About a decade ago I was traveling alone and driving down the interstate. I am the kind of person who wants to get from point A to point B as soon as humanly possible, and so that means that I will go a little over the speed limit in order to get to my destination a little faster. By my wife’s confession, I am not as “speedy” of a driver as I used to be, although I still enjoy going a few miles over the speed limit (i.e. 70 in a 65). I write this knowing that there will be some police officers reading this. So I admit, I do speed. But for some reason I justify it, just like millions of other people do every day.
As I was driving I noticed a car pass me that was going a little faster than me (note that I was already speeding). And then I noticed another car right behind it also going about the same speed. And when I looked into my rear view mirror I noticed another car approaching quickly at about the same speed. This thought went directly to my brain and then to my right foot which then pressed down on the accelerator: “Jump into this group of three cars and you can ride with them and if you are in the middle you will not be caught.” I switched lanes and sped up about eight more miles per hour. I was the third car in a group of four cars that were all speeding at approximately thirteen miles over the speed limit.
I have never been comfortable going thirteen miles over the speed limit, but I felt protected by the other three cars in my group. Honestly, I felt invincible. All four vehicles were together and all four vehicles felt protected by what I call “the mob mentality.” It is so much easier to do something that is wrong when you are doing it with a group. It doesn’t feel so unethical. I was driving with this group for about fifteen minutes and enjoying the benefit of going seventy-three miles per hour in a sixty mile per hour zone when I saw flashing red and blue lights. Immediately all four of us dropped down to the speed limit. We had fought the law and the law won. But my thinking was: “Only one of us will get stopped. There is no way that it will be me. I am in the middle. Either the first car or the last car will be stopped. That is just how it works on the highway.”
The police car drove past the fourth car in the group and so I figured that he would just go on to the first car in our group. But he got right behind me and remained there for several seconds. I knew what this meant. He had chosen me. I pulled over, but I was angry. I was angry at the police for pulling me over. I was angry at the other three cars for getting away with speeding. They are the ones who got me into this in the first place. The police officer asked me if I knew why he pulled me over. I remember stumbling around with my words, and this is the essence of what I said to him: “Sir (I always call officers this because they deserve respect), are you sure that you didn’t clock the two cars in front of me? They were going just as fast if not faster?”
His answer was vintage police: “No, I clocked you speeding. You were going thirteen over.” My response: “I was just trying to keep up with traffic. It felt like everyone on the road was going that speed and I guess I just lost track of how fast I was going.” And then the dreaded “Can I have your license and registration?” He spent a few minutes back at his car and my mind was flooded with all kinds of thoughts about whether or not he will be giving me a speeding ticket. If you have ever had to sit and wait for the verdict in your car, then you know the emotions that flow through you. You have several reasons why he might not give you one and let you off with a warning. But then you go back to the truth that you were speeding and you will most likely get a ticket. When the officer walks back to your car you know the verdict is in. Is he letting me off on a warning or does he have a ticket for me?
Once the officer got back to my car, he explained to me that he was giving me a ticket for speeding. And he started to explain all the options of paying the ticket or contesting the ticket, but I was too angry to listen carefully. As he walked away from my car, I drove off just fuming about getting a ticket. I kept trying to justify why I didn’t deserve one. Everyone else was doing it. I wasn’t driving wreckless. I wasn’t hurting anyone. I look back on that experience and I now realize how much this situation applies to real life. I was going thirteen miles over the speed limit. I deserved a ticket. Plain and simple. Here is a life lesson from this story: Never allow others to dictate your ethical behavior. Know your standards and stick to them no matter what others do. I learned my lesson that day. I refuse to join a group of speeding cars! I might go a few miles an hour over the speed limit in my older age, but never again will I try to convince myself that there is security in a group that is doing wrong!
This story will be told during this weekend’s sermon. Come and join me at Central Ministries this weekend (Friday night: 6:30 p.m. and Sunday: 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.)
After this weekend, you can check out the “sermons” tab under the “media” page on www.centralministries.com to watch the whole sermon.