Written by Rebekah Nivala //
“I don’t like to hurt people, I really don’t like it at all. But in order to get a red light at the intersection, you sometimes have to have an accident.”
– Jack Anderson
In my current locale of Jakarta, Indonesia, I attend a growing mega church of 14,000 people. We meet at a mall in the center of the city. While weekday rush hour traffic isn’t present on Sundays, the sheer volume of cars converging at the mall entrance creates quite the bottleneck. Not wanting to be late, I pull forward and deftly cut two lines of cars to ensure I will secure a parking space and find a seat.
Months go by and I’m traveling down a busy road in rural Indonesia. The driver tells me stories of local corruption, disorder, and widespread disregard for government regulations. He slows the truck as we approach a red light, but as all the cars and mopeds around us move forward full speed ahead, his embarrassed laugh muffles a “sorry” as he continues on through.
At first glance, the quotidian experience of the stoplight – or any other common travel experience – may appear insignificant. Surely everyone understands the value of traffic systems designed to maximize safety and efficiency, right? Not so fast, Speedy! Taking public buses in China, angling for a taxi in Manhattan, driving in Jakarta all reveal the common struggle to be fit, to be first, to come out on top, to survive, an instinct that trumps the long-term thinking of justice and progress.
“I’ll only be a minute,” as she parks temporarily in double parallel.
“Nobody’s coming, so it doesn’t matter if I coast through this stop sign.”
“The next car will stop for that kid at the crosswalk…”
Granted, law infringement is occasionally due to ignorance. Villager mopedists don’t wear helmets unless they plan to drive through areas frequented by police; they follow the rule to avoid a fine, not for protection from physical injury. Sadly, perpetuation of ignorant disregard for the law is too often exacerbated by those who know better. The anonymity of vehicles in places where traffic rules are not enforced creates the perfect environment for human nature to emerge, whether selfish, altruistic, irate or patient. Not accountable, so anything goes.
More sinister and obvious examples appear when “untouchable” officials use their position as a smokescreen to conduct covert corruption – the official who uses his connections to siphon a private police escort; the cop who receives bribes; the airline staff who collude on the assassination of a passenger.
When systems of justice are ignored, those with power call the shots and the vulnerable are forced to submit and suffer.
It is too easy, however, to point fingers. Moreover, redirecting attention to someone else is a dangerous tactic. It pacifies us momentarily to know there are others who, apparently, have accomplished more evil. We become complacent and, our conscience dulled, we forget to reflect and realize the ways we too make short-term decisions that deny justice to those around us.
When I cut dozens of cars in my rush to get to church on time, I failed to think of the person who would not find a place to park and would have to wait for the following service because I jumped the line. When my driver drove through the red light, he knowingly violated a traffic regulation, joining the very people he had been criticizing.
“To reject the law is to praise the wicked; to obey the law is to fight them.” Proverbs 28:4
Assuming the law is just and good, I agree that fighting injustice can be as simple as obeying that law. However, obeying the law in a rule-defying arena can be dangerous. So for the time being, I will probably continue to straddle the line for the sake of self-preservation – I will join the lane-changing dance on the freeway, but will try to remember to use my turn signal; I will grab the first available seat on a bus, but try to offer it to someone who needs it more than I do. To be sure, this form of practicing justice is far from glamorous and may seem too simple to make a difference. Yet, if it’s simple enough to do now, it’s not too simple. And if it goes unacknowledged, what does it matter as long as someone does it?
Rebekah Nivala lives in Jakarta, Indonesia where she works to provide musical learning spaces for children and their parents…and tries to avoid being run over when she crosses the street.