The other day I was going across west Texas on my motorcycle when this thought first hit me and have sat with for a couple of days to see where it would take me. The time for me to let it go has arrived and so I will hand it off to the world to see where it goes.
There are two premises that are at the foundation of this argument. The first is that children learn by seeing what their parents do and not what they say. All too often, what they say becomes nothing more than a story line that justifies what they are predisposed to do.
We all know how this works. A couple of examples will help clarify this point. Case one goes something like this: there is nobody watching and that makes it OK. Another is I had to get there or be late. Another big one is it only becomes wrong if I am caught. The story line goes on and on and it is not lost on the children.
The second foundation is the role of the automobile in our culture. Modern societies in general and the US specifically are built around the auto. Everything from going to work, going on vacation, shopping for groceries to going to school in some way, shape or form are built around the departure and arrival at any one of those activities.
The interaction of the parent and the law or street signs becomes the road map at a very primitive level for children establishing patterns of behavior in their own lives that will carry on and influence all their social actions to some extend or another.
Think of the way the public interacts with street and speed limit signs. On the open highway, speed limits are universally ignored. At a conservative estimate, I have traveled over a quarter of a million miles in the last decade on the highways and byways of life. Almost never, have I seen speed limits voluntarily enforced. This is particularly true on the highways and interstates of the nation. The speed limit is not what is posted but normally ten miles faster than posted where the fines are doubled or tripled.
This lesson is painfully obvious when driving past a group of highway patrol cars and seeing them let the traffic move faster than the posted speed. They only make the effort to enforce the law at ten miles an hour faster or more. Now, there are two legitimate questions that fall out of this. The first is: are they there as tax collectors of the state or to enforce the laws as they are posted. The second question is: is the law actually what is written or does it become legitimately what you can get away with.
By the same token, look at how laws in school zones are enforced. Go one or two miles above the speed limit and a ticket is sure to follow and that is only because the state or community decides this is a law that needs to be enforced.
Essentially, the law is not the law but only a mechanism that is arbitrarily and capriciously enforced depending on who is at the enforcement end. That ranges from legislatures all the way down to the cop on the beat. And to an even greater degree it is every one of us who has a child present when complying or not complying with the law.
In fact, I will argue that we are the primary enforcement mechanism because a child only needs to see the consequence of our every action to lay as part of their own future interaction with society. A good example is riding down the highway and watching cars pass a parent with no visible consequence. The lesson learned is that there is no consequence to violating the law.
More often than not you could say that you have a better chance winning the lottery than getting caught for violating a traffic law which is still a law no matter how you cut it.
The interaction of a parent or adult with traffic laws lays a critical foundation as an example of putting oneself above the daily application of laws. It boils down to being above the law or not which is a critical thought process that is established on a very visceral level in a simplistic day to day interaction with the state and society.
Now lets take a leap and substitute drugs or abuse for automobiles. I argue that the same forces are at play in our nation. The only difference is the basis of how our children react to drugs is laid long before they become aware of them.
This is a thought that is finding expression at 3 am and could very well change as the days go on but for now it is what it is. I invite anyone to tell me I am wrong.
PS: Could not figure out where to put this into the discussion but when I was growing up in New England, everyone knew that in Connecticut the speed limit was 60 miles per hour and if you were driving 61 miles an hour you were going to get a ticket. The highway speed coming into the state noticeably decreased on crossing into the state and increased on leaving the state. I, as a 16 year old driver, also knew that in Connecticut, they were serious about how they enforced every law and really paid attention to what I did.