Walmart and seat belts

Tracy Morgan and Princess Diana

Walmart is right.

With their past lack of quality control in sourcing manufacturing (as with the Miley Cyrus line of jewelry), with their record of low wages and lack of health care policies for employees (including the recent announcement of dropping health insurance for all part-time employees), and with the sad statistics of Walmart employees, including full-time workers, needing government assistance to just survive, this a really tough statement for me to make. But in this one case, Walmart has a leg to stand on. Even if the leg is actually on a black widow spider.

Is Tracy Morgan missing a teachable moment? (Photo by David Shankbone, via Creative Commons/Wikimedia)

Tracy Morgan was not wearing a seat belt.

That doesn’t mitigate Walmart's culpability relating to the driver and his lack of sleep, specifically any pressure from the mother ship Walmart that could have prompted this driver and/or his superiors to think that driving for 24 hours straight was in even the remotest way a good idea. And the proportion of injury resulting from the flagrant ignoring of the seat belt law, not to mention common sense of the passengers, is what the experts and court should and hopefully will decide.

It's déjà vu all over again

Sixteen years ago, a wild paparazzi stampede, a car chase, and a possibly alcohol-impaired driver facilitated the death of the beloved Princess Diana, her escort, and the driver himself. The only survivor was in the precarious front passenger seat — and the only one to be wearing a seat belt. Would the lovely princess now be a young and proud grandmother had she not somehow felt some sort of arrogant infallibility and buckled up? Even with some experts testifying, “They almost certainly would have survived,” we can’t know the unknowable. But we do know Diana and her companions would have upped their odds of surviving and thriving, considerably.

Though there was a muted nod to the seat belt’s importance in an editorial or two at the time, why wasn’t there a screaming outcry? What perfect timing it would have been to raise a new sense of awareness! Why didn’t the royal family make seat belt safety the cause célèbre? Why didn’t Elton John sing about it? Why didn’t the world give the sadly departed a modicum of responsibility for their ultimate fate and in so much change the fate for many others?

If only there had been that outcry when Diana died — followed by an all-star concert for seat belt safety, or an ice bucket campaign, or a balloon bounce, or wrist bands. Even better, just one celebrity speaking out and saying, “Yes, I was an idiot, and as many factors were not in my control, wearing a seat belt was, and I failed. I am not really immortal. I may be able to buy all sorts of comforts like a beautiful, sleek, party-down limousine, but if I don’t buckle up, a crash will kill me, too.” Or simply, “I take the seat belt pledge.”

Not my fault

Because no one wants to take responsibility for anything. And the simple task of buckling up is a completely personal responsibility. We are a species of “the other.” It may be human nature to not want to be wrong, but it is also our tragic flaw leading us to a possible premature demise. Of course some is plain old self-preservation. Who the hell wants to be in trouble? It feels like a very long walk to the principal’s office. But part of adulthood is not just learning to accept responsibility for our actions, but realizing that our lives are part of a much larger universe, and like the ripple-in-the-water effect, our single actions are often not lone results.

Flow of traffic versus speed limits. Pirating the latest hit movie because they have gotten way too expensive. Railing against government decisions but not showing up to vote. Witnessing the new weather normalities but saving up to buy that shiny, gas-loving SUV. Well, because we can. Or can’t. So, borrowing too much money and blaming the lenders. Predatory lenders who blame the less-informed client. The list is endless and exhausting. Yet big or small, taking that piece of responsibility that is ours is our only real salvation.

In a world of so many worthy causes, I call for do-good hungry celebs and common folks alike to call on us to take responsibility for what should be so easy. “Be snappy, snap-up.” Just put on your damned seat belt.

So Walmart, go ahead, make a big stink out of Mr. Morgan and his guests not wearing their seat belts. Maybe that will lead you to taking responsibility for your lack of safety in products, health care, and low wages. It takes one to know one.

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