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Monday, August 4, 2014

Personal Responsibilty - a Rant (consider that your disclaimer)

This post has little do with Ecuador, but even as I type that, I know it's not true. I've come to realize how over-legislated and under-accountable we've become in North America. We live in a litigious society of "not-my-faults" and "you-should-have-known-betters" that undermines the personal responsibility in our own lives. Ecuador does not have the same zeal for suing people, companies or the government. If you fall in a hole, you should have been watching where you were going. Their attitude is "how stupid do you have to be to let yourself walk over a cliff?"

(Interestingly this is in complete contravention of the Spanish linguistic set up for accidents. They structure a statement about an accident in such a way as to avoid personal responsibility. "Se me cayo" or, in English (super loosely) "it is that I fell down" or, even more loosely, "not my fault, I just happened to fall".)

What brings this on, you might ask? I read an article recently, about a not-to-be-named city in Canada that cut off the branches of a climbing tree because a little boy fell and hurt himself. Another not-to-be-named city actually cut another climbing tree down completely. Seriously! This is also the reason that toasters have warnings about not immersing them in water. (Or hair dryers for that matter.) It does get worse.

Does this mean that I don't believe in suing? No, I'm not prepared to go that far. If you produce a product and a design flaw or careless processing creates harm for the users, you have a certain responsibility to make amends for the damage and fix the problem. But, if I burn my hand on a pan that I just took out of the oven (and believe me I do this frequently) I don't sue the pan manufacturer for not putting a warning on the pan that says "Caution, can cause injury if heated." Why? Because I already know that! Sure I have silicon handle wraps, oven mitts and tea towels to protect my hands, but sometimes, I just forget when I'm on cruise control and getting ready to deglaze the roasting pan. In cases like that, guess what? It IS my fault.

It's having a trickle down effect to the younger generation. If parents neglect to ensure that there are consequences to actions, their kids never learn. Suddenly the teacher is to blame that the child can't read, not the fact that the kid spends 4 hours a day playing video games and NOT doing their homework. Obesity is caused by the fast food industry. (Okay, I partially believe that one, but really...what do you think is going to happen if you give your kids (or yourself) fast food everyday?)

We have to wear seat belts, bike helmets, safety goggles (to play floor hockey!), neon coloured vests to be seen in traffic, steel toed boots, non slip shoes. (Not to mention the safety equipment for skiing, snow boarding, roller blading, skate boarding!) We can't run on the pool deck or heaven forbid (in some places) play tag (more on that in a minute!) Too dangerous. No more driving in the back of pick up trucks or in the trunk of the station wagon. (Or my personal favourite - the "back back" of a Volkswagon Beetle. And yes, that's a real thing.)

Our playgrounds have lost long slides, teeter totters, zip lines (oh, yes I remember those, they were a blast, but no longer safe). Yes, the tag thing. I read that a school wanted to ban tag. I guess little Johnny was looking behind him to see who was in pursuit and either tripped or ran in to something. I'm assuming his parents weren't pleased and the school reacted by banning tag. A teacher was quoted as saying (& I'll paraphrase here) "there a lot of fun things to do at recess that don't require running". Perhaps they could all sit in a circle, wrapped in bubble wrap and crochet, but wait, crochet needles have hooks...that could be dangerous. Okay scrap the crocheting, how about drawing - nope paper cuts or Susie might try to eat the crayon, then where would we be? You do see where I'm going with this, right?

Anyhow, back to my point. If you do stupid stuff, sometimes stupid consequences will ensue. Guess what? We learn from it. I burnt my leg on the rim of a fire pit once and I learned not to go quite so close. I used my left arm to do something that was designed for a right arm action and burnt myself. (I told you I do that a lot.) Never did it again. I'm cautious around traffic when I ride my bike, as I got hit once. (Not badly, but enough that I learnt to be careful.) I can now look around and assess the possible repercussions of my actions with a good deal of accuracy and this skill actually seeped in to my work and social life. It made me a better person, as I (usually) think before I speak and/or do.

Our three kids were taught that actions have consequences, be it a cold shower, loss of privileges or cessation of the fun thing they were doing. But we never wrapped them in cotton batting and tied them to a chair to keep them safe. Did they fall? Yup. Did they get a little bruised and battered goofing around climbing trees, balancing on logs and running on uneven surfaces? You betcha! And they're better for it now.

Maybe, just maybe, if we'd stop blaming others and took some responsibility, texting and driving wouldn't be an issue. (Just for one example of idiocy on the highest level.) Maybe our kids would still be able to zip down the trolley (that's what we called zip lines when we were kids) and that awesome slide at False Creek Elementary School would still be there. Along with the fort and fireman's pole. (Take note that the zip line, teeter totters and other wacky play ground items exist here in Ecuador, including swings set in a circle where you can knock feet if you swing high enough.)

I'm not the only nut bar that has this crazy idea. Case in point:
Several European towns (led by the Netherlands, I believe) removed all traffic signs and signals in order to "calm" traffic. If I remember correctly, the town in Holland experienced a 90% decrease in traffic accidents and other traffic related incidents. Some reference material if you're interested: 
And if you don't believe him, how about the Institute for Transportation in Leeds, England?

Maybe if people of authority (parents, government, community leaders etc.) stopped blaming the system, their boss, the teachers, the idiot at the gas station and took some personal responsibility, our young people might pick up the same habit. Maybe I'm just an idealist. And yes, the irony is not lost on me that I'm pointing fingers. That's my rant and I'll try and let it go now.

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