What  Would  Darwin Say?

Stickers might literally be warning us to death.

November 16, 2015

Charles Darwin

Thinking about Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest Theory aboard a yacht. iStock: Wynnter

If Charles Darwin’s theory is right, we soon won’t exist. You remember Darwin from high school, right? His “Survival of the Fittest” said creatures who adapt best to their environment will survive, while their less-fortunate rivals become extinct. Based on what I’ve seen aboard recently, we’re about to follow the dinosaurs right off this rock.

Stopping to see a friend at a new boat dealership, I found him inside a yacht, surrounded by pieces of paper. I watched while he peeled little yellow stickers and plastered them around the cabin. They were warning labels — of the most banal kind, frankly. Next to the cooktop: “Warning: May Be Hot.” By a locker: “Warning: Do Not Pinch Fingers.”

It seems the dealership had sold another new yacht recently. All was well until the owner was heating something on the stove when the shore power on the dock went out. The owner got distracted and, before leaving the boat, put some papers on the now-cold stove. Naturally, the power came on later, the stove lit the papers and the interior was torched.


So he sued the dealership for failing to warn him that the stove might be hot. The good news: A savvy judge tossed out the case, calling the owner a “damn fool.” But it cost the dealership a small fortune in defense fees. As their lawyer pocketed his check, he suggested that warning labels could go far to prevent a recurrence.

“It wasn’t my fault” is the new answer to everything, followed by, “Whom can I make pay for this?”

What has happened to personal responsibility in this all-about-me world? Do we really need a label that warns, “Do Not Stick Your Fingers in the Anchor Windlass”? It represents a litigious mentality that blames everyone else for our mistakes.

“It wasn’t my fault” is the new answer to everything, followed by, “Whom can I make pay for this?” We are encouraging a generation of the ­unfit. Old Chuck Darwin might say that this is the start of our extinction because we’re enabling creatures who aren’t smart enough to know that stoves are hot or that you should put on a life jacket when conditions get scary.


In Florida, there’s a move to require everyone under drinking age to wear life jackets as a result of some unfortunate accidents. Again, what happened to personal responsibility? If it’s blowing like stink, put on a life jacket. Or don’t go out. Don’t ever put your fingers between the yacht and a pier. Don’t stand next to someone popping a Champagne cork.

You can’t legislate against stupidity. Legally required seat belts are not going to save you if you pull out in front of an 18-wheeler truck any more than required life jackets will save you if you go out in storm conditions. It’s time to reclaim our personal responsibility, whether it’s deciding when to wear a life jacket or not to lean on a hot stove.

Heed the immortal words of William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus”: “I am the master of my fate.” Let’s bring back personal responsibility.


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