A law and I

To speed or not to speed, that is the question. My grandmother first introduced me to the possibility of driving within the 55 mph limit. At her top highway speed of 45, with trucks and cars whirring past at 60 or 70, she alternately terrified, exasperated, and amused me.

Back on my own, I tried driving slowly. But soon I picked up the pace to swarm with the pack as usual.

Six years later I got another example. It was from a friend who took the option of a leisurely, untroubled response to observing speed limits. Since he always allowed enough time to reach a destination, he would observe the kinds of environments we were passing through. Sometimes we'd turn off onto even slower winding roads, to explore a new neighborhood or admire a prized scene.

While I thought this attitude unusual, even admirable, it didn't dawn on me that I could adopt it. Then another friend casually remarked one day that drivers tend to live the way they drive. I recalled a man who drove like a bulldog, fighting the traffic, impatient, pushing other cars to go faster or move out of his way, muttering under his breath. He drove his life this way too - always out of time, barely making deadlines, dissatisfied, and often curt.

Then my test came. Driving from Boston to Cincinnati, I struggled not to push that pedal to the metal and asked myself, What is a speed limit? Was it simply an arbitrary social code? An individual's concession to society to prevent anarchy by obeying a language of lights, lines, signals, and signs? Situation ethics?

How important could such a small action really be? When people care whether their actions affect others, they may be observing something more basic than a speed sign.

I slowed down to 55 m.p.h. In that 20-hour drive to Cincinnati, I felt that to stay within the limit was not just a nice or legal thing to do. It quietly stated support for the active (not passive) nature of human laws. Motivated by brotherhood, the observing of even a minor law can move mankind toward cooperation on more important things - all the way up to world peace.

To speed or not to speed then is not the question. Perhaps a better one is, Why? Since slowing down to a legal pace, I've remembered that how we do the little things in life often adds up to how we do the big ones.

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