Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rules Over People? Again?

I went to the DMV today to get my daughter her driving permit. After the prerequisite standing in line, filling out forms, standing in more lines (even with an appointment), finally we were sent into the room where Jasmyn would take her written exam.  The line was so long for this that it wound through the room and out the door.  While the line was quite long, there was one lone worker inside who was setting people up for the exams and taking pictures.  After about 5 minutes another worker came and told us we couldn't stand in the doorway.  She proceeded to direct us into a weird snaking line that meant anyone else who wanted to be in the line was confused and had no idea where to go.  But we dutifully complied, even after being yelled at by this woman with her interesting line design.  Eventually Jasmyn and I made it to the front of the line and Jasmyn was sent one direction to have her picture taken and to take her permit test.  I was told to leave the room, but like the over-protective hovering helicopter parent I sometimes can be, I waited near the door because I wanted to make sure she could get onto the computer okay to take her exam.  While waiting there I noticed that the much older couple (had to be in their 90s) that had been ahead of us in line was struggling with their computer.  The woman was supposed to be taking the exam but they couldn't get into the computer.  The man went to the second worker who was just standing around telling people how to form a line and asked for help.  The worker said, "Oh, it's self-explanatory.  Just go over to the computer and it will tell you what to do."  He tried to explain that they'd been struggling with it for some time, but she tuned him out and went back to directing people how to stand in line.  I watched this couple struggle for a minute more with the computer and then I went over to help.  The screen had been asking for her birthday and she had typed in the month, the date and the last two numbers of the year.  The computer wanted all four numbers of the year and so it kept booting out her request to take the exam.  I explained this to them and they asked me if I could help by typing in the birth date for her.  Suddenly we were swarmed with 4 officials barking at me, "You can't take the test for her!  We are going to have to ask you to leave!"  "I'm not taking the test for her, I'm putting in her birth date so she can take the test herself!"  "We have officials here to help with any difficulties!  You are not to help!"  "Yeah?  Well, your 'officials' weren't helping!  This couple had asked for help, and were told 'no'.  Those who were supposed to help weren't, so I was!"  Her husband and I were "escorted" out of the room while the husband loudly complained that his wife needed help walking and that he needed to be with her.  We kept being told over and over that that's what the workers were for - to help, though none of them did help.  Instead, all of them went back to what they had been doing before, and this poor woman was left sitting, staring at the computer screen, still not into the system, still not able to even take the test, still not able to get up or go home either since she needed her husband to help her walk.  Her husband began to cry once we were out of the room.  All I could do was stay with him, which I did, while I waited for Jasmyn to finish her test.  I stayed with him, and told him that there were people who cared, even if they weren't those working here at the DMV.

Is this woman who can't figure out how to put her birth date into the computer someone who should be driving?  Perhaps not.  I understand the reason why there are rules and policies.  I understand that these tests are to determine who should be on the road and who should not.  I'm certain that they will not be reissuing her her driver's license.  I am also certain that losing your ability to drive, your independence, your ability to get yourself where you need to be is a very traumatic thing to have happen to you, and that having your license taken away by people who don't care enough to even respond when you ask for help, and who make sure others also can't help you is not just lacking in kindness.  It is just plain MEAN.

We sometimes put rules, put regulations, put red-tape, bureaucracy and our belief about how things "should" be done above real people.  This isn't a new problem.  Jesus had this same problem when he was condemned for healing on the Sabbath, when he was criticized and rejected for letting his disciples "pick grain" on the sabbath, when he and his disciples were put down for failing to wash their hands properly.  And his response to all of that?  "The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath."  To put it into more modern language, "Our rules are here to help people, people are not here for the purpose of following the rules."  But we, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, sometimes make idols of our rules, our policies, our procedures to the point that we would rather harm people than even bend a rule to fit the needs of those actually affected by it.  This is a problem.  It's a problem Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and others who saw injustices written into the rules and who said, "no!" tried to confront again and again and it is a problem that has not gone away.  But I would challenge any of us who are stuck in our rules to the point where we stop seeing and helping and caring for real people and real individuals to think better of it.  We are called to love.  Loving is messy.  It just very simply does not fit into a nice neat box of "how tos".  It just doesn't.  The rules and policies and procedures are supposed to help us to care for one another better, to be kinder to each other even when we feel more selfish, to get along well, to function and work together.  That is their purpose.  Sometimes they fail to do that.  But as someone once said, "When you have to choose between being right and being kind, choose being kind."

Oh, and yes, Jasmyn got her permit.  Look out world!