I ought not to have gone through that red light. We do things at others' peril; and we do things at others' good. At issue is knowing when the choices we make, consciously or unconsciously, affect the whole. For a life unexamined is a life perhaps less anxious, less self-reflective, less narcissistic, and less stressful, but it is a life, nonetheless, that also impacts others. And each of us is on this planet as participants in the whole.
The red light was awfully long. We had waited perhaps three minutes, with no cars yet coming, let alone anyone waiting behind us, when I decided it was foolish so to be caught by a light. And given that our trip was very long, and that we had several hours yet ahead of us, and that there was no one, no house, no pedestrians, no vehicles, not even a policeman to see me, I checked yet one more time, and crossed the road despite the red light. Civil disobedience is such. It aims to allow for the video of me, if there is one, to record that the light's sensor needs adjustment, that the traffic patterns ought better dictate the length of the light, that anything would be more-better than so to test my impatience. Yes, I'll pay! Yet I did not (and do not) feel fully justified.
Jason Majid was with me back in the early 90's, a gifted student of mine who for some reason was walking beside me when we were probably searching for some or other set piece for our drama production. "You're not going to jaywalk?" he remonstrated, just as I set off. "No cars," I ventured back. "Wait," he begged. "The laws are set up to protect the people, to assure drivers of not having people in the road, to ensure we don't get hit. Let's please use the crosswalk." Now, Jason nowadays is a prominent lawyer, and his words were not exactly as penned, but you get the gist of it. He impacted my sensibilities that day. The ethics of that which we do is significant, for society needs laws and regulations despite their common sense too. And we can do much harm when we cross against red lights.
"Wait!" A woman urged anxiously from behind me, just last week, as I was about to cross against the pedestrian light on my power-chair. Some three or five people had walked across in our direction, despite the red hand, and I presumed it was safe and so, like a child, I started off and would have been directly in the path of the oncoming vehicle, had it not been for that woman's kind constraint. We affect others. We are examples. We lead and teach and promote and guide and do for ourselves as others will follow suite, consciously or unconsciously. Or am I not my brother's keeper? Do I really not care that others may indeed be affected by my actions?
"So I hid under a blanket in the back of the jeep and did not pay the ferry toll," the young man grinned as he told us the story. Yet he had plenty of money. And of course, my mind reached to remind him of the stages of Kohlbergian thinking, that at its very best, we are aware of how we might affect the whole. That the ticket taker, as a result of discovering him might be constrained now to have to come out of her booth, to walk around and examine inside every vehicle from then on, as a new policy, and thereby incrementally delay the boarding time for everyone wanting to get onto a ferry forever afterward was not in the young man's mind at all. Yet as I told him, when I was a stowaway back in 1975 aboard the S.A. Oranje from Cape Town I did not think how my discovery might affect the ability of guests from then on to visit their departing friends and family before the ship leaves. (Here in Canada, with the cruise ships docking so frequently just across the harbour from me, there is no more going up to visit the innards at all!)
"A gentleman is defined by what he does and thinks when all by himself," I pretentiously wrote not too long ago. And didactic as my meaning may come across, there is some value for me in our examination of all that we do, and don't do, as it affects our friends and family alike. Or am I truly not my brother's keeper? And am I truly just a person who may do as I damn well please?