This is the story of a grandmother who faced jail time for stealing food to feed her grandchildren and I’d like you to consider what you would have done had you been the judge on her case.
The judge was long-time New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, for whom a famous New York airport is named. In his day, he was popular for riding in fire trucks with firefighters, joining police officers on their beats and taking orphaned children to baseball games.
One icy, bone chilling night in January, 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression, Mayor LaGuardia arrived at a night court in one of the poorest areas in the city. He told the judge to take the night off and he presided over the court.
A short time later, an old woman dressed in threadbare clothing stood before him, on a charge of stealing a loaf of bread.
“Did you steal the bread?” he asked. She said she did and explained that her daughter’s husband had run out on the family, that her daughter was sick and that her two grandchildren had nothing to eat.
Turning to the shopkeeper, he asked that given these circumstances, did he really want to press charges. The shopkeeper felt sorry for the women but told the Mayor this is a bad neighborhood and that this woman needs to be punished to set an example for everyone else.
LaGuardia had a dilemma. Under the law, the woman was guilty and would have to be punished. But given her reason for committing the crime, to punish her would be a miscarriage of justice.
What would you do if you were the judge? The penalty was ten dollars or ten days in jail.
What did LaGuardia do? He took out a ten dollar bill from his wallet and gave it to the bailiff to pay her fine.
Then he looked around the crowded, bustling court room and fined everyone there 50 cents for living in a city in which a grandmother had to steal a loaf of bread to feed her grandchildren. He directed the bailiff to collect the fines and hand the money to the defendant.
The total collected came to $47.50 including the 50 cents willingly paid by the shopkeeper. After everyone had paid the fine, they gave Mayor LaGuardia a standing ovation.
Success Tip of the Week: A valuable lesson we can take from this story is one of compassion. As Mayor LaGuardia did, each of us can listen, can understand the needs of others and we can care. If we act on that caring, it can uplift people’s lives and by doing so bring a greater purpose to our own.
Editor’s Note: This story is commonly believed to be true but I could not confirm that it is. I wanted to share it with you anyway for the valuable lesson it contains.
In the next KazanToday, If you’ve ever felt defeated in your career, this is the story of a man who resigned in disgrace from his dream job, thinking that his career would never recover. Instead he found something far better.