There was a Black Press Media news story going around last week that got a lot of attention – it was about a mom who took a laser tag place to small claims court over an allegedly disappointing birthday party they threw for her child.
What was it that made that story engaging? Was it the very idea of suing over a bad birthday party? Was it the comically small award the mom received? ($37 in total.)
Or was it that people like the opportunity for some performative outrage?
I saw a few comments on social media afterwards suggesting that this was merely another sign that our society has been going downhill in recent years. Clearly, this sort of thing never used to happen! Why, this is as bad as that time a woman sued because her coffee was too hot at McDonald’s!
(Not-so-fun fact: the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit actually involved a 79-year-old woman who suffered third degree burns in 1992 after spilling a cup of coffee that was somewhere between 82° and 88° Celsius. She required skin grafts and lost 20 per cent of her body weight in the hospital.)
Here’s my take on these types of news stories (which I, like almost every other reporter, has written, and probably will write again): they’re about being human.
If you think people haven’t been suing one another over petty or strange or just kinda stupid things for years, I have news for you. If you got into a time machine and hopped back to Tudor England, you’d definitely find a cranky landowner who was suing his neighbour, because his ugly sheep offended the eye.
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When you’re eccentric and argue with your neighbours on your own time, that’s private.
But when you get the law involved, it’s fair game for the media. Now you’ve dragged your issues out into a public forum.
Which means that human frailties are laid bare.
People are, always have been, and always will be, absurd.
There are plenty of ways we act that are ludicrous. We’re self-centered and blinkered, we’re quick to anger and hold grudges, we wildly misunderstand things, we have overinflated self-images, we’re stubborn and refuse to change, we cling to clearly wrong beliefs because we find them comforting or protective, and, it has to be said, some of us are just not that bright.
(When I say we, I don’t mean to include myself, of course. Perish the thought! I’ve never been weird or said or done anything embarrassing. Really.)
Some news stories about frivolous court cases are useful on a societal level. They can show how our court system may be in need of reform and change.
But a lot of stories like this are useful on another level. They serve to remind us that we’re just muddling through life.
I know these stories can inspire cruel point-and-laugh reactions.
But in the long run, they ought to inspire empathy. I mean, who wouldn’t be frustrated if their kid’s birthday party was a bust, when you think about it?
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