When I was in elementary school, report cards would feature such non-academic areas for grading as “Self-control,” “Punctuality,” “Citizenship,” and “Consideration for Others.” But over the course of time, such categories of evaluation were considered quaint, outdated, and unimportant. The increasing emphasis on academic performance in our schools has resulted in a decreasing emphasis on – even total disregard of – personal conduct that was once considered a hallmark of those who were properly educated. I distinctly remember how proud my mother was to see excellent grades and superlative teacher comments for my good behavior even when some of my grades in specific subjects could be improved. That children learn how to behave in society is much less important nowadays than knowing math and science. And the shift in emphasis shows.
As my wife and I were returning from some errands I noticed that there was someone parked in our reserved spot. While we were deciding what to do, a young couple headed over to the offending vehicle. Apparently, they had surmised that we came to claim the spot they were occupying and were going to move their car. Problem averted. But out of curiosity, I asked them if they knew these spots were assigned to residents. The young woman said they knew and they were resident as well. She pointed to her spot a row behind ours. So why did she park in someone else’s space? She saw it empty and assumed it was acceptable for her to park there. At this point, I decided to follow George Carlin’s advice never to argue with idiots because they will only bring you down to their level and beat you with their experience.
For years I had to do battle with surly parents of students in the Jewish day school hosted by my synagogue. Within a half hour of dismissal time, parents would jockey for limited spaces in the parking lot so they could pick up their children quickly and go home. If I were returning to the synagogue for appointments, there would inevitably be someone parked in the space “Reserved for Rabbi.” And, if the driver was still in the vehicle, I would ask why they thought this was considerate and the usual response was to ignore the question and say: “I will only be here for a few minutes.” The most important word in that explanation is “I.”
Drivers straddle lanes – making it impossible for traffic to proceed, park on sidewalks or other illegal places, or accelerate on the shoulders to beat the slow traffic all because they operate under the impression that they are more important than anyone else. The same is true for the people who jump ahead of the line or use the express check-out with a full shopping cart. Consideration for others is heading for extinction.
Perhaps the time has come for a re-examination of what our schools should teach. Society is in need of good citizens and good neighbors, honest and cooperative employees, considerate friends, punctual workers. Knowing one more equation will not make our world a better place. Learning to treat people with consideration will.