In recent days, three unrelated and irritating experiences have become linked in my mind. They seem to say something about the world in which we now live.
The first happened while driving into town a few days ago. A driver ran the red light to my left, cutting me off as she turned into my lane of traffic. At the next light, I rolled down the window and, at the fear of being flipped off, quietly said to the young woman, “You know, you ran that red light.”
“I did,” she said, “but I’m late for work.”
That response somehow seemed OK for her as she sped off, committing three moving traffic violations as she went; speeding, illegal lane change, no turn signal.
A day or two later, while driving Interstate 5 north of Roseburg, OR, I watched a guy standing in his pickup bed on a parallel frontage road, throwing empty cans, bottles and other junk onto the right-of-way. When I came back a few minutes later, he was gone but the garbage was still there.
The third experience has been watching a family a few blocks from our house leave garbage cans out permanently and, with a garage full of adult toys, park two cars on the narrow street night after night. I’m told this violates a couple of Roseburg city ordinances. The resident, not a newcomer, probably knows that.
So, where am I going with this? Well, one common thread here is a seemingly shared contempt for the authority with which we all live, whether driving, littering or violating garbage and parking ordinances. A second commonality we can likely assume is that all three of these violators knew what they were doing was wrong but, for their own purposes, did it anyway.
So what? Nobody was hurt. Well, maybe not. Then again, where do the Bobby Knights, Darrell Strawberrys and Pete Roses come from? Why do parents get into fistfights at Little League and soccer games while their 10-year-olds watch? Why do otherwise law-abiding citizens cheat on their taxes?
There is another connection in these three scenarios and the questions just asked. That would be a lack of personal responsibility coupled with faulty thinking that no one else was injured by what they were doing so it didn’t really matter: “The rules don’t apply to me.”
But such behavior does matter. And it does hurt. In the case of the red-light-runner, it can kill.
Maybe in their early years, no one held any of these people to a level of expected behavior and followed through with immediate punishment for not meeting it. I can tell you that was not the case in our house when I was growing up. There were rules and swift punishment if those rules were broken.
Oh, I don’t mean physical retribution. No, my wise old parents had better methods. Denial of privileges like riding my bike or later, driving my car. Grounding. Reduced or eliminated allowance. Added chores.
At the time, I was sure the rules were too tough, my world would be forever changed and I would never be “socially acceptable” again! I didn’t have to live by their old rules!
Then, one day, the light dawned. I suddenly saw the reduced allowance as a traffic fine. The denial of my bike or car was driving privileges taken away by the “court” for misbehavior. The added chores were the costs of probation and punishment. It took awhile. But I finally got it.
If someone didn’t do the same for participants in the above examples, those people missed something important. But, as adults, they should have at least heard of the concept of personal responsibility somewhere along the line.
So, for those who have heard and believe the rules apply, and for those who have not, here is a reality. Before getting all hot and bothered about what our kids watch on TV, listen to in their headsets or spout the kind of rotten language they suddenly come up with out of nowhere, maybe we should be more aware of what they watch and hear at home where the rules are.
And that would be … us!