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Monday, December 17, 2007

The Social Contract

Saturday, a couple friends of mine came over to our house. They didn't know each other, but they discovered that they had both spent time in the northern plains of the United States, particularly North Dakota, at different times. One had lived in Fargo (yeah, I hear you doing those Frances McDormand imitations), and noted that not only did people keep their houses and cars unlocked 20 to 30 years ago, they often left the keys in the car, in case one of their neighbors had a need to move it. Leave your keys in the ignition now, and someone is likely to to move the auto - to another state.

This reminded me of my childhood in Binghamton, NY. My hometown tended to be cloudy and rainy. When I was walking to school, especially the last three years of high school, I'd see cars with their lights left on. I'd open the car door and turn the lights off. I did this a LOT. One day alone, I did this 22 times. Of course, now I'd have neither the means (automatic locks hinder access), the need (automatic lights now go out) or the nerve (someone would assume I was stealing their vehicle, which actually happened in Jackson Heights, Queens, NYC in 1977).

No one told me to turn off car lights; I just figured that if I were in a similar situation, I'd rather someone turn off my lights rather than let the battery run down. A few people have at least told me that I had left my bike lights on, and perhaps some kind stranger has actually turned the light off.

Of course, one can disagree about what constitutes the social contract. My wife wanted me to not shovel the walk yesterday until the storm stopped so that the freezing rain would sit atop the snow. But my sense of the contract is that if I am able, and have the time, I should remove the four or five inches in the morning, then return to put down deicer as necessary. As we trudged through the snow to and from the bus stop yesterday, I think she appreciated more my point of view. Not only did I shovel our walk, but I also shoveled a pathway all the way to the street in case our newspaper delivery lady needed to use it, and she did.

As it turns out, some bloggers have designated today, December 17, as a day to post their stories about the acts of kindness they have performed recently. I was recalling a conversation on Anthony's page, especially the comments, as to whether we need to designate a day to give thanks. Well, theoretically no, but in actually, perhaps. In the same manner, we ought not need a day to be kind to others, but if it helps makes the world just a little less hostile, I'm in favor. Whether I've done anything recently that would qualify specifically as a kindness, I'm not sure, but I'll settle with trying to do so every day.


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