By Dr. Roger Erdvig, WCS Headmaster
WCS’s parking lot is a great example of how society should work.
I suppose this claim requires a bit of backstory.
Hundreds of cars enter our parking lot twice a day to drop off and pick up WCS students. For years, WCS enjoyed having New Castle County crossing guards direct traffic for all that entering and exiting. It was great--when you approached our entrance your only job was to follow the guards’ directions. Except for the occasional rude or impatient driver buggering up the system, everything worked pretty well. Do what the crossing guard says, and no one gets hurt.
Before this school year began, though, we were informed that New Castle County would no longer supply crossing guards for us.
At first, we were very concerned. How would our families enter and exit the parking lot safely? We anticipated backups on Loveville and Old Wilmington Roads, which materialized in the first few days of school. We talked about adding signage and even about hiring a retired police officer to direct cars.
After several days, however, an amazing thing happened. The drop-off and pick-up lines stabilized, and the long lines of cars vanished. There is still the occasional backup of cars. Someone zips in a bit too fast. Sometimes we get irked with the timid driver ahead of us. In spite of these setbacks, our school community is making it work, for the good of everyone.
As I reflected on all this, I realized that there is much to be learned about the roles of citizens and government from our parking lot experience. Our success came from a combination of three factors.
The first and most foundational factor is that individual moral virtue enabled us to be kind, giving, and patient with one another as we navigated in and out of the crowded parking lot. Traffic flows best when we freely consider others better than ourselves. As Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, said, "Without virtue there can be no liberty..."
The second is that families don’t want to spend needless time in carlines, and so they were highly motivated to figure out precisely when to arrive on campus so that their time waiting would be minimal. This factor shows us the value of liberty (founded on virtue) to do what is best for oneself. Thomas Jefferson famously noted that “all men are born free, everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty…”
Finally, there are reasonable laws (speed limits, right of way protocols, etc.) that drivers are obeying. This points to the responsibility of government to enact broad laws that contribute to the flourishing of peaceful society and restrain (and punish) activities that would be clearly harmful to others. The fear of getting a ticket for careless driving motivates good driving. As Romans 13:3 instructs us, “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.”
The basis for a well-functioning society is a three-legged stool of virtuous citizens, liberty to pursue self-interests in appropriate ways, and guide-rails from the government that form a reasonable and good framework for our common life.
Our tendency is to allow the government’s reach to bleed beyond this core purpose to include making our lives easier. In our parking lot example, when we had crossing guards in control, drivers did not have to think much or be very virtuous. All that was required was compliance with the crossing guards and their super loud whistles.
Unfortunately, critical decision-making skills and moral virtue tend to atrophy when we are told what to do all the time. WCS’s loss of a government service was a blessing in disguise; it helped to illustrate for all of us what society should be like, and freed us to be virtuous decision-makers who willingly contribute to the common good.
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