Sense of Decency

Listening to others, seeing things through their eyes.

STOP means STOP … doesn’t it?


Our hurry-up society provides plenty of tests of civility and decency — mundane, everyday experiences and encounters that reveal a great deal about who we are as individuals and as a community.

Coffee shop lines.

Grocery store shopping carts.

Red lights and stop signs.

How are we doing?

That’s hard to quantify.

More important, what do we do — or not do — when we witness someone else behaving in a less than civil or decent manner?

A case study:

Every day for several weeks I have seen numerous drivers ignoring the stop sign at our corner during the morning when young children are walking to school. From my bird’s-eye view, I can see that these are not reckless teenagers whose frontal lobes haven’t developed. 

These are adults who should know better. 

Granted, our neighborhood has a stop sign at every corner, which can be annoying if you’re in a hurry. But they are a necessity in our very walkable neighborhood with two schools and two parks in a relatively small area. 

After watching — and videotaping — some blatantly dangerous driving, I called the local police department to request enforcement.

Nothing changed after the first try, so I called again a couple of weeks later and also wrote to local elected officials alerting them to the problem.

Patrol cars began showing up in the neighborhood, and finally the other morning an officer saw and pulled over one of the more flagrant violators.

Will getting a traffic ticket or a warning “cure” him? Probably not. 

But it can send the message that he’s not special, and that the rules apply to him, as well. Maybe he’ll behave, at least until the financial sting of a ticket wears off.

So the system can work — if you take the time and effort to pressure police and elected officials to take a community safety issue seriously. 

Certainly there are more pressing problems plaguing us these days, but if no one speaks up about something so basic, so potentially dangerous, then systems set up to ensure safety are destined to fail. 

And we’ll only become more angry and frustrated while the indecent behavior goes unchecked. 

My pursuit of community safety may seem a bit parochial and self-righteous, but much of what ails us as a society is the willingness to look the other way, to not get involved, and just complain or post snarky comments on social media. 

Here’s a challenge. 

Look around you. In your neighborhood, in your workplace, at community gatherings. 

If you see someone acting inappropriately (or dangerously), speak up. Maybe not right then and there, given the potential dangers of doing so in our gun-obsessed culture with so much anger simmering so close to the surface, but follow up later.

Notify the authorities (that’s what they’re there for — and what you pay taxes for). Call. Write. Speak up at a meeting of local government. Put it on the record.

If nothing happens, call and write again. Be a diplomatic nuisance.

Even better, if there are like-minded folks who witnessed what you did or simply support your view, organize and present a united front. Strength in numbers.

I can think of several times in my life when I stayed silent, didn’t speak up against injustice, greed, cruelty or a simple lack of decency. It still bothers me when I think back on those incidents years or decades later. 

So call out bad behavior, even if doing so is uncomfortable. We have to start somewhere. 

Jim McKeever is a co-founder of Sense of Decency.

2 thoughts on “If you see something … do something about it!

  1. tonalist says:

    Excellent piece and ideas Jim! The video of the car running the stop sign is stunning. Perhaps we are so passive due to our immersion in our online/virtual “communities”? Good on you for taking action and also for writing about the experience.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim McKeever says:

      Thanks, Bill. It’s an ongoing problem (we have a lot of them, don’t we?). I fear for the kids out there walking to school and riding their bikes when the weather improves. The rampant disregard for basic human decency — and common-sense safety — is out of control.


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