Why I'm a zero-tolerant kind of guy

The results of practising zero tolerance in my daily life have been dramatic
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The Independent Culture
I HAVE been practising zero tolerance for several months now and the effect on my life has been dramatic. So I was delighted earlier this week when I heard the Prime Minister tell the nation, "Don't show zero imagination. Help us to have a zero tolerance of crime."

But why just crime? And why should zero tolerance, if it works, be reserved solely for the police and other government institutions?

Why can't an ordinary guy like me adopt a zero tolerance approach to his everyday life? No reason, I thought, and so I took the first teetering steps on the path to zero tolerance where today I march so confidently and, thanks to Tony Blair, in such fine company.

I had read the results of Mayor Giuliani's zero tolerance of squeegee merchants in New York which succeeded in lowering the number of murders, rapes and crack houses in the Big Apple. Here in Britain, I'd seen the reports of Det Supt Mallon's zero tolerance efforts in Middlesbrough, based on the philosophy that tolerating any antisocial behaviour in a neighbourhood soon attracts bigger hoodlums and far more hideous crimes. Det Supt Mallon's tactics were said to have worked a treat.

I'll share with you my very first act of zero tolerance. I was sitting in the front room at home on a Saturday morning, having just consumed my second cup of tea.

Suddenly, after reading an article about Det Supt Mallon, I experienced what can only be described as a St Paul on the road to Damascus zero tolerance vision. Overwhelmed, I sat in awed silence for many minutes, the cup of tea growing tepid in my hand.

My trance was disrupted by the sound of the morning post scudding through the slot in my front door. I rose and went to gather the usual brown envelopes, bills and informative "mailshots". However, one envelope caught my eye. It looked like my gas bill but closer inspection revealed that it was not my gas bill. In truth it was addressed to the person who lived next door to me.

One of the most rewarding aspects of zero tolerance is how instinctive it is, and how quickly one can adopt its practice.

At that moment, my zero tolerance baptism, I didn't have to intellectualise about what to do next; I simply knew, with a kind of spiritual certainty that seemed to spring from the very depths of my gums, what must be done.

I bolted out of the door and up the block, collared the postman and confronted him with the incontrovertible evidence: my neighbour's gas bill. "How do you suppose I got this then?" I asked him and, in no uncertain terms, informed him of the far-reaching consequences that might ensue if such a "mis-delivery" were repeated over and over again. It could spread up my street and on to the next block, then throughout the entire neighbourhood. Where would it stop? Greater London? The Home Counties? Or would the whole of the British Isles have to be affected before his careless plague ran its dreadful course?

As this contagion of sloppy postal service spread, it was bound to attract even worse social maladies. If allowed to go unchecked, according to the philosophy of zero tolerance, before long my pleasant, leafy northwest London street could be transformed into a "Blood Alley" where drug dealers and gangsters murdered each other with AK-47s, while muggers and squeegee merchants lurked behind every box hedge.

Obviously, I told the postman, I would be writing to his superiors at the Post Office to demand that he lose his job. I left him there on the pavement shouting coarse inanities at my back and returned to my home where I immediately went to my study and composed the letter on my PC.

The results of practising zero tolerance have, as I say, been dramatic. On this particular occasion, perhaps not as dramatic as I might have expected. The same postman continues to deliver mail on my street. However, I did receive a letter from the postal authorities promising to "look into the matter".

From the dour expression on my postman's face as he walks past every morning, I can see that he has been most severely "looked into". With a modest but profound satisfaction, I walk out to collect the letters from the front garden and cement path where they are now strewn, even in the rain, by this chastened public servant.

A lack of space prevents me from elaborating further on how I practice zero tolerance in my home (even after my family moved out), while driving (before my car was burnt), in restaurants (where I will certainly never return) and at my former job. But I expect this single example should be enough to show you that, as Tony Blair so eloquently affirmed yesterday, zero tolerance is the way forward. Not just for the nation, but for you and me.