter the situation I was in, what was more important for me was how I dealt with the situation and dealt with myself."
On the flip side is another recent, true story I read of a man in South Dakota who murdered a high-school classmate 55 years after the classmate pulled a jockstrap over his head as a practical joke!
Carl Ericsson, of Watertown, S.D., walked to the front door of the ex-classmate, Norman Johnson, and shot him twice. According to the Associated Press, Ericsson told the judge in the case in May that he guesses he shot him
"because of something that happened over 50 years ago. It was apparently in my subconscious.''
So here we have one person who was able to let go of something terrible and unjust that happened to him and turn that negative event into a positive opportunity and another person who so completely ruminated on something trivial that 50 years later he was still so incensed about it that he murdered another human being--wasting two lives in the process.
Here's the hard truth: we all have the capacity to be both Brian or Carl inside us--the ability to move forward in a positive or destructive ways. Ultimately, no matter what bad things happen to us or what life experiences we have, happiness and purpose is a choice--providing that we have the tools and understanding necessary to make that choice. We don't have to be consumed by the the small slights or even the terrible traumas in our lives. We can learn to release the past, forgive others, harness our positive mental potential, and create a vibrant, happy, and meaningful inner life for ourselves, no matter our circumstances.
So the question is: do you want to be Brian or Carl?
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