A friend of mine, who also happens to be my learning partner in Jewish studies, pointed out what appeared to be an absurdity on a street sign one Friday evening as we were walking home from the local synagogue. There were a few signs on the street that said that parking was prohibited due to construction for a couple of weeks during certain hours of the day.

Then there was a stretch of signs that all had the same dates but instead of certain hours listed, the words “24 Hours” were written instead. If you couldn’t park there during any of the twenty four hours, he argued, they should just print no hours at all because the dates themselves imply a twenty-four hour time prohibition.

Implication and Explication

Why, he wondered, was this written there when it was perfectly clear without it that the sign meant to say that you couldn’t park there any time of the day if it wasn’t specified? I told him that they wanted to make it clear just in case there were people who didn’t understand that a lack of specific hours meant that it was all day long. Who could possibly misunderstand such a sign, he asked.

There are plenty of people, I replied, who need to have each and every thing spelled out for them or they won’t understand. At least you would think so given the following cases.

Toilet Cleaner

I have long had some sort of disdain for most of the products that are marketed to clean toilets. For the longest time we have had the standard toilet brush, which sits in a holder by the toilet. Ones mind naturally can go to thoughts of all the billions of bacteria that are infesting the brush at any given time, and how horrifically disgusting it gets after even one proper cleaning.

The first products that suggested that you could dispose of the toilet brush head after each use were no good to me either – there’s nothing I hate like a disposable product that is just going to sit in a landfill for generations to come. I could write for paragraphs about diapers and disposable diaper problems but I won’t bother you right now with that. I was thoroughly pleased when I found out that there was a toilet bowl cleaning brush that was coming to the market which had a head that could be flushed down the toilet and was biodegradable. I was quite excited for the first time I used it and it was then that I noticed a warning on the box. It has written on it, “DO NOT USE FOR PERSONAL HYGIENE” just like that in all capital letters. G-d forbid they write it in alternating caps and someone comes to use it as a hygenic product as a result.

Actually, never mind that. How did this warning come to be on the box to begin with? Who would possibly pick up a toilet cleaning product and think, “My face has been really oily these last few days… maybe I should use the toilet cleaner on it and get it really clean!”

Who would have even thought that it would be possible for someone to go through that thought process? It occurred to me that most likely, the only way that ended up on the box was that at one point, someone chose to use a toilet cleaner for exactly that purpose and ended up in the emergency room. Naturally since they were in the emergency room and it was a direct result of using the toilet bowl cleaner, the only intelligent thing to do is to sue the manufacturer of the toilet bowl cleaner.

Coffee and Cigarettes

The problem with cigarettes is that they’re not exactly the delivery to good health. I think you’d have a hard time finding someone that would tell you that there is nothing harmful about cigarettes and that they are perfectly good for you. Yet somehow, despite the large warning labels printed on every pack of cigarettes (and the ones that were printed on cigartte advertisements) people continue to light up and people who end up with some tobacco related illness find themselves needing to sue a big tobacco company because of what was done to them. At no point did Phillip Morris come to your house and force the pack of cigarettes into your hand. It may be that your friend could have offered you one at work but you were not obligated to say yes to them.

It may be that for years people smoked on screen and looked sexy while doing so, but you still have the fundamental choice to light up or not light up. Knowing that cigarettes are bad for you is nothing new. Joseph Cortyl wrote a doctoral thesis on the subject of “Smoker’s Cancer” in 1897. People may have had a difficult time finding such facts 50 years ago but it’s 2007 and in an age where you can find just about any Michael Jackson video online from Billy Jean to Beat It, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be at least informed about the dangers of smoking – especially when you have commercials coming at you in every medium screaming it in your face, and laws banning it everywhere from restaurants to fifty feet away from any public space. People don’t think it’s healthy. Don’t sue because you chose to do something that you knew had a good chance of harming you.

What would be the next step – suing coffee makers for getting them overly jittery? I’m surprised that there haven’t been any major lawsuits regarding coffee consumption. No, there have been – only they haven’t been over the effects of the coffee, they have been over the temperature of the coffee. Thanks to lawsuits all around the country, we now have this lovely message whenever we get a coffee drink from just about anywhere: Warning! The coffee you are about to drink / enjoy is extremely hot! Similar messages can be found whenever there is a product that is to be eaten that has the slightest possibility of getting hot.

I imagine people who aren’t cognizant of the temperature of coffee also might have a hard time figuring out how much things cost in a dollar store. There are also ways that you should handle hot beverages and ways that you should not handle hot beverages. For example, it would be idiotic to keep a hot beverage between your legs while you are driving – particularly if it is in a paper cup. It’s almost as though you are just asking for an accident when you have a perfectly good set of cup holders all around you and yet you choose to put the cup in an area where it is most likely to get slightly compressed from the pressure of your driving. The bottom line is that you should be using your own tumbler (solid plastic or metal or even a nice glass) and putting said tumbler into a cup holder – your cup holders are meant to hold something besides loose change and caramel candy bars.

Conclusion

There are thousands of other examples I could surely come up with but the bottom line is that we as a nation need to take considerably more personal responsibility for our own actions. We cannot continue to search for the next thing to blame when something goes wrong in our life and we are the chief contributor to the thing going wrong. Believe me, if you eat nothing but pizza with everything on it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and do not ever exercise, you will probably get morbidly obese – no special genes necessary – and you should probably not try to sue the restaurant where you ate the pizza should it happen.

Your elliptical machine manufacturer will get a little testy with you if you try to sue them just because you never got on their machine. Perhaps we need to adopt the policy of most fine china shops – if you break it, you buy it.