Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I don't remember if it was my political theory class or English lit, but I do remember being forced to read Rousseau's "Social Contract". And while I've pushed most of my education out of my brain to make room for quotes from "The Office" and "Gilmore Girls" (just kidding...sort of), I recall Rousseau arguing that the basis for a civilized society is the realization that we need one another for survival and as such, we make rules to keep us from killing each other. And so, for cavemen that meant putting the clubs down in order to share a cave. Today, that means thousands of years worth of rules, acknowledged and unacknowledged, that societies agree on to create an environment of civility that is supposed to enhance survival and decrease violence.

Now, let's be honest, some of the rules for a civilized society we've adopted are ridiculous. I mean, who decided it's tacky and offensive for me to wear my white pants now that Labor Day has come and gone? And, who decided that we need to track down the first, middle and last names of every known relative in order to send invitations and get married?

On the flip side, some of the rules are greatly appreciated. "No shoes, no shirt, no service" seems highly appropriate in public establishments where food is being served. I also appreciate that there are rules in place so that when someone in my neighborhood decides to shoot fireworks in the middle of May on a Tuesday night at 10pm, leading my dog to bark and my baby to cry, the police come at the request of the 20 phone calls they receive from others in the neighborhood to put an end to it (talking hypothetically, of course).

Rules of civility encourage us to be better than our selfish mindsets often push us to be. Rules of civility create expectations for how we treat each other and how we can rightfully expect to be treated.

So, what is happening all around us as these rules are seemingly breaking down in the most unlikely places - i.e. center court at the U.S. Open, on stage in million dollar outfits for music awards and the halls of the U.S. Congress (okay, maybe Congress isn't such an unlikely place). Now, I'm not going to add to the multitudes discussing these specific events - all were unbelievable and all parties have apologized, but I am wondering if it was just a bizarre week or has the contract been dropped? Have we decided it's no longer worth the effort or in our best interest to have rules demanding unselfish behavior?

Now, I would be the last person to argue for larger law books and more extensive litigation, but I am with my girl Aretha when she says R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I'm also with Jesus when he says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." Come to think of it, Jesus also said, "There is no greater love than this, that He lay down his life for his friends."

Every instinct in our being says self-preservation, but God created this world (and all the important rules) and Jesus basically says the best way to self-preservation is to give up ourselves, put Him first and others next. So, maybe a little decency is selfish after all, but I'm for that brand.

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