There’s a theory in criminology of how crime spreads called the “Broken Window Theory”. The basic theory is:
Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.
You may have experienced the effects of this. Have you ever noticed that there are areas on sidewalks that are covered in discarded chewing gum? I mean WTF, who spits out chewing gum on the sidewalk. The theory is that if one person does it and it’s not cleaned up then another will do which encourages a third… It’s disgusting and amazing.
I was doing a little experiment with this theory in Denver a few weeks ago. While walking to back to my Rolfing studio from the Confluence Park REI Starbucks—where I happen to be right now—I stopped for a red light on the corner of 15th and Platte streets. A small family group was standing behind me waiting for the light. After checking that it was safe “jay walk”, I took off across the street, the group followed me. I was amazed at how easy it was to encourage them to break the law!
As I was walking back to the studio I thought about how hard it is to get people to do the “right” thing, like eat well and exercise—I struggle with this being pretty lazy by nature—or quit smoking, drinking too much… But it’s easy to get them to break what seems to be an insignificant law. How many times do you still see people texting while driving?
Then I remembered an event when I was in Helsinki Finland a couple of years ago to teach an Equine clinic. I was waiting for a light to cross a street—I don’t jay walk outside the USA—when I noticed that I was the only person standing on the curb. Everyone else was standing behind me, behind a line. I felt uncomfortable with this and when I looked around I noticed that I was standing in the bike lane that separates the pedestrians from the bikes, from the cars. I mentioned this later to one of the students in the clinic and they were very ordinary when they told “oh yeah, you don’t stand in the bike lane, it’s not accepted.”
It’s not accepted meant that there was some sort of penalty associated with the behavior; besides getting hit by a bike. The group wouldn’t support it. I started to think about Integral CrossFit and how we have some athlete’s that have been training with us for a year or more, coming in like religiously every week to train really hard. These same people have done other exercise programs and in fact quite a few have gym memberships elsewhere, which they don’t or rarely use, but they come in to train with us. Why? I think it’s the broken window theory applied in the Helsinki manner, that by not coming in to train they are breaking the norms of the Integral community. If we all got into the habit of honking our horns—just a thought I hate the noise—at those people who text would they stop texting? Are we somehow encouraging them by not calling them on their behavior?
What about someone who breaks a gym rule? If we let them do it are we encouraging others through our passive consent to also break that rule? What’s the effect on community if this happens; does the community lose it’s power to positively influence us? ¬