When I was 19 years old, my parents’ car was in an accident. The damage was only to the trunk of the car, but it was considered totaled. My dad rigged it so the trunk was closed permanently, and then handed the keys to me, with a few rules. One of the major rules was that I had to remain within a ten mile radius. I eagerly accepted without giving it much thought (I was focused on the shiny keys).
For the first week I was good at following the rules. I drove the car to the bus station then would ride the bus to campus. I drove the car to work, to church, to nearby friends’ houses, but anything further than 10 miles, I would get a ride, take the bus, or borrow my mom’s car.
One evening, a few friends from school took the bus with me to my side of town to celebrate my birthday. We had a blast. We played soccer in the park, we hung out with some other friends, we just did crazy, dumb, clean college kid stuff. But soon it got late. People started going their separate ways and I realized that we had no way to get Simon home. Simon lived in Denver, I lived in Aurora. I drove him to the bus station, but he needed the light rail station to get home. The nearest light rail station was well over the ten mile limit, but Simon was in dire need.
At that time, all I could see was Simon and the problem of getting him to the light rail station. I had guilt for inviting him over without a way home. I felt concern for my friend and his need to get safely and quickly home. With all these emotions surrounding the problem, I made the choice to drive Simon to the nearest light rail station (again, well beyond the 10 mile radius).
I got there and back with no issue. My parents called me on my drive to find out why I was gone so late. I told them that Simon needed a ride to the light rail station. I explained that the situation was dire. I told them I was almost there. Needless to say, my parents were waiting for me when I got home. I got the disappointed in me speech followed by “it’s late, go to bed.”
The next morning my dad sat me down to talk. He explained why the ten mile rule existed. My car was older, less dependable. While it appeared that the damage from the accident was purely cosmetic (the trunk) the car had much deeper issues, issues that could cause it to break down suddenly. If the car were to break down, it would be much smarter and safer if it happened closer to home rather than further away. If it happened closer, then my parents could get to me quickly, the tow truck wouldn’t have to tow it far, I would not be left in a strange and potentially dangerous situation with no close rescue.
All these reasons made me realize how reckless I had been (maybe not right away, but I figured it out). But I kept thinking how my rule breaking was justified because the emotional and physical needs of Simon were more important that some silly car rule. My dad pointed out that I had a number of alternative ways to solve this problem, I could have looked up a bus to take him to the light rail (public transportation in the Denver Metro Area is actually pretty good), I could have called him a cab, I could have borrowed my mom’s car to take him to the light rail station. I had a million other solutions, but I could only see the one that was wrong.
My parents had many other opportunities in my early twenties to teach me that the circumstances of people I care about do not justify breaking rules. It was a hard lesson I learned over and over and over again.
Today there is a lot of discussion about moral relativity. We talk about how the rules that were once so black and white are now blurred gray. We hear cries about how we need to accept these rule breakers because of feelings, because of tolerance, because we just don’t know what it’s like. The truth is there is never any justification to break rules. There is never a good reason to blur the lines. There is always alternative solutions, solutions beyond the immediate gratification of someone’s feelings and emotions.
The line is always there, thick black and white boundaries. Calling it gray doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. Rather than forcing others to cross over with you, look for the alternative answers. Look for the solutions without crossing over. Because when you really look, you see there is no gray, just black and white.