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Time for Not Being Selfish

He had that look. That look that he was busy, rich and important. I could tell from the moment I walked into the plane that he thought he should be flying alone and certainly not in coach. He glared as each passenger walked down the aisle. We mere mortals were apparently holding him up from something important.

I was inclined to give the man the benefit of the doubt. After all, I\’ve had bad days and bad flights. As I tried to stuff my briefcase into the overhead compartment, I tossed some light joke across the aisle to break the tension. While one gentleman got up to help me, the oh-so-important man just continued to glare. He was certainly too important to be concerned about a fellow traveler, other than to register his irritation.

I ignored the man until the plane touched down on the runway. At that moment the flight attendant sprang to the intercom to deliver the all too familiar message–Stay in your seat and don\’t use your cell phone until the plane\’s door was open. The last part I barely heard because of Mr. Important. As the plane was slowing down to a mere ninety miles per hours, he whipped off his seat belt, stood in the center of the aisle getting his designer bags, and pulled out his cell phone. He called his driver to make sure that his car was waiting for him at the gate. He made sure we all knew that his new car was the latest Mercedes.

As he talked with his driver, the flight attendant again repeated her admonition that cell phones were not to be used until the plane was at the gate and the plane door opened. Of course, he ignored her. I didn\’t ignore him. I thought about pulling the phone from his pudgy hands and stomping it on the ground. I thought about whether a single cell phone could disrupt air traffic control. I wondered if a plane would crash into us confused about where it was going. I even wondered if I could sue the inconsiderate man if something did happen. (I\’m a lawyer and always wondering that sort of thing.) Mostly, I just stared at the man hoping that my glare would convince him of the errors of his way. Yeah, right.

I have met too many people lately who think they are Mr. or Ms. Important. I meet them on the roadway, where they make it clear that they are too busy to let even a single car in front of them. I meet them at my workplace where they walk down the hall with a grimace rather than a hello. I meet them even at the local school concert where they refuse to stop their conversation so that I may hear my child play. These paragons of importance should wear a sign declaring their prominence so as to excuse their inconsideration.

Many have bemoaned society\’s growing lack of civility. Some blame it on pop culture. Others on the demands of the economy. I blame it on selfishness. We, as a society, have become comfortable with selfishness. We will help someone if they can help us later. We are polite if it suits our need for the moment. We flatter our boss but not our co-workers.

Of course, being selfish has had ramifications on the legal system. Many times, matters which could have been resolved with a please, thank you or an apology fester into something more serious. Neighbors would often rather confront each other in court rather than having a civil conversation over an issue of concern over a backyard fence. Businesses sometimes are so fearful of a lawsuit that they forget to admit when they actually make a mistake.

In recent years, I have been telling my clients how to avoid lawyers. One thing I tell them is that they should not be selfish. People like suing selfish people. I tell them to be polite unless it is dangerous. I tell them to go out of their way to help others they deal with. In short I tell them not to be selfish in their every day life. Many states are now passing laws which encourage apologies as a means of avoiding lawsuits. Apologies, in such state, are not deemed to be admissions of fault. And there are laws which punish the selfish. Criminal and civil penalties are often more severe in such cases.

I imagine the irritated Mr. Important hasn\’t learned such lessons. He\’s too busy making cell phone calls. Or perhaps he\’s just concerned that someone else will get a step ahead. It\’s rather sad really. A little less selfishness would probably do his heart good. And it might keep people like me from suing him.

Ms. Lambert rose to national prominence as a litigator with a focus on insurance law in an age when there were few women litigators, particularly in the area of insurance law. Ms. Lambert has spent the last twenty years developing what is now recognized as one of the largest insurance practices in the state of Maryland. She lectures nationally, has received a gubernatorial appointment in the field of insurance, and is sought for her advice by Fortune 500 companies.

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Women's Law Issues
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