Monday, September 24, 2012
Responsibility, Popcorn and High School Graduation
People have asked if I will ever run out of material for this blog. Maybe someday I will be lucky enough to find only examples of favorable behavior in the five dimensions and it will get boring, but so far I’m still in business.
Last Thursday was a big day for responsibility, with two examples in the news. The first concerned a lawsuit over microwave popcorn and the second was about new data on high school graduation rates for black males.
Responsibility is about taking control of your life, recognizing your role in the consequences you face and not blaming another or expect someone else to pay for your problems. It often goes hand in hand with discipline. If I can’t stop smoking, I may want to call it an addiction, blame the tobacco companies and make them pay me. If I am overweight, I may want to blame the fast food restaurants for tricking me into eating a poor diet and get the government to require extra labeling or warnings. Where there is no responsibility, problems are not solved, because the only one who can solve them refuses to own them.
The first example is of a man who blames microwave popcorn for his respiratory problems. The resulting lawsuit promises him over $7 million in compensation (plus a side settlement). Reading the article we find that he ate 2 bags of microwave popcorn a day (over 20 times the average*) for 10 years and sued the store selling it and the maker for not warning him of the dangers. Microwave popcorn already has seven or eight warnings on the side of the package. What’s one more? (For a humorous view of this Google “Pearls Before Swine” for September 23, 2012.)
When hearing a story like this, most people roll their eyes and pass it off as yet another outrageous example of “jackpot justice” – out of our control. Someone got hurt and found a lawyer, a big company to blame and a sympathetic jury. The last line of the article reads, “CNBC predicts the recent verdict will spark a rash of future lawsuits.” Who will be on those juries? Will they understand that lawsuits against grocery stores (or even threats of them) will push up grocery prices for everyone? Will they consider that 14 bags of popcorn a week might be a little extreme, not exactly the definition of moderation, and that no company should be expected to account for every possible extraordinary behavior by their customers? (You can overdose on anything, even water!) Can we stop this by expecting more responsibility from each other or do we condone it as members of those juries?
The second article brings good news of an increased high school graduation rate among black, male students, from 47% in 2008 to 52%, though it’s still not high enough and continues to lag behind whites. The CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education that conducted the study is quoted as saying, "These outcomes are not evidence of flaws of young men, but evidence of willful neglect by federal, state, local elected policymakers and leaders." The implication, of course, is that the low rate is due to actions of others, not those of the students. But graduation is something done by an individual not done to him, and since 2008 five percent figured it out. To excuse these “young men” and pass the blame on to policymakers and leaders is placing the burden of fixing the problem in the wrong place – typical of responsibility issues. To achieve his aims this CEO should instead take the approach that Bill Cosby has taken for years, challenging the parents and children to work hard and succeed, and not accept such excuses.
*Calculations: Average popcorn consumption = 52 quarts per year. That’s one per week. Popcorn eaten at home = 70%. Uncooked sales for home use = 90%. Therefore cooked and eaten at home = 70% x 90% = 63%, 63% x one quart (bag) per week = 63%. 14 bags per week / 63% = 22.2 – and that’s not all microwave.