Recently when crossing the street with a friend, we both almost got flattened by a car taking a right turn on red – a no-no in New York City. My friend took a stand. “In New York City there are NO RIGHT TURNS ON RED,” he yelled into the window of a car full of women probably on a nice outing from New Jersey. They looked back at us with bewilderment and fear on their faces. I took my scarf and covered my face in embarrassment.
“What are you doing?” my friend asked as he tugged the scarf from my face.
“What am I doing? What are you doing? Why did you yell at those women?”
“They need to know! There are rules! I’m doing them a favor.”
“You’re giving them a heart attack. They’ll never come back to New York.”
Civic responsibility. A good thing, yes? Most of the time, I’d say. Voting, not littering, and yes, following traffic rules are all innocuous examples of civic responsibility. Just as my friend thought he was doing his civic duty to enlighten those women about New York traffic rules, people all over the country are entering a new age in which civic and individual responsibility are paramount.
I think that’s great. I really do. I’m a huge advocate of taking
responsibility. One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing excuses or rationalizations for not taking part in the world around us.
Still, even the word “responsibility” can take on sinister meaning when taken to an extreme – extremes such as vigilantism.
Take, for example, the Explorers program, a co-ed program affiliated
with the Boy Scouts of America. The program is training young boys and
girls to fight illegal immigration and terrorism – children as young as
14. And they’re not messing around.
Then there’s the live video feed of the Texas-Mexico border, allowing any of us to become “virtual deputies”.
I understand that the argument for these programs is that every citizen
should be proactive in their own safety and the safety of their
However, programs such as these make me uneasy; the Explorers program
no longer simply trains young people in law enforcement. They are
specifically training them to deal with the big-ticket issues at an
impressionable age. I can’t help but feel that it’s a training field
At what point do we go too far in our civic duty? At what point are we
encouraging vigilantism? Personally, I think both these programs come
frighteningly too close to the line.
I prefer reminding people about traffic rules.