Logical Consequences

Throughout my professional life, beginning as a classroom teacher, finishing as a school district CEO, I always believed in the wisdom of allowing people the freedom to make their own decisions, their own choices.  It was difficult at times to put that belief into practise, and it did not always lead to happy outcomes, but I never lost faith.

The corollary to this belief was that those making the choices had to accept the consequences of their actions.  Students who chose not to study generally received lower grades than those who did; employees who chose not to pursue professional development opportunities generally languished in comparison to their peers.

With both students and employees, I had to make hard decisions as to how I would grade their effort or evaluate their performance, and I, too, had to accept the consequences of my choices.  Reluctant students received a failing mark—although always with the opportunity to try again, to learn from their poor choices.  Teachers disinclined to improve of their own volition were instructed, provided assistance, and given time to do so; in cases where they proved unable or unwilling, their employment was terminated.

As a parent, I endeavoured to allow my own children to make choices along the way, but always stressing their responsibility to accept the consequences, and holding them to whatever those might be.

I was influenced in my thinking by the writings of Alfred Adler and John Stuart Mills, and Rudolf Dreikurs.  This brief essay cannot give even a rudimentary outline of these men’s theories, but the effect of their thinking on my own actions was significant.  Let me give an example from Dreikurs—

Dreikurs espoused that children behave inappropriately and make poor choices for four main reasons: a desire for attention; a need to obtain and hold power; a desire for revenge; to compensate for perceived inadequacy, the feeling that they are unworthy of anyone’s affection.  All four are legitimate human emotions, but the behaviours by which they are manifested through the choices children make are often problematic.

Misbehaving children are discouraged children.

It was my job as a teacher to provide opportunities for every child to pursue socially-appropriate activities that would gain them positive attention and praise, that would allow them to feel some semblance of control of their environment, that would re-direct them from activities designed to ‘get even’ for real or imagined wrongs, and to ensure they would come to believe they were loving and capable individuals in their own right.  And those opportunities had to encompass the academic, physical, social, and emotional needs of the children.

Today, many years into retirement, I have witnessed adults behaving in ways I consider socially-inappropriate during these long months of pandemic restrictions.  It seems to me that many of them are seeking attention for themselves and their views—perhaps in the only way they know how—by pushing themselves loudly and forcefully to the front at every opportunity.  We know our rights!

Others, I think, are looking to seize power from those they believe are currently wielding it, a power they view as compelling them to certain actions they believe it is their right to refuse.  Power to the people!

Others, probably fewer in number, might be seeking payback from authorities they feel have done them wrong—big government, unfair employers, the radical lefties, the lunatic right-wing, the fake media, or any other perceived enemy.  We’re not gonna take it anymore! 

And some, I’m sure, are there simply because they have nowhere else to go but to a crowd that, if not understanding of them, is at least tolerant of their presence.  Look!  I’m one of you!

Mill wrote: The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.  There are three key points here, I think.  First, he was referring to a ‘civilized community’, which might be defined as one which has a well-developed system of government, culture, and way of life, and which treats all people living in it fairly, with due regard for the laws and customs of the community.

Second, Mill’s stance is that power resides by default with the individual in a community, but may be overridden when that individual behaves in a manner deemed harmful to others.

And third, there is an implicit understanding that the decision to act against an individual’s will is to be made by the community itself—i.e. the majority.

As I witness the current unrest in our land regarding various pandemic restrictions, it seems to me there is a need to exert the primacy of the common good over the various claims of disaffected members of the community, not as a primitive display of the power of the state, but to ensure the continued well-being of the community itself.

For example, perhaps the government should not mandate vaccines for all, even in the current climate.  Not doing so would allow people to exercise their right, as they see it, to avail themselves of a vaccine or not.  Free choice for every individual.

But the government should ensure there are consequences for the choices people make—logical consequences.  I don’t believe a person who has the right to refuse to be vaccinated (a right which I support) should also have the right to attend in-person, congregant venues and events, or to partake of non-essential services, where their choice might place others in danger.  That impinges on everyone else’s right to a safe, healthy living environment. 

It is entirely logical, I submit, that such venues and services should require proof of vaccination from those wishing to take part.  For everyone, then—those folks who choose not to be vaccinated, and those who do—the consequences will be clear in advance.  Choice A leads to Consequence B; Choice C leads to Consequence D.  Informed decisions are almost always better decisions.

[I note, as an aside, that in jurisdictions where such proof of vaccination rules have already been put in place, the number of people who choose to be vaccinated has risen—surely a benefit to the entire global community.]

In any case, absent a mandate for everyone to be vaccinated, people desiring attention will still get it by proclaiming their decision to their family and friends, and on social media.  Those in search of power will still find it by exercising their inalienable right to make their own decision about vaccinations with no coercion either way.  Those who would seek revenge of some sort if forced to be vaccinated can still remain unvaccinated.  And those who feel inadequate, incapable of making such a momentous decision, can prevail upon family and friends to help them decide.

The concept of free choice has never meant freedom to do as one wants without consequences.  As surely as night follows day, every decision a person makes has an impact on someone—somehow, somewhere.  And that consequence, if it’s logical, can be a force for good.

