Saturday, June 2, 2012

Black & White with Shades of Grey

Which of society’s rules are you willing to break?

Not long ago I heard an older and seemly wise man say “if you aren’t willing to have some grey in your life you have no business being in business for yourself”. His philosophy was that there is a whole world out there working against you AND your business and to survive you need to be willing to bend a rule now and then. This got me thinking what is bending the rules? And clearly it’s different for different people. It made me ask myself what is my own line that I won’t cross and how do I justify bending a few of our given rules now and then.

I have people in my life that are rule breakers and I have some that aren’t. The rule breakers tend to justify what they do OR don’t do based on their opinion that they aren’t hurting anyone and as long as they don’t get caught it’s ok. Some of them run pretty fast and loose with what most of think is right and wrong. But to them it’s a means to an end.

Years ago I went to Lake Shasta with some great friends for the week of fun and sun. We rented a house boat and along with the boat came a strict set of rules. One of the biggest rules was to not move the boat after dark. Our first night on the water we barbequed a fresh salmon and after dinner I put the fish carcass in a garbage can and placed the can a few feet up on shore. I was sleeping on the top deck of the house boat that night and I didn’t care to smell old salmon as I was laying in my sleeping bag. After we all fell asleep that night I was awoken to some pretty loud rustling near the front of the boat. A black bear had smelled the fish and had come for a late night dinner from our garbage can. Needless to say, the entire boat woke up pretty fast and tensions were high with a big bear just about 4 feet from the bow of our floating home away from home. It would have been an easy jump for our furry visitor to come aboard and no one wanted that. Being the king of sarcasm I quickly blurted out, “I say we break the rules and move the boat”. That trip was over 30 years ago but all that experienced our adventure now live with that remark. In my life anytime a big rule must be ignored because of a drastic situation the comment “moving the boat” always works and to me, makes sense.

Other people in my life are very black and white. They seem to have this personal code that keeps them pretty constricted to a rigid path. Some do this for religious reasons and others for a personal choice but the road they travel is very straight and they are sure of their need to follow a strict line of right and wrong. Getting caught doing something is wrong is not as big of deterrent as is their need to do the right thing. The idea of taking a grey area tax deduction is out of the question for these folks. Or they would never allow another person to eat off their plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. Breaking the rules is just not an option for them.

These people will tell you they are law abiding and do what they do so they like the person they look at in the mirror each morning. But thinking about some of these righteous people in my life made me wonder what does it take for someone to break a rule? In what situation are you willing to do something wrong for your benefit or the benefit of others? What has to happen for any of us to drop our self imposed moral code in desperate times and move the boat? What is your big black bear off the bow of your house boat?

Most of us like to think we obey the laws of the land. But who among us do not occasionally drive faster than the speed limit if we are in a hurry? Can you tell me you have never crossed the street before the sign said walk because no cars were coming? Ever drive without your seat belt on because you were just going around the block? We all break the rules now again when we choose to. I think different people justify subtle lawlessness because it might be random or a one-time event. But what is your limit and which rules or society expectations are you willing to break if the need is great enough or you are sure you won’t get caught?

Looking back to high school I had a German teacher that taught me a lesson I will never forget. Herr Wood was not only a foreign language teacher but a philosopher, too. He once posed a question to my class that has been a part of my thinking for most of my adult life. Mr. Wood gave us the scenario of an intersection in the middle of nowhere. At that intersection is a street light and when you arrive up to the light it’s red. You look both ways and you can see for miles. You can see you are the only car at the light and yet you wait. If you continue to wait until the light turns green you are being a good law abiding citizen. But there are no other cars for miles. There is no danger of a crash or even a hidden chance a waiting police officer will write you a ticket. He asked the class at what point does your common sense take over and tells you to pull through the red light? At what point do you stop being afraid of doing the wrong thing?  Are you going to go through life simply doing just as people tell you is the right thing to do or are you going to make decisions yourself about what is right for you? Me, I choose to think for myself and if there is no danger to myself or others I am pulling through the red lights of life.

Our society needs laws and order. Without order there is chaos. Rules, laws and commandments have been put in place to guide us towards stability and harmony. And, I do believe I have a high sense of right and wrong in my life. I am the type of person to chase someone down that has dropped their wallet or leaves an item behind in a restaurant. I once found a sack of money outside a bank that wasn’t mine with what I guessed was over $15,000 in it and I put it in the night deposit because it was the right thing to do. But I also don’t think every speed limit must be obeyed when I decide there is no clear and present danger at that time. I use my own mind, heart and conscience to decide when a rule can be bent and when it must be obeyed. To me, this is part of being an intelligent being. I am making the decision for myself and deciding based on my own sense of right and wrong. And I am very comfortable with my choices.

So next time you pull up to that intersection and you can see for miles that no one is coming what will you decide to do?