When Past Behavior Comes Back to Haunt You

Recent developments reinforce the point that people should be careful what they say and do, especially when they are young and mostly clueless. Criminal acts have ramifications, reprehensible actions will not be forgotten, and there is no such thing as “just running my mouth.”

A Life of Its Own

ghost in office, ghosting, hiring, Human Resources, HREven if the school of hard knocks has taught you a thing or two, even if you have matured and know better, the past has a life of its own. It can easily make your life today miserable.Thoughtless, cruel, and mean behavior can, and often does, come back to haunt you.

As former president George W. Bush once famously said, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” That blasé attitude works when you’re rich, white and male, with Daddy and his lawyers to cover your back and keep the ghosts at bay. For people who are poor, black and/or female, an excuse like that gets you nowhere.

The Supreme Poster Child

The current poster child for this scenario is, of course, Justice Brett Kavanaugh. His behavior in prep school and then at Yale University is remembered by those he injured, those who were present, and those who heard about it later. Some of his sexual misbehavior actually was, as he commented during his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “the talk of the campus.”

Confronted by the testimony of a woman he had injured and the recollections of classmates, he perjured himself into order to gain a seat on the Supreme Court. Had he been smarter and kinder, he would never have been put in that position. Those lies came around for a second time, when another witness was reported recently by the New York Times.

Lies Under Oath

Boofing Bad, Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme CourtTotally aside from the harassment accusations, we know he lied under oath about his drinking and drug use—issues that might never have come up had he been more disciplined at Yale.

During his testimony, he defined “boofing,” for example as passing gas, when the generally accepted definition is ingesting drugs or alcohol through your anus. Eeww. The funny thing is that the committee might have bypassed that as just youthful bad judgment. But he lied about it under oath. In a quote from the Watergate scandal, “It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

Justice Kavanaugh got his seat on the Supreme Court anyway but the ghost of his college behavior keeps on haunting him. He becomes the second sitting Justice with the spook of sexual harassment behind him. As Debra Katz, the lawyer for Christine Blasey-Ford, said, “He will always have an asterisk next to his name.”

Mark Wahlberg’s Violent Youth

In 1998, when he was growing up in blue-collar Dorchester, MA, actor Mark Wahlberg was a punky kid. He had numerous run-ins with the police, who knew him well. At the age of 15, he and three friends followed and threatened several black kids. Two years later, Mr. Wahlberg attacked a middle-aged Vietnamese man with a stick while they were on the street. He beat the man unconscious and then punched another Vietnamese man, partially blinding him. Charged with attempted murder, he was tried as an adult and served 45 days of a two-year sentence.

Mark Wahlberg Youth FoundationSince then, Mr. Wahlberg has become an internationally known A-list actor with many credits to his name and many dollars in the bank. He has acknowledged that his hate crimes were wrong and expressed regret for what he did. The actor supports 13 charities and 19 causes. He created the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation to remove and eliminate barriers that prevent youth from succeeding.

Yet his victims have never forgiven him and the criminal record has damaged his ability to get a license for his Wahlbergers restaurant chain. Even if you’re rich and famous, past actions may haunt your life.

Jane Fonda’s Big Mistake

Actress Jane Fonda made a really big mistake that has haunted her career ever since. During the Vietnam War, she visited Hanoi, then the capital of North Vietnam, with her first husband, Roger Vadim. That trip was mistake #1. Worse, she made anti-war statements on North Vietnamese radio that criticized American military policy and begged American pilots not to bomb non-military targets. Mistake #2 was to be photographed, smiling, on an anti-aircraft gun that the North Vietnamese used to shoot down American aircraft.

Hating Jane Fonda, Hanoi Jane, North Vietnam, Vietnam WarDubbed “Hanoi Jane,” Ms. Fonda was tarred with being unpatriotic at best and downright traitorous at worst.  She is still hated by men who fought in that misbegotten war, as well as their families and veterans. Just a couple of weeks ago, a Vietnam vet told me how much he hated her for something she did 47 years ago. Her thoughtless, careless, stupid action earned her the ghost of unrelenting enmity from countless Americans despite her later success.

This sign is one of the few I saw online that I would even consider putting into this post. Most were much, much worse.

A Teachable Moment

The teaching moment for young people is that words matter and people watch what you do. You may think it’s just a frat party and everyone’s drunk, so who cares? Or it didn’t matter that you grabbed some girl’s body. Or that your party costume was meant in jest. Or that your white male privilege gives you the freedom to say whatever you like without repercussions. Real white male privilege, of course, means you don’t think about it all. When that ghost rears up decades later and shouts, “Ooga-booga,” you’ll be very surprised.

Coming Back to Haunt You

So, teach your children well. They are probably clueless. It’s up to you to teach them that words have meaning and actions have repercussions. Flipping someone the bird, saying something stupid, associating with the wrong people, putting up a rude social media comment, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time are all potentially damaging.

If you’re applying for a job and the hiring manager sees lots of drunk pictures on Facebook or Instagram, you probably won’t get the call. That person you cut off in the  the parking lot or cut in front of in line at Starbuck’s might be the one who’s going to interview you.

Teach Your Children Well

Teach your children that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from the consequences of what you say. Those ghosts of past stupidity may return to haunt you in a matter of days or years or even decades from now. They might ruin your reputation, keep you from obtaining a distinguished position or get you fired from one you already have.

Consequences just ahead, coming back to haunt youThe fact that things have been quiet and nothing has happened for days or months or years means nothing. Different levels of scrutiny apply to different industries, professions, and positions. Some day you may want a security clearance or a license or a job that requires Congressional confirmation. The fact that no one looks—or cares—for twenty years, doesn’t mean they won’t look now.

Teach your children to be smart. To be aware. To get a clue. Ghosts may take their time showing up and life may not be fair but no one likes a haunt and karma’s a bitch.

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