The School Bus Incident

This morning I came upon a yellow school bus that had stopped to pick up kids, with its red lights blinking, signaling all cars to stop. And yet one driver insisted on going around the bus. But before he could pass, a woman, with a dog in tow, stepped out in front of his moving car, put her foot on his fender, and proceeded to lecture him. I sat there and wondered what would I have done? A school bus full of kids is a good test for any of us when it comes to standing up for community norms. We all cherish children; they're often innocent bystanders to events around them, and our role as adults is pivotal in protecting them and helping to raise them. This guy who attempted to bypass the bus was in clear violation of a long-standing norm we all know.

Indeed, he could have simply looked around to see that other cars had stopped for the bus. But he either didn’t care, or didn't take the time to look. Either way, his judgment was off.

Last week I wrote about the first 100 days of President Obama's term. This week I wonder how the rest of us are doing. So many people face tough issues in their daily lives -- a lost job, uncertain health care, trouble paying bills.

In times like these, it's easy to keep our heads down and focus only on ourselves and our own needs. But what I hear people around this country (and elsewhere) saying is, now, more than ever, they want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to make a difference in their communities. They want to act on their aspirations, not simply their fears.

This urge to make good on our desire to do good existed long before Obama's election, but it was certainly crystallized and amplified since. It exists just beneath the surface of our current troubled economic times; in fact, to get through these times we must tap into it.

That's why I was so taken by what I saw this morning. The stopped bus, and the moving car, created a flashpoint -- a concrete manifestation of both the challenge and opportunity we face. It would have been easy for the woman who stepped out in front of the moving car to turn away, to simply act as if nothing had happened.

Instead, she did just the opposite: she turned toward the moving car. She made the decision that the blinking red lights atop the yellow school bus meant something. She stepped forward in that moment and did something.

As the bus left another women in a car rolled down her window and called to the women who had stopped the car, "Did he just do what I think he did?" He had. They talked for a brief moment, and both went their ways. But in that exchange they cemented a long-standing community norm. They named it. They declared it real. And I saw it all, which made me it real for me, too.

Much of what we are doing in our nation nowadays is to reclaim space for interacting with others, for working together, and for resetting the norms we care about. No doubt, part of this occurs through actions taken in Washington, DC, but more of it actually takes place in our daily lives.

I ask you to consider the yellow bus when you encounter similar situations. Remember the woman with the dog in tow who stepped forward.