I heard of a recent account of a retail customer that really got me thinking about what sort of society we live in. A retail employee was assisting this customer in looking at merchandise. The customer was a middle-age woman in good health and in possession of a cheerful disposition. The conversation and dealings seemed pretty normal: pleasant small talk about the weather and weekly specials and such. Then suddenly, the customer complained about having previously hurt her foot on the sidewalk in front of the store, and that she wanted to see a manager to fill out a report so that she would better to be able to claim medical damages if needed.
The retail employee was doubly surprised because the lady had seemed perfectly fine and unharmed before, and the employee knew that store inside and out and knew that the sidewalk out front was perfectly safe for walking on. Being in possession of excellent customer service, the employee humored the woman and walked with her out front to inspect the site where she had supposedly been injured (despite the fact that she showed no visible signs of pain or discomfort). The woman led the employee out front to where there was a slight depression in the parking lot where the asphault of the lot met the concrete of the fire lane in front of the store. The depression was no more than eight inches wide and no more than half an inch deep; in other words, the obstacle was about equivalent to encountering a hard pancake on a sidewalk (omg, now that’s a dangerous obstacle!!). The picture below is not a picture of the sidewalk in question, but is an example of the type of depression that the woman “tripped over.” The employee had to do his best not to laugh, and he sent the lady to the service desk to talk to a manager.
I actually know the employee this happened to, and he showed me the depression in the sidewalk that the lady supposedly hurt her foot so badly on. The above picture is not a picture of the site itself, but is a perfect representation of the sort of depression in the sidewalk that this women felt was a hazard worth seeking medical compensation over.
To some, this story is a somewhat comic example of how bizarre our legal landscape has become that someone would even think to sue over clumsily tripping down an ordinary sidewalk. To me, it is a tragic representation of the sort of society in which we now find ourselves. I want everyone to look at the above picture of a sidewalk and think very carefully about who would responsible for YOU tripping on that sidewalk . . . . . . . if the answer wasn’t that you would be responsible for yourself tripping, then you need to slap yourself in the face, look in a mirror, and think very carefully about what you are doing in your life right now.
The implication of the woman seeking medical damages for tripping on a slightly worn sidewalk was that she feels she isn’t responsible for tripping over that depression that is less than an inch deep. In other words, she believes that walking down a typical sidewalk and maintaining normal balance is an unreasonable expectation to have of her. It somehow wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t looking where she was going. Wow, that’s sad. If she doesn’t believe she’s personally accountable for walking herself down a sidewalk, then how can she be personally accountable for larger areas in her life: things like career choices, investment choices, housing choices. If she messes up here, is that someone else’s fault too and can she sue them?
The point isn’t to point out how ridiculous this particular woman is. The point is that this sort of thing happens all too often in our society. Everyday there are people blaming others for problems that were clearly created by the person who’s blaming others. Is it the case that we are all timid, dull, and easily confused people who can’t take care of ourselves? Of course not! (again, if you answered yes, slap yourself in the face, and seriously think about what you’re doing with your life.) We are very capable people and we are capable of not tripping on sidewalks, and we’re even accountable for remaining upright when walking.
If you are blaming someone else for something in your life, it means that you are not personally empowered enough to deal with the matter yourself. Think very carefully then about the things you complain about. “It sucks that I’m stuck in this job,” – so get a new one! “It not my fault I’m poor; I couldn’t go to college,” – the world is full of rich and prosperous people who never went to college. Really think very carefully about the things you complain about, because each complaint or blaming of another is a statement that you are not empowered enough to deal with the situation yourself, and more often than not, it’s actually the case that we were just too lazy to deal with the situation ourselves – just like that woman was too lazy to deal with remaining upright while walking down a sidewalk.
As martial artists, I believe that one of the things we strive for is to be completely empowered individuals. This necessarily means that we strive to be able to be personally responsible for everything that is in our lives. Think very carefully about what this would mean for you and how much responsibility you have taken for your own life so far.