Statistically improbable as it may seem, a Miami driver actually did come to a complete stop at a crosswalk this past Saturday. A dozen of my running buddies and I waved cheerfully as we took a step on to 57th Ave. We then froze in our proverbial tracks as another car whipped around the stopped vehicle at 50 miles an hour. We easily avoided doing bowling pin impersonations. The galumphing sports car missed us by several feet. "It's not that difficult," Jen pointed out. "It's a crosswalk. Not a proposition from Wittgenstein*. You're supposed to stop." The rest of us nodded in agreement, enjoying Jen's indignant rant. "See, they make it easy: white lines on the street, flashing yellow lights on the sign. Crosswalk. Did anyone see a sign that said 'Speed up. Run over as many people as possible'?" When no one spoke up, Jen finished. "Neither did I."
Everything had been going well to that point: yes, it is hot and muggy. But we have got hot and muggy figured out after half a century of brutal summers. "Start out slow; then taper off," is our mantra. We are with our buddies. We anticipate a pleasant, if slow-paced, run. We look forward to heading for the deli for breakfast as we have for decades. We are going to share stories about our families, chat about nothing. With any luck at all, someone will tell the "Karate Monkey Joke." And then some idiot speeds by, breaking the law, reminding us that we are at risk, that the idiots always have the upper hand, that dismemberment and death are not just close in the dictionary but also close at hand.
The little steps that we take toward health and camaraderie can be obliterated. Our belief that cars yield to pedestrians in clearly marked crosswalks is imperfect, optimistic.
What are the underlying assumptions of living in a civil society? Dunno. Frankly, none of it makes much sense to me. I have no metric by which to explain why a car would swoop over a double yellow line scaring runners only to speed toward a red light a hundred yards away. So let's talk about families, the smallest unit of the larger group: What are the underlying assumptions in your household? Do your children feel safe? Always? Sometimes? When they are in school? When they are standing on the sidewalk? When they are tucked in at night?
Skinner taught us that behavior inspired by differential reinforcement is the hardest to extinguish. A sporadic reward keeps us anticipating a subsequent goodie. Are you a reasonable and thoughtful parent MOST of the time? Do your kids USUALLY feel safe and secure?
Reading to your kids is a good idea. Taking your kids hiking and camping works for many families. Family dinner has been shown to decrease the likelihood of substance abuse. Tossing a ball with your kid is heaven on Earth. Making brownies or rocking chairs with your kids is awesome. Whereas staggering home sloppy drunk, yelling at your kids, and being emotionally or physically abusive can put you out of the game. Kids who grow up healthy and strong in spite of or because of lousy parents exist more frequently in the movies than in your neighborhood.
There are enough bullies in the schools; your kids don't need "practice" with bullies at home. There are enough idiots on the street; your kids don't need idiots at home. There are enough "real life examples" of real life in the real world. More than enough. Your home has got to feel safe, the rock on which your children's emotional foundation can be built. Your parenting should be sober, supportive, and consistent. No careening, speeding drivers allowed.
* We are, as always, indebted to "Fawlty Towers" for this wonderful phrase.