The nascent teacher in me still believes it is possible to help people learn this quaint notion.

I Fixed ‘Em All!

An important objective for writers, so I’m told by those who are good at it, is to avoid clichés in one’s writing.  Clichés are used by a lot of us in normal discourse because they provide a verbal shorthand when we are engaging in conversation.  If our goal is to avoid confrontation when we want to express a strong opinion, for example, using a cliché can be just the ticket.

In writing, though, especially if we aspire to be original, clichés are to be avoided.

Clichés may be defined as: phrases or opinions that are overused and betray a lack of original thought; trite or stereotyped phrases or expressions; or expressions that have become overused to the point of losing their original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time they were considered meaningful.

As a means to improve my own writing, I have been attempting to purge it of clichés.  The best judge of my success will be my readers, of course, but here are some of the efforts I’ve made:

  • I’ve cleaned all the writing off the wall;
  • I’ve wiped up the spilt milk;
  • I’ve placed my eggs in two different containers in the fridge;
  • I’ve removed all the covers from my books;
  • I now make sure I’m reading on the lines;
  • I make sure my knickers are neatly folded; and
  • I don’t own a grindstone.

Thanks to my efforts, the characters I write about in my books no longer sleep on the wrong side of the bed, they’ve stopped circling back or leaning in, and I’ve made sure there is no thorn in their sides, no mote in their eyes.  They know that at the end of the day, it gets dark, but it’s not necessarily darkest just before the dawn.

Although many of my characters do drink, I make sure they never end up three sheets to the wind, nor do I allow them to put new wine into old bottles.  They know nothing smells like a rose, regardless of its name, although that conclusion was not something they would have jumped to without me.

In fact, because of me, they never jump at all—not down your throat, not in with both feet, not onto the bandwagon, and not with a hop and a skip.  Nor do they ever jump the gun, because that might give away the ending of the story.  Being my heroes, I never let them throw in a towel, grind an axe, bend over backwards, or get down and dirty.

I’ve worked hard to ensure my characters are neither brave enough nor stupid enough to grab a bull by its horns, burn a candle at both ends, bite a bullet, burn a bridge, or endure trial by fire.  Those things can bring a load of hurt! 

Instead, thanks to me, they are far more likely to avoid dealing with loose cannons, rocking anyone’s boat, barking up someone’s tree, sneezing at nothing, or opening a can of worms.  They are not lazy by any means, but they certainly would never work like a dog, attempt to leave no stone unturned, or go an extra mile (or even the whole nine yards).

In my books, I make sure the heroic characters are unafraid of their own shadows.  They are smart enough not to wait for cows to come home, they do not turn over random stones, they avoid yanking anyone else’s chain, they never get down and dirty, and they avoid anything resembling a plague.

So as you can see, dear reader—and it doesn’t go without saying—I have worked my fingers…well, not to the bone, I guess, to rid my writing of clichés.  For what it’s worth, push no longer comes to shove for me, nor do I ever consider going back to some mythical drawing-board.  Whenever I’m seized by an annoying urge to employ a cliché, I try to nip the urge…umm, somewhere other than in the bud, so to speak.  And in my proofreading, rather than attempting to weed them out, I simply expunge them.

In fairness to myself, I must point out that the struggle to eliminate clichés is a never-ending one.  I’ve discovered that being original in my writing is much more fun than being banal or hackneyed, but it’s ever so much harder. 

So in closing, let me just quote this piece of doggerel from an online commentator, a sentiment to which I heartily subscribe—

For what it’s worth,
At the end of the day,
It is what it is:
A cliché’s a cliché.

The Back-Seat Driver’s Test

In just over a year-and-a-half, I shall reach the age of eighty, and shall therefore be obliged to undergo a mandatory senior’s driving test.  I regard my hitting that ripe, old age so quickly as a bizarre twist in the space/time continuum, but there you have it.

By a strange coincidence, the weekly prompt from the writers’ group I belong to in Florida asked us recently to compose something on that very topic—the seniors’ driving exam.  Here is the piece I wrote—

I accompanied my eighty-year-old Grandpa Fred to his mandatory driving exam recently.  My being there wasn’t because he needed my support, however.  Rather, it was to keep my Grandma Ethel, who insisted on going along, out of his hair.

Easier said than done, as it turned out.  The oral and written parts of the exam were ordeal enough—but nothing compared to the on-road portion.

In the exam-room, the first question asked of Grandpa was about his vision.  Before he could answer, Grandma was heard muttering, “Blind as a bat!  Can’t see the forest for the…the bushes, or whatever it is.” 

I tried to shush her, but one of the examiners heard, and asked Grandpa if he needed glasses.  “Not when he’s drinking beer!” Grandma whispered loudly.  “Which is way too often!”

Now it’s true, Grandpa does wear glasses, and is also a tad hard-of-hearing.  He often cups his hand behind one ear while listening to someone.  The same examiner, noticing that, asked if he could hear properly.

“Deaf as a post!” Grandma groused, loudly enough that even Grandpa heard.  “Never hears a word I say!”  Grandpa grinned slyly at that.

