- Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton
"Three million dollars over a cup of coffee??? Are you kidding???!!!"
I didn't realize my voice had reached carnival barker volume
until I looked up from the newspaper and saw half a dozen irritated
faces glaring in my direction. I hadn't meant to shatter the
intimate atmosphere of this quiet coffee shop, but the story
placed in front of me by my friend, the King of Rational Thought,
was more than I could take.
"I can't believe it," I said, lowering my voice. "It's
The story concerned a fast food restaurant patron who spilled
coffee on herself, sued the restaurant claiming the coffee was
too hot, and was awarded almost three million dollars by a jury.
"How could someone do that?" I asked, not expecting
"Philosophy," said my friend, as he sipped his apparently-not-too-hot
I looked up. "What do you mean, philosophy?"
"Every person has a philosophy of life, whether they're
aware of it or not," he replied. "It's the basis on
which they make decisions. The person in that story is acting
in accordance with her philosophy."
"What's the philosophy?" I asked.
The King of Rational Thought smiled. "Come on now,"
he said, "this isn't hard. What kind of philosophy of life
would lead a person to file a lawsuit like that?"
I put the paper down and sipped my rapidly-becoming-lukewarm
coffee. "How about a philosophy of blaming someone else
for everything that happens?" I suggested.
"Close," he replied. "What's the basic underlying
philosophy behind blaming someone else for everything?"
"I'm not responsible," I said.
"Bingo," he said. "I'm not responsible, so someone
else should pay. Now, here's the really important question. What's
wrong with that philosophy?"
"It's irresponsible," I said.
"I know, but that's a value judgment. Tell me why the philosophy
won't work, why it's irrational."
I was stumped.
"It's like this," he said. "If I hold that I'm
not responsible for myself, but everyone else is, then everyone
else should be able to make the same claim, right? They should
be able to sue me for everything that happens to them because,
after all, they're not responsible. It's unlikely that people
who file huge lawsuits such as this one ever consider what would
happen if everyone lived by their philosophy. Society would break
down almost overnight.
"It's not hard to identify other popular but irrational
philosophies that exist in our society," he continued. For
example, what's the philosophy behind almost every action-adventure
movie you've ever seen?"
How did he know I liked action-adventure movies? "Uh,"
I fumbled, "good guys always win?"
"How about 'might is right'?" he countered. "Do
the so-called good guys win by carefully analyzing their enemy's
philosophy and pointing out the logical errors? No, they just
beat them to pieces, often killing them, usually in some final
dramatic 'I'll show you' fight scene."
"Incidentally," he added, "you can tell when a
person's philosophy is based on emotions. Just question him about
it. If he gets angry, you know it's emotion-based. People living
in reality have no emotional fears about challenges to their
"So how do you develop a correct philosophy of life?"
"Study reality and base your life decisions on a careful
analysis of that reality," he said. "Act in accordance
with your intellect, not your emotions and fantasies. If you
can, find a righteous person who is living in line with reality,
and get him to teach you."
I was, at that moment, doing precisely that. In fact, I was so
focused on listening that as we got up to leave, I inadvertently
made what some might consider a multi-million dollar move.
I spilled the remains of my coffee in my lap.