Gotten a traffic ticket lately? They cost a fortune; not to mention what happens to your insurance. Good thing I realized long ago that it’s just not worth it to speed or roll through stop signs. Too much risk, not enough reward.

The fact that I’m just now figuring this out relatively late in life has definitely cost me, but the good news is I haven’t hurt anybody … except maybe myself a couple of times. Well, I guess there was that one time in college. You know what they say, young and dumb.

Anyway, now that I actually obey the laws, I’m beginning to notice something strange. I think I may be the only one.

Driving down a residential side street in the town where I live, the other day, I pull up to a stop sign to turn left onto the main street. A car approaches from the left and another from the right, so I sit and wait for them to pass. After all, that is the law, n’est-ce pas?

So what do they do? Inexplicably, they both stop. They have the right of way and no stop sign but they stop anyway. We all just sit there. Finally, the driver to my left seems to realize she stopped for no apparent reason and tentatively rolls through the intersection.

The car on my right, however, remains stopped with her left blinker on. I wave her through but she won’t budge. I finally get sick of just sitting there so I look around. No cops. I turn left in front of her and speed off, shaking my head and wondering if everyone just forgot how to drive or what.

Meanwhile my wife – who, unlike me, is actually a nice person who respects others and has never ever broken the rules – recently pulled up to the mailboxes at the entrance to our little mountain road just in time for one of our lovely neighbors to back up without looking and slam right into her.

The neighbor gets out of her car and angrily shouts, “Didn’t you see me backing up?” among other things. So she breaks the law, blames it on someone else, and acts out like an entitled brat – all in front of her daughter. Great stuff to teach your kid. And we wonder where all the road rage comes from?

I used to spend a lot of time in Asia, back in the day. If you’ve never driven in Taipei, you don’t know what you’re missing. Nobody pays the slightest attention to stop signs and traffic lights, let alone laws. It’s complete anarchy, like the Wild Wild West meets Dukes of Hazzard.

Not to disparage an entire island nation, but at least back then it was sort of a dog-eat-dog culture. People did what they had to do to get ahead. It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t very civilized. But then, that’s just the way they were. At least they owned it.

In America, we talk a lot about being civilized but our actions tell a different story. We talk about doing the right thing but all we really want to do is what we want, when we want, how we want. You can’t say anything without offending people anymore but our behavior couldn’t be more offensive. We’re becoming increasingly entitled, self-centered, greedy, disingenuous, thin-skinned, and vitriolic. Words matter too much, actions matter too little.

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. The two go hand in hand. When we care more about what we say and how we look, we inherently care less about things that matter like who we are and what we stand for. When we care more about what we own and what we want, we care less about important stuff like obeying the law and doing the right thing.

The more superficial we are, the less substantive we become. We’re becoming all sizzle, no substance. As they say in Texas, big hat, no cattle.

Image Credit: Charlie Llewellin via Flickr