I confess, I am guilty. Yes, I considered it beforehand. I knew there would some people who would not like it, though I must confess, I underestimated the degree of outrage it would generate. I ran it over in my mind several times. It was not something most people were presently doing in this public arena. How would folks react if they saw me doing this right out in a public arena, obviously without regard for the opinions of others?
Truth of the matter is, we seldom do those things, publicly, that we know will cause the public to perhaps look upon us with disfavor or distaste. Have we become so conditioned that we order the majority of our actions in such a manner we feel will be acceptable to the masses? Obviously, I am not advocating total disregard for socially, morally and legally correct behavior. I am simply wondering if we have arrived at a place where we are simply being swept along by “public opinion.” A place where we no longer make individual choices that may not be consistent with what is going on around us. You know, the lone-wolf type of individual, choosing to walk alone, perhaps even against the flow.
Prior to my actions, I engaged in a serious conversation with myself on the matter. “Ben, are you sure you want to do this? After all, this is a public thoroughfare, it is broad open daylight, and furthermore, it is almost quit-work time for a lot of folks. If you do this, you are going to be seen and probably criticized by a lot of people, some who may be merely irritated, others actually angry. Do you really want to risk that?”
This led to another conversation with my inner man: “Hey, wait, do you really care that much about what other people think? It is not that I don’t regard people’s opinions and feelings, but can I allow their view of a thing to control me? Do I allow the opinions of others to dictate and control my behavior? Am I so conditioned to conform that I no longer possess the ability to act on my own, regardless of ‘public opinion’?” I asked myself, “Have I become so conditioned to public opinion/acceptance that I have abandoned my right to make my own perfectly legal, moral, upright and, totally acceptable to me, independent decisions? Where do we draw the line? After all, isn’t this America – the land of the free, home of the brave?”
I then considered those two words, free and brave:
Free is partially defined as “enjoying personal rights or liberty, a land of free people; exempt from … restriction; independent; unrestricted.” In other words, as a free moral agent, an American citizen, I could engage in any type of legal, moral behavior, as long as it did not infringe on the liberty of others.
Brave: “possessing or exhibiting courage; bold; intrepid; daring; dauntless; heroic.” In my debate with self over the decision, I came to the conclusion that as an American, I was guaranteed the right by the Constitution to make bold, courageous, intrepid, free-will, unrestricted, independent decisions.
As I contemplated my act of defiance, I had to ask myself some further questions, “Have we, as Americans, become so committed to certain forms of behavior that we no longer tolerate any deviation from certain standard norms? What if my violation could put other people in jeopardy, and perhaps cause injury or even death? Should my desire to avoid dirty looks, scowls, frowns or “the finger” be sufficient justification to engage in illegal behavior, even compromise my moral standards? Should I violate my personal standards to conform? Are people who do not “toe the line” anti-American?
Finally, I made my decision. “I’ll do it!” Right here in the middle of a large city on the East Coast of Virginia. So I did it, in public, in broad open daylight, in full view of dozens, perhaps a 50 people.
I was right. Most people did not like it and demonstrated their displeasure. I must confess, I had anticipated a reaction, though perhaps not to quite the degree of negative response received. I received countless scowls, frowns and dirty looks. A dozen (perhaps more) people acted as though they were going to simply run me over. At least three people gave me “the finger,” including a mother with two small children. Except for a few people who simply ignored me, one older couple managed a smile as they observed my behavior.
I was doing it! Then these questions arose, “Now that I have observed their reactions, do I continue, or bow to the pressure and conform? If I cave and submit, isn’t that cowardice? (“lack of courage to face … difficulty, opposition”) “Yes!” So, bow your neck (hunker down and continue), as they used to say when I played football in high school. I “hunkered down” and continued for the next 20 minutes and finally all the negative reactions came to an end.
I confess, I did experience a sense of relief, but I felt better about myself and I resolved to continue to do this and, henceforth, refuse to allow myself to be intimidated by others, regardless of their reactions. After all this is America, “the land of the free and home of the brave.”
Oh, my act of defiance? Did I forget to mention it? Guilty as charged! I deliberately slowed down on the freeway to the posted speed limit of 55 mph.
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