ast night I was driving from Harrisburg to Lewisburg, Pa., a distance of about eighty miles. It was late. At one point along an open highway, I came to a crossroads with a traffic light. I was alone on the road by now, but as I approached the light, it turned red and I braked to a halt. I looked left, right and behind me. Nothing. Not a car, no suggestion of headlights, but there I sat, waiting for the light to change.
I started wondering why I refused to run the light. I was not afraid of being arrested, because there was obviously no cop around, and there certainly would have been no danger in going through it.
Much later that night, after I had climbed into bed near midnight, the question of why Id stopped for that light came back to me. I think I stopped because its part of a contract we all have with each other. Its not only the law, but its an arrangement we have, and we trust each other to honor it: we dont go through red lights. Were more apt to be restrained from doing something bad by the social convention that disapproves of it than by any law against it.
Its amazing that we ever trust each other to do the right thing, isnt it? And we do, too. Trust is our first inclination. We have to make a deliberate decision to mistrust someone or to be suspicious or skeptical. Those attitudes dont come naturally to us.
Its a damn good thing too, because the whole structure of our society depends on mutual trust, not distrust. This whole thing we have going for us would fall apart if we didnt trust each other most of the time. We do what we say well do. We trust each other, and when we dont do what weve promised, its a deviation from the normal. It happens often that we dont act in good faith and in a trustworthy manner, but we still consider it unusual.
I was so proud of myself for stopping for the red light that night.endprint