The family road trip is a rite of passage for many in childhood. Parents pack the car with everything needed – a stocked cooler, pillows, blankets, crayons, and a short stack of comic books are all must-haves. Smart parents ensure that each kid has their own separate, but equal, array of stuff. Anyone who has ever enjoyed the pleasure of traveling a long distance with a backseat full of nascent humans knows the gambit of emotion that rides along. Laughter, quiet, and even sleep are all on the agenda. But, conflict can be expected as well. It all starts with the pressure of confined space, a perceived slight, or a fight over the last banana. Tempers flair and feelings are hurt. These siblings, the same in so many ways, could not be more at odds.
The adults driving the family truckster intervene to ensure that the vitriol stays in check. They divide the space, make the kids “stop touching each other”, and usually end with an admonishment to quit “looking” at their brother that way. Essentially, all are urged to keep their interests balanced against those with whom they are careening along the highway – to get a little perspective.
Since our nation’s founding, Americans have debated, sometimes in a civil way and sometimes not so much, how to draw the line between the various competing freedoms of individual persons. “How dare your liberty impinge on mine?” “What?! It is your liberty that is disrupting me.”
Make no mistake, debates like these matter. They help us define property rights, personal autonomy, and our relative value in the community. But, isn’t the least intervention from the front seat the best? And, shouldn’t we remember that we are all in this journey together? Who wins if our inability to be civil causes us to turn the car around and go home?