Back in early January I was pulled over for having failed to renew my license plate. I was given a court date about six weeks later, and today was the day. I could have just paid the fine plus court costs, but the officer suggested I go in and as long as I had renewed in the meantime it was possible I might get it dismissed.
Turned out his advice was correct, and I felt like I began the day in the black after avoiding having to drop a couple of hundy for my mistake.
I was one of about three dozen who had shown up to be there when the door opened on traffic court. In fact I got there about 20 minutes early and so was among the first in line. Not really up on exactly how it would go, I spent the time letting my imagination wander through vague, ill-informed possibilities.
The theme of these musings was of course finding ways to mitigate my guilt. I had excuses for forgetting to renew my license plate, of course. I won’t rehearse them here -- just fill in the blanks with your own excuses for why you might forget something similar. And underpinning all of these explanations was my history of never having forgotten to renew my license plate on time before.
Even as I sat there working out this staggeringly long list of mitigating circumstances, I was laughing at myself at the futility of such thoughts. I was most certainly guilty of the violation described on the sheet of paper the officer had given to me. And while I didn’t know whether or not I’d be made to pay the amount listed at the bottom of it, I knew this vain checklist I was building as a kind of theoretical defense wasn’t going to matter one way or the other.
This instinct to defend oneself comes so naturally, it’s almost startling to become conscious of that fact in a setting such as the one I was in this morning. We are always thinking to ourselves variations of the same idea, over and over in different ways and with different applications...
I’m not guilty.
We’re all familiar with that reflex in poker, often coming after losing but sometimes after winning, too. I’m not guilty of making a bad play. I had to make that call or bet or raise or fold. My opponent played his hand badly, leading to the hand’s outcome. And so on.
Better players are able to prevent such self-defensive recasting of reality from affecting their play, or even to allow such thoughts to develop at all. Meanwhile I’d venture the great majority of us can’t help ourselves, and in truth we’d all like to believe no one can judge us -- can really judge us -- like we can ourselves.
Duly humbled by my court appearance, I drove home flawlessly, stopping at every sign and light, observing speed limits and maintaining safe distances from others, steering and signaling like the champion vehicle operator I am.
Guilty? Perhaps... of being awesome.