Crybabies and Whiners

Judith Haimes says she has psychic powers. Or rather, she used to say it. Several years ago, during a CAT scan, Judith was injected with a dye that she claims destroyed her psychic powers. Judith sued the doctor and the hospital; a jury awarded her nearly $1 million in damages. This is the other side of the litigation explosion we've been talking about over the last few days--the demand side. Yesterday we talked about the supply side: a change in philosophy of law that has sparked today's huge increase in litigation. But the spark wouldn't have taken hold if ordinary people weren't fanning the flames. Americans are playing the blame game--and taking their neighbors to court--in record numbers. Like a man in California, who was upset by the noise from his neighbor's private basketball court. He sued; the neighbor countersued. Both sought more than $100,000 in punitive damages. Today there's even something called "hedonic" damages--from the same root as "hedonism," which means living for pleasure. The assumption is that everyone is entitled to a life of perpetual pleasure. After an accident, lawyers bring in an economist to calculate a dollar amount for every moment of lost fun the victim has suffered. Well, the victim may win a jackpot, but it's the rest of us who foot the bill. We all pay when companies are forced to charge higher prices to cover their liability insurance; when cities close playgrounds and swimming pools for fear of lawsuits; when industries abandon research in high-risk fields; when doctors stop practicing because of malpractice suits. And often these costs are unnecessary. A Harvard study of malpractice suits found that only 1 in 8 involved genuine wrongdoing by the doctor. People just want someone to blame when things don't turn out right. The assumption seems to be that things should turn out right, that life ought to be perfect. It's an assumption so widely shared that Time magazine calls it an "American faith"--with lawyers as its priesthood. It's a faith that owes its birth to modern science and medicine. The astonishing success of science has persuaded many people that one day it will solve all human problems. It will conquer suffering, create social harmony. Who needs heaven? Science will create a perfect society right here on earth. But, ironically, faith in perfection, which started out as a proud boast, has turned into a whine. America has become what Time magazine calls a nation of crybabies. We expect things to be perfect, and when they aren't, we resort to a grown-up version of a temper tantrum: We stomp off to court. It used to be when people hurt, they opened the Bible to find comfort and meaning. Now they open the Yellow Pages to find a lawyer. So taming the litigation monster will take more than blaming lawyers. We also have to persuade ordinary people to give up the idea that they are entitled to a life of fun and ease. Christians, of all people, should know better. The Fall is real. Sin and suffering are here to stay until God creates a new heavens and a new earth. So Christians can give a crybaby society a bracing dose of realism.


Chuck Colson


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