The Rules of the Road

The Rules of the Road

Remember when your parents told you the way to behave? There were certain rules of the road they wanted you to follow: courtesy, timeliness, hard-work, sympathy, respect, truth.

It appears those items are now consigned to the past.

For decades we have lived in a fog comprised of make believe. We have the Geneva Conventions of 1949 that govern how combatants in war are to be treated, prisoners of war, civilians. The world also agreed to a set of conditions regarding weaponry itself. And in the more modern era, we developed atomic and scientific warfare rules. Few of these mean anything when combatants are as “exceptionally independent” as most Americans. All these instructions for modern living while at war have disappeared just as easily as qualification for civilized behavior have in our everyday existence.

In this country, courtesy, timeliness, hard-work, sympathy, respect and truth have long been overtaken by whatever is handy, quick, ready for primetime, true or false. Politicians, as well as business figures, now lie automatically, on the assumption that people are too busy worrying about their own problems to investigate whether or not what is claimed has any trace of veracity. And they get away with it.

On the streets of our cities, young people have adopted this behavior to meet their own needs. Easy violence, protests, lawsuits against their own parents have all leapt to the fore as weapons for leading a contented existence, although contentedness never raises its head. Young people want more, want it now, and are willing to fight for it.

So, as a matter of fact, are AARP members, members of Congress, businessmen and women, university athletic departments.

We know this sounds like a downer, all of it. And it is. The recent downing of a Malaysian Air passenger jet above the Ukraine is a splendid example of how wonderful the world has turned out to be. Russia blames Ukraine. Ukraine blames pro-Russian separatists. America blames Russia. Mr. Putin blames the state of the world.

And chances are every one of those players assumes no one really cares who did what, or has the energy or wherewithal to investigate which side has culpability. In fact, leaders of most world nations assume exactly what leaders of the US Congress do: that the public can’t remember their own names for longer than ten seconds, let alone recall why it is they’re supposed to be upset.

When personal behavior, which we abhor, becomes institutional and international, we’re in trouble. Without an example of how to behave properly, live honestly, care for humans and the planet, we’re in trouble. Without a governor on international disputes and warfare, whether in the MidEast or in Africa or the Balkans, we are without leadership that can guide us to honest solutions of problems.

The downing of the Malaysian flight and the arguments that are following it have simply proven the validity of Groundhog Day. Sooner or later, we may be able to change the daily shocks and scandals. Either that or prove the proverbial wisdom of a man never changing his own behavior while waiting to be diagnosed as crazy.

Are this week’s events the beginning of the end? Probably not. On the other hand, don’t bet the store on it. Allies no longer trust one another. Allies no longer can afford to be truthful with each other. Parliaments around the world are stymied and inactive. Every one of them is afraid to lift their eyes to the horizon to see what’s coming next.

We are still looking for that one single honest man who has been a personal grail since the times of the Greeks.


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