I had a conversation with a campus police officer last week that left me thinking about the concept of “letter of the law” versus “spirit of the law. “
This concept often confuses police officers. I feel at liberty to say this since I was a police officer for several years and observed this confusion first hand. I’m going to spend a few words here on this concept because I believe it has application to our everyday lives.
Let me explain what happened last week to illustrate the concept. I was doing a track workout with a fellow athlete and our coach at a local university. The coach is an Olympic level athlete that attended this particular university and is in the schools athletic Hall of Fame, meaning he is well known around the campus. The coach brought his 6 year old son with him. The coach and son also brought their 2 month old beagle puppy to the workout.
Let me set the physical scene for you. Picture a university athletic track, completely enclosed by 6 foot chain link fence and gates. All the gates are closed. There are 3 adults, 1 child and 1 puppy inside the fenced area. The young boy is playing with a baseball and baseball glove while dad works with my friend and me. The puppy, weighing about 5 pounds and approximately 12 inches long is running about and rolling in the grass, sometimes chasing after the little boy. By the way, it’s a remarkably beautiful sunny afternoon. There is no one else present.
Now enters our young campus police officer. He waved me over to the fence and asked “Who does the dog belong to?” I told him it belonged to the little boy. He said “Tell the boy’s father that the dog has to be on a leash.” I asked him “Is that really necessary?” He said “Yes it’s necessary, because it’s the law on the campus.”
Having a bit of experience in law enforcement (which I did not tell this young officer) I decided to debate him on the fine points of “spirit of law” versus “letter of the law.” To my dismay it quickly became apparent that this vital concept was missing from his tool pouch. I won’t bore you with the details of the conversation.
The leash law he was referencing is in place to protect the public from a dog that is unruly, poorly behaved and so forth. The university is well within reason to not want dogs jumping on people, biting people, turning over garbage cans, running into traffic and I could continue on of course about the obvious need for the leash law. This law is a good law as written. To enforce it on a puppy inside a fence with no public present might be asking for a challenge. This puppy was not large enough to knock anyone down, not large enough to knock over anything, completely controlled by the fence that was even keeping the officer out, and to top it all off there was not a soul inside the fence except for 4 individuals that had no quarrel with the dog.
Therefore the “spirit of the law” was not being violated in any manner. The officer had no room for this concept in his mind it appeared to me. He understood only the “letter of the law.” For the record we said OK, and then simply disobeyed his instruction.
This left me thinking about how this concept is involved in our everyday lives. There is an instance in my life, which I offer as an example.
My track workouts are extremely demanding. Often I disobey the messages from my body and force my way through the workout; then the following day I am too tired for a productive workout and the spiral continues until I become injured or simply have to skip an entire day or two of workouts.
However, the “spirit of the training” is that I will train myself to compete and be in the best racing shape I can reach during race season, uninjured and certainly not exhausted. The “letter of the training” is what is written on the workout sheet, no matter how I might actually feel. By pursuing the “letter of the training” I dismiss the common sense of “the spirit of the training.” In this way my efforts are sabotaged by my own dogged and unyielding enforcement of the letter of the training.
We all do this don’t we? Can you identify your “spirit of life” versus “letter of life “confusions?
Now I Get It.......maybe