"Hey, Let's Be Careful Out There!"

Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

Posted Jun 19, 2016

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

It was 12:30 AM and I was walking my doggie Einstein around the block before we went to bed. I was enjoying my usual late-night reverie when  I tripped on a raised inch of sidewalk. I was fine but my feeling was, "Even in this safe, halcyon place and time, you gotta be careful out there."

That was Sergeant Phil Esterhaus's daily send-off to his cops in the iconic TV series Hill Street Blues: "Hey, let's be careful out there."

My flirtation with injury made me think of other ways we need to be careful out there. Of course, there's much benevolence in the world but just because we're not paranoid doesn't mean some people aren't out to get us. For example:

I keep getting voicemails--both on my landline and cell--from "The Internal Revenue Services" claiming, in an authoritative voice, that I'm being audited and must call immediately to resolve the case. Fortunately, I know that audit notices aren't sent by phone and I noticed his use of the plural---Internal Revenue ServiceS.  You gotta be careful out there.

Of course, that's merely one of countless ways people get scammed, including me. In my first travel experience, to London, I watched a man on the street win at 3-Card Monte. It seemed so easy. to follow the ace. Convinced I'd win too, I finally plunked down my 10 pounds. How could I lose?!  Of course I could and did because the hand is quicker than the eye and the man who was winning was a confederate. (The video link above shows how it's done.)

Even as a supposedly savvy middle-age man, I almost got scammed out of thousands of dollars. A number of my colleagues, well-educated, sophisticated people, invested large sums with a Sacramento-based  advisor. My wife and I went to his presentation, complete with impressive video. But something told me we should hold off. Six months later, he was exposed as a scam artist who had Ponzi-schemed millions of dollars of client money. A blonde Bernie Madoff.

Stop-light cameras sit camouflaged at traffic lights and cops hide around the bend of a freeway with a radar gun.  For a red-light violation, the fine in San Francisco, near where I live: $500. The penance for driving 75 in a 65, on freeways built to be safe at 80? In California, depending on location and including insurance increase: $812 to $907. You gotta be careful out there.

In streetyard basketball, knowing there's no penalty for fouling, there's often a player that deliberately fouls you, even risking hurting you, merely so he can stop you from scoring a point. You gotta be careful out there.

Of course, jealousy can trigger evil. We've all heard of college students sabotaging top students' lab experiments for jealousy or to bring down the curve. Or the jealous or overly ambitious employee who orchestrates a campaign to hurt a co-worker. And some people say and write things just because they get off on hurting other people. You gotta be careful out there.

It's tougher now to sustainably earn a good income, so temptation grows to fabricate or exaggerate a claim against a deep pocket. A client of mine who was a foreman in a highly regarded car maker's factory was accused of creating a hostile environment. He vigorously denied it but had to undergo stressful interrogations and the company had to endure heavy legal costs and inter-gender strife in the factory until it was found out that the perpetrator concocted the scheme and recruited two of her coworkers to substantiate her claim by offering to split the settlement with them. Fortunately, one of them had a moment of guilt and admitted the truth. You gotta be careful out there.

No matter how much the government soaks the rich, there's not enough to pay even the interest on all the government spending. Already, the top 20% pay 84% of the federal income tax. So government turns to the middle class, who already are paying the most painful share of their income in taxes. Because labeling a new tax as a tax is politically risky, it's often camouflaged, for example, as a bond issue for expenditures that are hard to object to: schools, safety, water etc. But with the government already having taken in almost $7 trillion in taxes yet still is $19.3 trillion in debt and rising, I'd imagine that government would prefer we don't ask, "How come all that money we've already paid can't pay even for those basics?" For example, the U.S. spends #1 in the world per capita on education yet flounders near the bottom among the 34 OECD (developed) nations.

Capitalizing on sick people's desperation, commercials make excessive claims, for example, by pointing to a study that claims that people "improve up to 50 percent," which doesn't mention, for example, that more studies found no improvement let alone sufficient benefit to justify the side effects and cost. I wrote a broader indictment of today's commercials, with many specific examples, in TIME. You gotta be careful out there. 

You may not even be able to rest among family members. We've all heard of teenagers stealing from their parents, a family member deceptively trying to overturn a will in which s/he was left little or no money, or a divorcing spouse deliberately getting him/herself fired and then making only illusory attempts to look for another job so s/he can get fatter alimony. You gotta be careful out there.

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, someone will hurt you, even in school, even without physical violence. For example, a high school senior came to me in tears because her accomplishments listed in the yearbook included that she is pregnant. Likely, some student editor who didn't like her decided to embarrass her. By the way, she had never been pregnant. When I was a high school senior, the faculty nominated me for class musician but the student who made out the ballots wanted to make sure my opponent won and so printed my name on the ballot as "Mary Nemo."

Hey, let's not be too careful out there!

Of course, as mentioned, there's much good in the world. Think of all the random acts of kindness: a stranger feeding your parking meter just before you're about to get a ticket. All the volunteers that contribute to Wikipedia, write Amazon reviews, and offer free computer advice on Stack Exchange. My heart was warmed yesterday to hear of the passengers who helped my aged friend get on and off a plane. I feel similarly about the people who take the time to write me a thank-you email for some article I wrote. And of course, there are the many people who make anonymous donations. Think, for example, of the more than 1,100 people in the past two decades who anonymously donated a kidney to a stranger. It's not surprising that Maimonides gave exalted status to anonymous donation.

The takeaway

Yes, we gotta be careful out there but we should be balanced about it. That has been said in many ways. For example, "Respect but suspect." "Trust but verify." Or my favorite: "Trust in Allah but first tether your camel."

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His new book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.

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