I was a well-behaved child for the most part. I always did well on spelling tests, stood in line in size order as we school kids did in those days, and audibly recited the pledge of allegiance. I wore the various insignia on my Brownie Scout uniform correctly as instructed and cooperated with my teachers (except, thinking back, the piano teacher). At home I respected the boundaries set by our mom for safety concerning how far from home I was allowed to play. The little voice that nagged, “Hey — that could hurt” was well oiled and running in the back of my brain from an early age. I was rarely reckless. Explain to me why doing something was unsafe, might hurt somebody’s feelings, or was otherwise a bad idea and I would listen to reason.

But give me that parental rannygazoo about “because I said so” and forget about it. Issue me a direct order, with an attitude of authority, and the brakes would come on. In fact, the brakes would get so hot you could smell the rubber burning.

An example I remember vividly is me, aged something single-numbered, stomping back down the stairs ready to argue because some no doubt overtired adult had told me to go to bed. They might have left the subject alone. I was bone-tired, exhausted to the point of looking forward to laying my head on the pillow, and absolutely fine with it being bedtime — that is, until somebody had to go and order me to bed. Not a damned chance.

Obedience has never been my strong suit.

Part of growing up is learning to pick your battles. I’m still the one apt to show up at meetings of local government wearing the “You are not the boss of me” T-shirt. I even bristle at “authorized personnel only” signs. But that’s just me and my little problem with authority. Basically, I do have some degree of faith in individual ethics. The idea that we would all be ax-murderers if not threatened with hellfire and damnation seems ridiculous. We surely aren’t perfect, but we aren’t typically evil. Most folks feel good when they can help. Many people like to work hard, to be kind, to volunteer, to make a positive difference in their community; they don’t need either carrot or stick to get them going. Quite a few will run toward danger to rescue others. It’s insulting to them to suggest that humans won’t ever do the right thing except by threat of penalty.

We should all have been taught from our mother’s knee to yield the right of way at the intersection, to only fish where we live, to leave no trace, do no harm, and do unto others as they would have others do unto them. But that’s an ideal, and not everybody grew up this way. Very few people may be genuinely evil, but plenty are self-centered and were raised to think that “looking out for number one” is the best policy. Thus, society has to have some rules. That’s called “living in civilization.”

So, my opinion: Stay put when you can, wash your hands, wear your mask, respect that fathom of space, only buy your fair share of the TP, and avoid creating crowds but not because Governor Mills or anybody else told you to. Do it because it’s the right way to treat your fellow citizens. Do it because it’s inherently right to try and understand the worries of another person. If you don’t believe any of this is real, fine; you still don’t get to make that decision for others.

Don’t make public safety an ego battle, like the pointless battle of a small child over bedtime.

In a discussion of authority and freedom, the analogy of the expression “go the extra mile” comes to mind. I was taught in school (OK, it was in college Latin) that the possibility exists that this expression came from the days of the Roman legion. Supposedly, a Roman soldier was permitted to basically conscript any poor local slob who happened to be out hoeing his beans into service carrying the soldier’s gear — but only for a mile. The local fellow had no choice in the matter. Humiliation of country folk and non-Romans under this rule was absolutely intended. One time, a smart-aleck peasant with a strong back allegedly offered to carry a soldier’s equipment for a second mile, at which the soldier had to reply, “I can’t make you do that.”

“That’s exactly the point! You can’t make me do this. I am a free man. I am not your slave and you are not my master. I am offering, and only a free man can make such an offer. So — do you want my help with this stuff or don’t you?”