What the Law Taught Me About Stress Management

If men were angels, no government would be necessary.
—James Madison

The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.
—James Madison

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.
—James Madison

This month the topic for Robert Hruzek’s group writing project is What I Learned From…the Law.

A gazillion or so years ago, when I was young and naive, I was driving on the Stanford campus one sleepy Sunday morning. I came to an intersection with a visibility of several blocks in all directions, and there wasn’t another car in sight. So I slowed to a crawl in the spirit of the stop sign, and proceeded on my way. Unfortunately, even though there was no other car in sight, there was a police car parked in a driveway behind some bushes. The policeman saw me even though I hadn’t seen him, so he stopped me and gave me a fatherly lecture about the danger of making “rolling stops”. He assured me that I was risking the life and limb of not only myself but of other human beings if I didn’t come to a complete and utter stop at every stop sign I encountered, no matter how many cars there were or weren’t on the road, and no matter how good the visibility. Being a sensible young thing I listened respectfully and thanked him for the warning.

Now I didn’t insult his intelligence by assuming he actually believed every word he uttered. I mean, it must have been boring for him just sitting there with nothing to do. I imagine my coming by must have been a welcome relief. On the other hand, I decided obeying stop signs would be less of a nuisance than getting a lecture or a ticket, so I would mend my errant ways.

I had a chance to test my resolve a couple of weeks later. I was driving on the edge of campus, on a meandering road that had one stop sign after another. There was no side traffic, but I dutifully stopped at each sign. I was comforted by the fact that the only other vehicle on the road was the police car behind me. I didn’t think of him as an enforcer, I would have been stopping anyway, but it was nice to know he was sharing my misery. Yeah, sure. After the second stop he turned on his flashing lights, went around me and sailed through the rest of the stop signs without even slowing down. He clearly had better things to do with his time. I had to laugh at my outrage. Of all the injustices in the world, this is the one that made my blood boil.

It didn’t change my opinion about rolling stops, though. Sensible or not, I obeyed the rule because I didn’t want to draw my attention to myself. Keeping a low profile around policemen struck me as a good strategy. Except for one time a few years later. I worked about ten miles from where I lived, and I couldn’t sleep one night. So about 3 o’clock in the morning I decided I might as well drive in and get something done. But once I was on the freeway, I wondered if that had been such a good idea. One car seemed to be following me…every time I changed lanes, so did the driver. I was a nervous when I took the off ramp, so I purposely ignored the stop sign at the bottom. I checked for traffic but scarcely slowed down.

There was some justice in the universe after all…a policeman was there to see me. When he pulled me over I told him what was going on, and he followed me to work and made sure I got inside safely. That incident more than made up for the previous two…the rule had come to my rescue when I needed it. I now had a much better appreciation for the law, although not quite in the way the police had hoped.

Lessons Learned
So what did I learn from those experiences with the law? Basically The Traits of Stress-Hardy, Resilient People, especially Item 4: Life and people are imperfect, so don’t let it throw you. Have a long-term perspective and keep your priorities straight. Don’t waste your energy on things you have no control over. Focus on what’s really important to you and don’t be distracted by the foibles of other people.

What about you? What experiences have you had with the law? What have you learned from them? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments section.

Thanks to Ellen and bikehikebabe for commenting on last week’s post.

Thanks again, Robert, for doing this series once a month. I’m a loyal fan.

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6 Responses to What the Law Taught Me About Stress Management

  1. Way to manage your boundaries to your advantage, Jean! Very innovative use of the law, if you ask me.

    Thanks for joining in once again this month!

  2. Pingback: Middle Zone Musings » All Entries: What I Learned From… the Law

  3. Jean thanks for sharing.
    My son passed his driving test and was allowed to use my (very uncool) little car. A few weeks later he took a couple of his very tall mates out for a ride to see his grandparents. On the way back he broke the speed limit and was pulled over by the police. The fact that the car was full of 17 year old “boys” certainly had a lot to do with it. The result was 3 points on his licence and a £60 fine . If this happened again he would have to resit his test. He learned a valuable and costly lesson but both of us believe it has made him a better an safer driver. He gets annoyed by those he considers to be “slow” drivers now and I will point him to your post on how to reduce that stress!

  4. Jean says:

    :) Thanks!

  5. Pingback: Results from the What I Learned From the Law Group Writing Project } Group Writing Projects

  6. Thanks for sharing your story. Calm, cool and in control is a great way to handle it.

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