I feel compelled to write about the term ‘Law and Order’ today. It sent shivers down my spine when I heard Donald Trump repeating the phrase ‘law and order’ at one of the debates with Clinton. Not the good kind of shivers, but the ones that one might feel if Voldemort suddenly appeared in the room. He was touting the stop and frisk policy. I am haunted by images from this week of militarized police rounding up immigrants, enforcing one imposing vision of ‘Law and Order’.
My question is this: Does L&O have to look like a militarized police force? Does it have to include severe punishment for any infractions? Zero tolerance policies? Does L&O involve working under the assumption that people are bad and need to be kept under a veil of suspicion?
This fall I had the experience of riding almost 1000 miles (No kidding!) on a school bus filled with teenagers. I spent six days with my daughter’s high school marching band, attending three different competitions in one long trip.
Have you ever been in a place with thousands of teenagers? What are you imagining it to be like? Let me paint a picture for you. A noisy village of busses, trailers, cars sprang up in the morning, filling every available space on the college campus. Although each area was designated for a different school band we all had to walk through several competing bands’ areas to get anyplace– the bathrooms, the stadium, the practice field, the eating area. There was always a band performing or practicing, always music. There was always excitement or exhaustion or teen-aged drama in the air. Kids have so much energy! They run a lot! They laugh a lot! They talk fast and loud, and eat a lot, often while talking fast and loud.
In the midst of this circus atmosphere, it was necessary to leave the buses and trailers unlocked (and often wide open) so we could all have access when necessary. People with keys would not always be readily available, so our luggage, equipment, food were all vulnerable. If a competing school wanted to sabotage another, they could have. If somebody wanted to take my purse, they easily could have, because I’m pretty lax that way. We had no incidents of stealing or vandalism at all. It might all have been a bit disorderly, but it was all very ‘lawful’.
How is that possible? Why is it that, in the middle of a thousand teenagers, the good in us all prevailed?
Inclusion and Responsibility
I know the stereotype of band kids, but, like all stereotypes, it’s not accurate. Not all of these kids come from strong families. Not all of them come from homes that are loving and peaceful. They are not necessarily all ‘good kids’ or ‘geeks’. They are as varied as any other population. Rural kids, city kids, studious kids, kids who do the bare minimum to stay eligible, popular kids, not-so-popular kids. The thing they have in common is band.
They are part of a community that depends upon a set of norms that encourage teamwork and inclusion. They know they are responsible for the good of the whole.
A week before State Finals, a member of my daughter’s band got suspended due to inappropriate behavior. The entire group mourned the loss of this one member. It wasn’t so much that he was well-liked, but it was more that they felt like they had lost an integral part of themselves. ‘He’ was part of ‘them’.
Respect for property
These kids know how much work goes into every prop, every item of a uniform.
We had huge canvases of scenery spread out in the parking lot, waiting to be rolled up and put away. Hundreds of exhausted band member from other, competing schools walked in packs through them, between them, and every single kid was careful not to step on them.
Our school’s band uniforms are white, mostly. It is ridiculously difficult to keep white uniforms clean, especially when the kids get dressed in a bus. My child is very messy and unkempt at home. I honestly did not know she had the skills of hanging up clothes neatly or polishing shoes. I watched these kids help get spots out of each other’s pants, tie shoes for others who couldn’t bend down, do somebody’s hair even though it was pretty dirty. They care about their appearance because it is part of how they present themselves to other schools and judges.
There is discipline inherent in participation.
Be on time—early! Keep items of clothing neat and clean, help someone else. Keep each other in line. Don’t let each other do anything unsafe because we need you to be healthy.
Encourage. Have fun. Celebrate. Get back up and try again. Work hard. Remind each other to drink more water. Speak your mind respectfully and then forgive.
It’s hot. It’s freezing. Often all in the same day. Be prepared. Share. If, as often happens, someone doesn’t have any money for extras, there is always someone who will share. Generosity. Compassion. Toughness. Heat exhaustion? Help with the expectation that one will recover and then step up.
I didn’t hear any bullying. Dirty kids, weird kids, shy ones, large ones, tiny ones, no body shaming. Nothing. And it wasn’t because they were just minding their manners because I was there. Let me assure you, a middle-aged woman who is not their teacher is absolutely invisible in a group of teenagers. I heard a ton of things they would never have said had they been remotely aware of my presence. They are not perfect angels by any stretch of the imagination!
Never once were the kids yelled at. Never once did I hear an adult be disrespected or disrespectful.
Again, it isn’t because these are the ‘good’ kids or the ‘smart’ kids. Good kids, smart kids make just as questionable decisions as others. And, quite frankly, some of these kids, in other situations are the bad ones. It’s just that, in this situation, when outcome really matters to them and they have expectations of success of themselves, they have a reason to self-monitor, to be their best selves. A reason larger than themselves.
Imagine a world where every single person knew they were an important piece of the whole. Everybody knows the decisions they make affect us all and that we rely on each other. Even if I don’t know that person, I know they are here doing their best, working towards the same basic goals I am working towards, so I have respect for them. I know I am expected to perform certain duties for the good of the whole. I have responsibilities and the expectation is that I will do my best, that others will hold me accountable. If I really screw up, there will be consequences and that will hurt everyone, not just me or my family.
Imagine a world where encouragement and generosity were the norm and all of our success depended on one another’s success.
What would ‘Law and Order’ look like then?