Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Another assault on social grace

If you have a hard time understanding what the Apostle Paul means when he tried to describe the difference between being "under Grace" and being "under the law", take a look at the latest move to restrict where smokers can light up. The Vancouver Park Board has brought in a bylaw that would ban smoking in most outdoor areas, such as parks, beaches, sports fields, playgrounds, etc.

I'm no fan of smoking, as I mentioned in a post a couple of years ago, when I decried the fact that, with so many people having to go outside a restaurant to smoke because Health Authorities had decided that it wasn't good enough to have separate smoking-permitted sections, one couldn't wait for one's reservation in the 'fresh' air. But I'm a bigger fan of letting people decide for themselves what is The Right Thing To Do -- and asserting their own rights, whether it's to breathe clean air or to pollute their lungs, or to allow someone else to do either.

Apparently, the Park Board plans to begin by "educating" rather than "enforcing". Does that mean, telling people smoking is harmful? I think that message has gotten a pretty good workout over the past 60 years, don't you? Or are they "educating" that it's nasty to toss cigarette butts on the beach? What's wrong with having a mom say to her child, "Eeeewww! That slob just threw his cigarette butt right where you're playing!"

Which, I wonder, has the greater potential for correcting bad behaviour? A bylaw that may or may not get enforced (or worse, educated)? Or a mother's disapproving sneer ringing in your ears? I don't know about you, but mom's disapproval carries a lot more weight -- and is less likely to create that "John Dillinger" kind of outlaw mystique of someone who blatantly stubs out his cigarette butt in direct defiance of the law.

A ban on smoking may come across as Progressive and Socially Responsible, but legislation strips us of the option to show grace towards someone -- as God shows grace towards us. We are created to be like Him, and the grace involved in saying, "Do you mind if I smoke?", while being fully willing to accept the answer, "as a matter of fact, I do" ... or for the other person to say, "by all means", even though they might detest the smell ... is something we shouldn't allow a tiny group of bylaw-makers to take away from us.

(I'm also increasingly aware of what musician and columnist Joe Jackson calls the "nanny state" -- where someone in "authority" decides what's best for us, on the premise that we common rabble are too stupid to figure it out for ourselves. (I don't necessary endorse all of Joe's article there, a liberty I'm sure he'd be the first to endorse.) I'm a little surprised (not) that I haven't seen any comment from the civil liberties bunch. Maybe they were too busy looking for people getting hassled at the 4/20 smoke-in.)

The irony of this story appearing on the same day as the aforementioned smoke-in has not been lost on me. I wonder if anyone there was busted for smoking "within six metres of an entryway, openable window or air intake of a building and the perimeter of a customer service area", per the City of Vancouver bylaw? But I digress ...

During the Olympics, I was walking along Robson Street a few steps behind two women. One was smoking and exhaled a huge cloud of smoke which, as the Lord would have it (He has SUCH a sense of humour!), blew right into my face. I coughed inadvertently, and she noticed it. I could tell she was partly embarrassed and may have also been thinking that I was being a smart-aleck. So I caught up to her. "You didn't know I was there," I assured her. She still apologized.

Grace. Grace, that I let her know it was accidental. Grace, that she apologized even though we both tacitly agreed there was nothing wilful or malicious about it. Under "the law", there could have been a "scene" with railing on her for doing something illegal and her railing back in defense.

Legislating people's behaviour brings that added nastiness that (a) someone's breaking the law and is, therefore, an arrogant the-law-applies-to-everyone-but-me wannabe rebel and (b) someone complaining about it has the weight of the law behind them and might just call the cops.

When we're under the law -- whether it's a park board bylaw or Moses' Laws -- we focus on not doing something wrong so that we don't get punished. When we're under grace -- be it God's grace or simple politeness and consideration for others -- we focus on doing what's right so we can find even greater grace.

What a world this would be if we focused more on "right" and less on "rights"!

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