Topsy Turvy World (4)

Our world is a weird and wonderful place, but sometimes, we act in weird ways that make it not so wonderful anymore. In many situations, there is a conflict between what is good for us personally and what is good for everybody. In others, the conflict is between what is good for us right now and what will be good in the future. Without considering the implications of our actions, they sometimes make the world just a little bit less pleasant.

Of course, when we do many of these things and lots of other people do them too, the decline accelerates. I often think of my kids and the kind of place I would like them to have when they grow up and it makes me worry.

Fun with Ice

Toddler sliding on iceWhen we lived in Texas, there was a period of frost every year. That was bad for the lawn, roads were slippery during morning rush hours and there were always accidents because of the frost.

Yet, a friend of mine found a way to have fun with his kids during that time. Before going to bed on Friday night, he would water his driveway, which was short, straight and steep. When his boys woke up on Saturday morning, the driveway would be ready for some extreme sliding!

This went on for a while and nearly became a family tradition, except one day, my friend’s mother-in-law came to visit on Saturday morning and slipped on the ice. She was thoroughly upset with my friend’s carelessness and promptly sued him (and her daughter, who was married to him) for her medical expenses.

The following year, my friend’s insurance raised his premium and he stopped wetting the driveway.

Insurance protects us from losing everything when we are already busy dealing with something bad, so it seems like a good idea. But insurance companies need to make money in order to insure us, so they recover their losses back from us. Along the way, they sometimes take away some of our happiness too.

No Running, No Jumping, No Playing

When Tsoof was 4 years old, his favorite activity was soccer, he loved to play drums and was a very energetic and talkative little boy. We wanted him to be with other kids, so we sent him to a nearby kindergarten that had great facilities and looked really nice.

Over time, we noticed our little boy was becoming sad and agitated, until he said he did not want to go to kindie anymore. When we ask him about it, he said, “They just want me to sit all the time. I can’t run and I can’t jump and I can’t climb anything. And they want me to be quiet all the time. If I sing or shout because I’m happy, they say ‘keep it down’. I heard something outside and I climbed the toy box to see what’s happening and the teacher pulled me down”, he said.

The next time we dropped him off, we went in with him and asked about all these restrictions. His teacher told us there had been some accidents and some children had gotten injured from climbing or bumping into each other while running, so their insurance company had told them they would not pay for these anymore and they should make sure the kids did not do anything dangerous.

“But this is what kids do”, we said, “They run and climb and experiment. It’s good for them”.

“Sorry”, said the teacher, “We can’t afford to lose our cover”.

Sitting Down until 8:30

A couple of years ago, Noff’s school introduced a new rule: Until 8:30am, students within the school grounds may only be in the covered area near the cafeteria and they need to be sitting down. At 8:30, when the school opens officially, students may go anywhere (except they only had 15 minutes until their first lesson started).

Emplty playgroundThis was a hard blow for many parents who had to go to work and needed to drop their kids off at school before 8:30. It was like a punishment for the kids, although they had done nothing wrong. It also chopped their social and fun time at school significantly, which is the main reason Ronit and I send our kids to school.

We wondered about this for a long time, until we were told recently that a girl had been hurt while playing at one of the school’s playground before any teachers were on duty and her parents sued the school.

The school did the only thing it could to keep enough of its budget for education…

Glorious Jury

A few weeks ago, I received a summons to my first ever jury duty. Having never been inside a courtroom anywhere, I thought this would be a great experience, so I did not ask to be excused, even through 3 weeks away from work would not be easy. I also wanted to do my part as a citizen and help keep the justice system going.

So far, I have been in one trial that went on for three days, but I have had a lot of time to think about the effects of the jury system on our life.

When I told people I was going to be on jury duty, they looked at me like I was soft in the head or something. “You can ask to be excused, you know”, they said, “It’s easy. Just say you have a business and you can’t get away”.

That made me wonder who remains to serve as jurors in the system. These are most likely unemployed, senior citizens and people whose jobs pay them so little, the income from their jury duty is the same or higher than what they already make. Would you want to have that cross-section of society at your trial? Is this truly “a jury of peers”?

Then I got to the building where the courts are and went through the orientation. I found out that many (sometimes most) of the prospective jurors arrive in the morning, go through 1 or 2 jury selections and then go back home. By that time, their day is shot and they only get a small amount of money for their trouble.

The “lucky” ones are “empanelled” and serve as jurors for a few days. I was chosen during my first jury selection.

In the courtroom were a judge, a judge’s associate, a bailiff, a prosecutor, an assistant prosecutor, a stenographer and at least two correctional services officers. These 8 people were paid by the state. On the defense side were two highly paid lawyers, making a total of 10 other people.

A jury panelThe jury more than doubles the number of people sitting through the entire trial! However little they get paid, every day of trial costs up to 12 days of lost productivity and taxes, as well as the juror payment, lunch and public transport. If that is not enough, it took several hours for the barristers and the judge to explain to us the matters of law relevant to the case, which made the trial longer.

Then came deliberation. In theory, the jury system is meant to protect ordinary citizens from unfair trials, but jurors are people with biases. They all have beliefs, values and needs that come into play when they decide on a verdict. As I sat in the room, I noticed racial comments, political comments, religious comments and many unfounded statements spoken with conviction. Although we all agreed in the end and worked things out quite well, would I want these people at my trial? Probably not.

Having a costly legal system puts it beyond the reach of most people, so having 12 jurors in court actually excludes many of their “peers” from getting a fair trial.

In our topsy turvy world, the things we do to protect ourselves come back to bite us when we do not stop to think them through and sometimes even when we do.

Have a productive day,

This post is part of the series Topsy Turvy World: