Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Broken Windows Theory

I often struggle with the psychological phenomenon known as jamais vu. This is a condition wherein a person will often not recall or recognize something that they have already seen or are already familiar with. It is essentially the opposite of déjà vu. There seems to be a pesky disconnect with all the matter that makes its way into my cranium.  However, every once and a while I will inexplicably connect two seemingly unrelated topics in a beautiful moment of apparent cosmic epiphany. This happened to me during a Sunday School lesson on Sunday. I made a brief note of my impression, and am now expounding on it after further thought.
There exists a very interesting theory within the study of criminology. The theory, known as The Broken Windows Theory suggests that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime. In other words, if something small such as a broken window goes unfixed in a neighborhood, further vandalism will probably ensue. Why is this? Because if something in our environment is dirty, unkempt, or broken we have a tendency to not care as much if it gets dirtier or further broken. You would much sooner discard a piece of waste onto the streets of a filthy alley than a squeaky clean street in the Vatican City.
Consequently a vandalized and trash-ridden block becomes a hot bed for criminal activity. It is the butterfly effect in full action. One piece of trash leads to two pieces of garbage, which leads to a broken window, which leads to three broken windows, which leads to a break-in, which leads to a murder. And in this manner crime waves are created. It is an insidious cycle. Studies have shown that a rapid repair of a broken window or a swift removal of graffiti can prevent crime better than an increase in law enforcement. The theory also claims that making more misdemeanor arrests and essentially focusing on the smaller things first will prevent larger and more heinous crimes from being committed. The theory is a highly polemic issue, but studies in specific cities in the United States have shown it to be valid.
Now I will pose an important question, diverging from the criminological and penological thought. How can I apply this theory to my own personal life? I am not a rundown neighborhood replete with broken windows and defaced murals. But, do I not have parts of my soul that are oft times broken or defaced? Of course I do. We all do. We are all subject to break downs in spirit and character leaving us with tattered remains of what was once clean and unvandalized. So how can we stop the ‘crime waves’ that plague our very souls? I believe the solution is the application of the Broken Windows Theory. We must clean up our lives immediately before they become infested with refuse, and a ‘broken window’ seems like a trivial thing to perhaps be repaired later. How many times do we reason within ourselves that we will stop a bad habit before it becomes an addiction? How often do we let the invidious things of this world enter into our lives because we think they can be cleaned up later? Sometimes they can. But sometimes, unbeknownst to us, a messy room turns into disorder which starts out as purely physical, but soon becomes spiritual. And now our spiritual progress is retarded.         So, let us clean the streets of our lives. Let us no longer peer at that broken window with plans to fix it on the morrow.
Let’s ameliorate our lives by attending to the details and small things first. After all, by small and simple things are great things brought to pass (Alma 37:6).