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FIRST-PERSON: Stoplights, shopping carts & toilets

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–What are the evidences that a culture is in decline? Is it a rising divorce rate? Perhaps an increase in the incident of abortion? How about a proliferation in pornography? Maybe a rise in crime or immorality?

While it is true that all of the above indicate that a culture is less than healthy, there might other more subtle symptoms that indicate a culture is in decline.

I would like to suggest that red lights, shopping carts and public restrooms indicate as much about the health of a culture as do the aforementioned issues. Each is a barometer that indicates not only the levels of self-governance present in a society, but also the amount of respect and concern citizens have for one another.

Traffic lights are designed to regulate the flow of traffic through an intersection. It is incumbent on every driver entering an intersection to obey the signals, especially red lights indicating drivers should stop.

Obeying a red light requires a driver to exercise self-governance. A person must choose to comply with the law that states “stop on red.” Those who choose to ignore a red light show a lack of willingness to govern themselves as well as an absence of respect and care for their fellow citizens. As a result, they place everyone concerned in danger.

The daily commute to my office covers 12 miles each way and takes me through six intersections with traffic lights. I witness, on average, approximately 8 to 10 red-light infractions every day. And, it seems, my experience is not isolated. According to reports from sea-to-shining-sea there seems to be an epidemic of drivers running red lights.

One solution proposed to red-light flaunting is traffic cameras. Pictures are taken of those who ignore the signal to stop. Subsequently, a ticket is mailed to the offending party.

Traffic cameras illustrate a sobering reality for society. Citizens must exercise self-governance as well as respect and concern toward each other in order for the nation to function properly. And if individuals fail to do so, government will find a way to enforce them.

Shopping carts offer an additional insight into the condition of a culture.

If your local super market is like mine, you have to dodge dozens of carts strewn about as you navigate the parking lot. Not only that, but many prime parking spots and handicapped spaces are unavailable because a shopping cart or two is parked smack in the middle of them.

Every supermarket I frequent has racks scattered throughout the parking lot for the collection of shopping carts. However, it seems that few people exercise self-governance and actually take the carts to the racks.

Those who leave carts in the middle of parking lots reveal a lack of respect and concern for fellow shoppers, especially for those who are handicapped.

While there is no law regulating the return of shopping carts to a designated collection rack, there are still consequences for failing to do so. The supermarket must hire people to collect the carts and the cost is passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Public toilet facilities also give an indication of the health of a society. To rephrase the famous line from the movie “Forrest Gump,” toilets are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.

The only time I am surprised by a public toilet is when one is actually clean. Although businesses should keep their toilets clean, few, if any, can afford to have someone clean the toilet after every usage. It requires self-governance to tidy up after using a public restroom. It also entails a respect and concern for those who will come after you. Without going into details, we all know that this often isn’t the case.

It might not seem obvious on the surface, but red lights, shopping carts and public toilets all point to a society suffering not only a lack of self-governance, but also an absence of respect and concern among citizens.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, which is online at baptistmessage.com.

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  • Kelly Boggs