Still and all, even with Grandma’s unhelpful comments, Grandpa survived the interrogation.  But worse was to come during the in-car session.  At first, the examiner tried to prevent Grandma from getting into the car at all, per the normal procedures.

“Not a good idea, sonny,” she scoffed.  “I’m the one has his meds if he strokes out again.”  She patted her purse knowingly as she spoke.

So, she got to come along.  But the examiner asked me to join them, as well, in the back seat with Grandma, ostensibly to keep her from interfering.  Fat chance!

“Buckle up, Fred!” she ordered as everyone was getting settled.  “Click-it-or-ticket, remember what they say?”  She was sitting in the seat directly behind him.

As Grandpa slowly eased the car backwards out of the parking slot, Grandma suddenly yelled, “Look out!  Look out!”  Grandpa stomped on the brake in alarm.

“What the hell, Ethel!” he huffed.

“Don’t you what the hell me!” she quickly replied.  “You didn’t even see that other car, did you?”

What car?” Grandpa exclaimed.  “There’s no other car!”  I hadn’t seen one, either.  The examiner wrote something on his clipboard.

Once safely out of the parking lot, heading down the main street, the examiner asked Grandpa to take the next left.

“Use your turn-signal, Fred!” Grandma declared.  “Left means pull the lever down, remember?”  Once Grandpa had safely completed the maneuver, she added, “Don’t forget to turn the blinker off!”

“For God’s sake, Ethel!  It goes off automatically!  I know how to use the turn-signals!”

“Oh, really?  So why did that policeman pull you over last month for failing to signal?  Remember?  You didn’t enjoy paying that fine, I know that!”

The examiner continued writing notes.

In order to help poor Grandpa, I tried engaging Grandma in conversation to distract her from what Grandpa was doing—but with limited success.  In the middle of a chat I managed to get going about her recent jam-making session, she interrupted herself to shout, “Fred, you’re following too close!  You’re gonna hit that guy if he stops suddenly!”

“We’re already stopped, Ethel.  We’re at a red light.”

Grandma peered through the windshield to see if he was right, then said, “Okay, okay, but it’s turning green now.  Go!  What are you waiting for?”

“We’re turning right,” Grandpa said through clenched teeth.  “I’m waiting for the pedestrians to clear.”

“Turning right?” Grandma said.  “Have you got your blinker on?”

On our return route to the test-centre, the examiner asked Grandpa to back into a parking-spot on the street, a space about a car length-and-a-half between two other vehicles.

“Don’t park here, Fred,” Grandma said.  “There’s not enough room!”

“There’s lotsa room,” Grandpa replied confidently.  He stopped beside the car in front of the space, his right signal blinking, and slowly began to reverse, turning the wheel incrementally as he crept backwards.

“Wait, wait!” Grandma yelled.  “There’s cars coming!  Someone could hit us!”

“They can see us,” Grandpa said.  “Nobody’s going to hit us.”  He was alternately checking his right-side mirror and looking over his shoulder through the back window.  I thought he was doing marvellously well.

With no warning, there was a loud crash, followed by the sound of breaking glass.  Grandpa jammed on the brake, though we’d been hardly moving.

“Now you’ve done it!” Grandma yelled.  “I told you someone would hit us!”

Grandma,” I said disbelievingly, “they hit your door!  Why did you open your door while the car was moving?”

“Because I wanted to get out and check if there was enough space to back in here,” she declared righteously.  “I still think the space is too small.”

The examiner scribbled furiously on his clipboard.

After a long delay while Grandpa and the other driver exchanged insurance information, and after determining Grandma’s door would close well enough to enable us to continue, we returned to the test-centre.  Grandpa trudged forlornly inside behind the harried examiner.  By the time he came back, Grandma had moved up to the passenger seat.

“This is where I sit,” she told me firmly.  “I’m definitely not a back-seat driver! You should see me drive.” I bit my tongue.

When Grandpa climbed in behind the wheel, I asked, “So, did you pass?”

“I did!” he boasted proudly, and showed us both the certificate he’d been given.

“Well, I find that hard to believe!” Grandma said grudgingly.  “But good for you, in spite of everything!  You’re lucky I was here to help!”

Later on, when I found myself alone on the front porch with Grandpa, both of us sipping our Stonehooker beers from Cherry Bros. goblets, he said, “You know why I passed, don’t you?”

When I shook my head quizzically he said, “The examiner showed me what he’d written on his clipboard, told me he had no choice but to give me a passing grade.”

“No choice?” I said. “Why?  What did he write?”

With a wink, Grandpa said, “He wrote, and I quote, This man must have his license renewed so that his wife will never be the driver in the household.” 

“Wow!” I exclaimed.

“Not only that, he’s going to ensure Grandma won’t pass her test next month.  By passing me, he makes sure the two of us will still be able to get around under our own steam.”  

“That’s great!” I said.  “I won’t say a word.”

“Good,” he sighed wistfully.  “Now, if only we could get Grandma to follow your example!”

* * * * * * *

I have been enjoined by [NAME WITHHELD] to assure readers

that the grandma I live with bears no resemblance to the grandma in this story.