Several recent news articles have gone viral. One, in particular, tells the story of three teenage girls who were not allowed to fly on a large, national airline because they were wearing leggings. Another is about a family in Georgia that was denied the right to pick a surname for their daughter. Other articles emphasize the right of cities to claim they are sanctuaries for those who live in our country illegally. All of these stories have something in common. They are all stories people who deny that the rules apply to them.
The fact that three girls chose to wear leggings while flying from Denver to Minneapolis isn’t the issue. The small print clarified that the girls were flying on corporate passes, a benefit enjoyed by those who work for most of our national airlines. The airline in question was interviewed and specified that they have rules to be followed when such a pass is used. The rule was either ignored or disregarded when the young ladies showed up, ready to board the airplane, wearing spandex leggings.
A young family in Georgia would like to choose a surname for their child that isn’t either the mother’s or the father’s last name or a combination of their names. This is not consistent with Georgia law. A unique surname can be selected if the parents apply for a name change after the child is originally named based on the law. In this case, the parents disagree with the law and are fighting to not comply with it.
We have cities in this country that offer sanctuary to immigrants who crossed our nations borders illegally. This creates a huge emotional and legal conundrum! Yet, the underlying message is that our laws mean little to those who have come here illegally as well as to the cities who refuse to follow federal guidelines for immigration.
Of course, there are profoundly agonizing reasons why people have risked their lives to cross our borders; why they did not have the time or resources to recognize and proceed through the ‘proper’ channels; and why cities choose to offer them sanctuary without the fear of deportation.
Please note, this is not a dissertation on opening our arms to the weary, weak, and those in dire need of a safe haven they can call home. This is about rules and who is bound by them and who is not.
You see, when we pick and choose the rules or laws that we follow based on what we agree with and what we don’t agree with, we are walking into a dangerous landscape. Leggings on an airplane are not a problem. Choosing a name for a child is not a problem. Offering hope and a home for someone who is simply looking for a better life is not a problem.
However, embedded in each of these situations is a quandary that should garner all of our attention. The problem is when individuals decide what rules and laws should apply to them and which ones should not.
My daughter was driving to work today and came across an intersection with a green light in her direction. A bus was in the right lane, stopped for passengers to get on and off. As she approached, a man walked into her lane from in front of the bus. Yes, he was in the crosswalk. No, the light in his direction did not give him the right to cross at that point in time. He chose to cross against a red light on a busy city street. Because of good breaks on my daughter’s car and his quick reflexes, he was not injured. However, his decision to ignore the rules almost cost him his life. He knew the rules, but – for whatever reasons – chose not to follow them.
You see, dear reader, we as individuals cannot pick and choose which rules and laws we like…or not…and follow them accordingly…or not. Our obligation is to understand that rules and laws were made for a reason. If they are outdated or inappropriate, it is our privilege and right to go through the proper channels to change the rules that need changing. To repeat, that is indeed our right!
It is also the right of others to have their voices heard. And, whether or not we like the outcome, it is our responsibility to follow the rules and laws that come about as a result of our collective conversations until said rules and laws are changed. It is also our responsibility to speak out and work relentlessly to change those laws that oppress anyone’s undeniable rights and freedoms without deference to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any of the litany of labels we use to demoralize or marginalize others.
I am not naive enough to think that all of our rules and laws are perfect. I also am not foolish enough to think that it is an unjustified assault on our personal freedom when we are held accountable to a standard. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we can speak out about injustice and work toward change – through the proper channels. If we make unilateral choices and personal preferences the determining factor about what rules and laws we decide to follow, no matter how seemingly unimportant the rule or how deeply nobel or necessary the cause, we are paving the road to anarchy one decision at a time.