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On Discipline in Society


Each of us has rights and obligations, as both individuals and part of a group. The balance between individual rights and obligations to protect the group defines the discipline of the society. The creation of laws and the enforcement of those laws define this balance. Enforcement often involves a negative: giving up individual liberties. Is that loss offset by the creation of a positive benefit for the entire group - the body the enforcement is protecting? It all depends on trust of the individual in society's ability to treat all with fairness and integrity under the system of law. The value system is cultural in nature, changing with situations and the times. Ethical fairness of enforcement and the motivation behind the act of enforcement holds the key to trust. It determines the willingness of society to limit its individual rights.

Do actions taken out of conscience, protect or do they simply show power? These are the questions of cultural value - perceived through each individual's life circumstances. For example, centuries ago, the perspective of Thomas Hobbs on the need for security, after years of war, was different from those of an economically centered, dominant America in the 1950s. Vigilance is necessary - sensitizing society to make logical cultural choices. Vigilance must be used to also ensure that the enforcement process is driven by conscience and not convenience.

With the significant changes in the nature of the world due to the rise in terrorism, perhaps no issue is more important—or possibly less understood—than the balance of enforcement in society. As a sheriff, my father had a perspective that law enforcement was not so much about putting criminals in jail as it was helping build a support for law enforcement in the community.In guerilla warfare, a guerilla without the support of the people is like a fish out of water.Just so, a criminal is at a disadvantage when he is opposed by an active and dedicated citizenry. Similarly, an informed citizenry that recognizes and cherishes its rights provide a culture to protect them.

The Texas Peacemaker Award

The Texas Peacemaker Award given by the Sheriffs' Association of Texas in remembrance of Dad notes that he had the physical abilities and toughness. However, on the other hand, he was a Scoutmaster before he even had kids. He did not allow his deputies to ever show arrogance of doing things a citizen could not do. And he had a unique record of convictions of almost all the cases he brought. The community knew that he tried to help lost youth, but if he had a felon that was different.

At that time, trust was a key component of law enforcement since it led to confidence and support. In a time of instant media when too often the police have become almost militarized with S.W.A.T. teams, these concepts need to be revisited. Dad has been dead over thirty years, but I can never forget the importance of the emphasis he put on personal dignity. It was not just the rights that a man had, not just his safety, but something far more in the all-inclusive concept of dignity. He needed self-respect and should expect the courtesy of respect from others until he made himself undeserving by violating their dignity. But he also understood that dignity had to be gained by accepting responsibility. Rights and respect were not given; they were earned. So he focused on the culture of the community.

There are a number of examples throughout history of the many systems for enforcement of the laws that set the basis of a society's culture. At one end is the repressive form like a balloon where the helium molecules are restrained by the surface. The opposite example is a bar of steel that holds its own shape because the molecules are not separate but are closely bound together.In our example, cultural values make that tie.That is why terrorism and the changes to protect the group will change the balance of rights.We see it in airline security with new laws and limitations and also culturally. We have to distinguish between conveniences and basic rights just as we must recognize that the Golden Rule is present here. We give up some conveniences for others just as they give them up for us. If it is not present, and others do not do so it should be questioned.

Peacemaker Function

But the more the police function can be in the form of a Peacemaker function rather than a law enforcement function, the more personal dignity will be retained and the more support law enforcement will achieve. There is not a loss of efficiency in being courteous, explaining needs, and building public support for when it is needed. Dad was six foot three, two hundred and forty pounds with tremendous physical abilities. It is why the Texas Rangers nicknamed him “The Peacemaker.” But he always started with a handshake, a smile and a sincere heart unless the situation made it inappropriate. He could become serious quickly and always carried a gun and an eight cell flashlight called "the light of enlightenment" to help his persuasion. His point was that you could threaten and succeed but you won few converts to your way of thinking long term.

Global Age

As we enter this new age, we will see this on a more global basis. The West has long had a tradition of law based upon the individual and his rights. The East has had a different history, possibly because they have dense populations and looked not to the individual but to the rights of the group. Yet culturally the East has had much more of an appreciation of individual dignity in its traditions of courtesy.

Over a period of time, due to the terrorism threat, the world will change but in uncertain ways. What characteristics will dominate? The best for society is one that remembers personal dignity and builds trust while allowing substantial police authority to protect the group. That comes from cultural values that make the laws and define the dignities. As this site develops we hope to gain insights from others as to the critical issues involved and how culture can best adapt to a new world without losing the best of the old world. Please review the article on this subject in the Transcending Generations Section.

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