In the law, there’s a concept called a bright line rule. These are those mythical legal answers where there is a definite write and wrong answer: If X happens, than legally Y must be the consequence.
I say “mythical,” because the law, as we know, tries to codify all of the wonderful occurrences that could happen in this thing we call life.
Don’t laugh, but legal language struggles mightily to be as precise as humanly possible, attempting to cover all of the bases and possible contingencies so as to avoid confusion, not create it.
Okay, seriously, you can stop laughing now.
But think about it: Killing another person is bad. That’s a bright line, sure. But in order to determine if the punishment fits the crime, we need to know:
- Was this a premeditated killing?
- If so, what was the mental state of the accused?
- Was it an accidental killing?
- If so, was it a crime of passion or negligence?
- If it was a crime of passion, what was the situation leading to the killing? (e.g., Self-defense? Finding one’s child or spouse being sexually assaulted?)
- If it was a crime of negligence, what were the facts of the situation? Were all parties contributing to the negligence, or just one?
And so on. There’s a balancing test here to determine the severity of the punishment.
The bright line has already been violated. Now we’re looking at the degree of the violation in light of all available evidence. It’s . . . a messy process.
Mind you, this is with an “easy” case like killing another human being. You can see why bright lines in the law are relatively elusive, though not for lack of trying. What laws attempt to do is provide enough flexibility to account for rare or unforeseen situations.
So what does this have to do with life in general?
Because in life, bright line rules seem to be the way to go . . . and with a similar level of flexibility allowing one to balance the factors in the appropriate situations.
This sounds messy, doesn’t it? But life is messy. Things might go according to plan 90 percent of the time, but there’s always that 10 percent where things go crazy.
Being the most rigid, holier than thou guy around might make you feel good, but the building will still be burning down around you. Continue reading “Bright Lines”