A friend’s twee the other day reminded me of this story which has appeared here before, but due to my having lost everything on my blog last year, I had to reconstruct it. Enjoy!
I had no idea on that early Monday morning, so many years ago, that I was listening to a story that would stay with me for many, many years – a story that I would tell over and over again – a story that I would use to teach others, as it had taught me.
The bell rang for first period and we all headed for class. Mr. Kennealy usually arrived early to let us in as we waited outside the door but this morning was different. He had left the door open but he wasn’t in the classroom. We all went in and took our seats and waited. The tardy bell rang and he wasn’t there. A minute later he walked into the classroom.
Mr. Kennealy arrived without his usual smile. He had a somber look on his face, too somber even for a Monday morning at 8 AM. Instead of his usual social studies lesson and a test we were supposed to take, he started talking about a motorcycle ride he had taken the day before. Mr. Kennealy explained that a few years previously, he had bought a motorcycle that he rode on weekends. He talked about how he needed to get out in the open air and feel the wind in his face and all that horsepower under his control. He explained that after a long week of teaching and coaching and parenting, he needed an outlet. His motorcycle was this outlet. On his motorcycle, he felt free and unrestrained. He felt that he could forget all responsibility and think only about being alone. His motorcycle rides had become a cherished and anticipated activity that he couldn’t do without.
While riding along in the mountains on that quiet Sunday morning, with no traffic in either direction, he came upon a sign that warned of a “STOP 150 Feet Ahead.” He thought about it. Clearly there was no traffic so why should he stop? He repeated for us the internal dialog he had: “Why should I stop just because the sign says that I have to? I know it’s the law but laws are made to protect us from others and from ourselves. I know that the stop sign is to protect me and others from colliding into each other. I know this road and I have been on it a million times and there has never been anyone else on it, especially on that part of the road, so there isn’t anything to protect me or others from. The law should be null and void.”
As he spoke to us, he paced back and forth across the front of the room, looking either down at the floor or up at the ceiling, as if in a trance. He spoke in a quiet voice and we all sat as still as possible so we wouldn’t miss a word. We sensed that Mr. Kennealy had something important to tell us. He gave us examples of what would happen if everyone took it upon themselves to ignore laws and of how laws were the cornerstone of living in a civilized society. He also gave us examples of times when laws were abusive and too restrictive; of times when those in power took this power and used it for their own good and not the good of the community. He spoke of free will and our right to exercise that free will. He spoke of our duty to speak out against abuse by the government.
Mr. Kennealy went on: “I should not feel restricted by the stop sign just because I am supposed to stop. I debated about whether to stop or not, taking both the pro and con sides. After much deliberation, I decided that when I got to that stop sign I was not going to stop. I was going to exercise my free will and indulge my need for total freedom and lack of restriction on this wonderfully liberating motorcycle ride I was on.”
By now the entire period was just about over. We had seconds before the bell rang and we still didn’t known what he had done. The bell rang and he was still talking but hadn’t come to any end or resolution. He dismissed us but not one of us moved. We asked him what he had done when he got to the stop sign. He looked at the floor and in almost a whisper he said, “I stopped.”
We loved the story, but I think most of us were rather surprised that this very rebellious philosopher had gone against what he really wanted to do. I have thought about it and told the story many times. I have also used it, with some of my own editorial comments, to show how people have the free will to do the right thing or not.
Over the years I have run in to people that were in that class on that day and they all remember it. That says a lot.
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