- by Anne Finlay-Stewart

Humans are a social species of animal that depends on co-operation with others for our most basic needs and greatest achievements. Our capacity for seemingly limitless selfishness seems counter-intuitive.

It's not new to this past year, but it certainly seems that the pandemic and its restrictions have given people some sort of enhanced internal permission to be the exception to any rule.

First it was this notice - “At the request of private landowners, the Fairmount Side Trail (Bruce Trail, Clarksburg) is closed. The landowners cited recent incidents where hikers let dogs run loose, despite signage indicating the “No Dogs Allowed” section and a large group of people trespassing off-trail over private property.”

Then there was a piece by a farming organization about the destruction that can be done to a winter wheat field in half an hour from snow machines.

Today it was a media release about police ticketing snowmobilers where they shouldn't be, after Owen Sound police and fire resources had been expended to rescue them.

The offenders in these stories will not be the members of the local snowmobile club or Bruce Trail club – who pay their dues, renew their permits and voluntarily clear and groom trails. They will turn out to be people who use those trails – and anywhere else they choose – and take advantage of the generosity of the landowners and volunteers. And when they find trails closed, they might just shrug and travel on them anyway, or they might cut fences. By the time larger barricades are erected, or permissions are withdrawn altogether, they might not even know, having driven off to another community or another pastime.

nodogsfineWe know people, and you likely do too, who regularly take their dogs to places with signs like this, on or off leash. They say – “But it's just “Endearing Anthropomorphised Dog Name”, as if that would explain to anyone why the sign is obviously not referring to their dog. Whenever a strange dog jumps on me or scares me, the owner assures me it is friendly – clearly I am the one who cannot see that.

There are lots of statistics about the high correlation of fast driving and serious car accidents. But the most common response from speeders, according to studies, is that they believe they had complete control over their vehicle at whatever speed they are driving. Ditto for alcohol and texting. Those drivers are sure they are different from the speeders, drinkers and texters who make up the statistics. They are the exception.

On social media, fairly consistently, commenters (who are never the scoff-laws themselves) want more enforcement. Higher fines, more police and by-law officers, and preferably, jail time and life-time bans on whatever people are doing wrong. Although almost no data backs them up, there are many who are sure that threats and penalties will make people “smarten up”.

I remain unconvinced. We can't put everyone under surveillance. Tickets punish the poor and let the rich off with no more than something to whine about on Facebook. The extra cost of courts and cops will inevitably be borne by those who obeyed the rules all along.

This year of Covid has made me think more than ever about why people feel that they are the exception. Left to determine for ourselves what are “essential” activities, how do people convince themselves that what they want to do is somehow worth the risk or cost.  How do we, as their community, persuade them otherwise?

We are essentially interdependent as humans, from the beginning of our lives until the end. There will be no exceptions.