What's in a Word | All Blogs

Citing a city rep’s citation

By Debra Dobbins

In ancient Greece the word for city was polis. Around 750 B.C, Greece had a multitude of little cities isolated from each other due to the country’s rugged terrain, writes Isaac Asimov in Words from History.

“This division caused the Greeks to develop the city-state to a high degree,” Asimov notes. “The city became the center of virtually every aspect of human life, and the citizens were scarcely more than so many limbs of the city-state body.”

Out of this system came a number of words we still use today. “…[T]he practice of government is still ‘politics’ to us, and the course of action taken up by a government is its ‘policy’ and some course which is particularly effective in gaining our ends is ‘politic,’” Asimov writes.

“The right and ability of any nation to control the actions of its citizens in order to make them conform to some generally accepted standard of law and morality is its ‘police powers.’” he adds. “The group to whom the execution of that control is entrusted are the police …”

When I was recently given a ticket for speeding through – oh, how I hate to admit this -- a school zone, I had to accept two ideas: I deserved the ticket, and the policeman was not out to make my life annoying and costly. He was acting to support a generally accepted standard of law based on the very moral idea that we should not endanger our young people with reckless driving.

So, in that case, the wisdom of an individual acting on behalf of a governing entity, the City of Grand Junction, really did trump my zeal to get from one place to another in a hurry. The long arm of the law was right, and I, as a citizen who values my right to drive, was wrong.

It was a good reminder that even in such a free country as the U.S., individual rights often must be balanced by societal responsibilities. Maybe it would now be politic for me to buy a bike.

Illustration special to the Sentinel


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