I believe that cars should pull over when an emergency vehicle approaches, not because the law demands it, but because the action displays respect for the dignity and worth of every human life.
My home is within two miles of the local hospital and several hundred yards of the fire station. As a result, I see a lot of emergency vehicles on their way to a rescue. Yesterday, I once again witnessed an ambulance struggle down a busy street at rush hour, trying every possible siren melody to force a driver to get out of the way. Once again, I hoped that that few seconds of delay would not mean the difference of life and death for the person awaiting rescue.
It was in this moment of frustration and anger that I recognized how many of my fundamental beliefs can be summarized in the simple symbolic gesture of pulling to the side of the road. This act displays my belief that all human beings possess basic rights, that every person is equally worthy of humane treatment, that I am part of a larger community that relies on my participation to protect each individual’s rights, and that my life and my needs are no more important than those of my neighbor. Therefore, pulling to the side of the road is humbling myself, recognizing that I am only one small part of a much larger whole.
I teach US history to high school students. When covering basic reform movements in our past, most notably the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early twentieth century, I emphasize that progressives encouraged their fellow Americans to be more aware of one another. They believed that in their rapidly industrializing world, the value of a single human life was declining, and that individuals were becoming more focused on their own needs and survival at the expense of others in their community. Their complaints had a familiar ring. They felt families were being torn apart, children were being treated as commodities, poverty was hidden from the consciousness of the middle and upper classes. Reformers like Jacob Riis and Jane Addams wondered if Americans had forgot the famous phrase of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” My students, who as teenagers can be very self-absorbed, often struggle to relate to the Progressives devotion to others. Helping students focus on their role in the community at large has become part of my mission as a teacher. I work to achieve this through classroom instruction, formal service projects, and probably most importantly demonstrations of simple acts of compassion, like pulling over to let an emergency vehicle pass.
For me, the act of pulling over is a statement that I recognize that my life and its needs are no more valuable than my neighbor’s, and that whatever my own needs and priorities, I will never let them be fulfilled at the expense of someone else’s suffering. This I believe.
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