It’s still survival of the fittest in this work-a-day world.

By Michael Leung

News Item: James Burns, 34, of Alamo, Michigan, was killed while repairing what police described as a "farm-type truck." Burns had a friend drive the truck on a highway while Burns hung underneath so that he could ascertain the source of a troubling noise. Burns’ clothes caught on something, however, and the other man found Burns "wrapped in the drive shaft."

The above is an excerpt from The Darwin Awards-a piece of macabre humor that graces e-mail accounts everywhere. The awards describe supposedly true stories about the dumbest ways people have recently died; the premise being they are no longer alive to reproduce, hence The Darwin Awards.

Stories like this, despite their hilarity, often confirm the cliché: "People are stupid." I disagree. I think people deserve the benefit of the doubt.

News Item: A 24-year-old salesman from Hialeah, Florida, was killed near Lantana, Florida, in March when his car smashed into a pole in the median strip of Interstate 95 in the mid-afternoon. Police said the man was traveling at 130 km/h and, judging by the sales manual found open and clutched to his chest, he had been busy reading.

Anybody who drives knows the road is full of idiots. But the question really is, how do you react to those idiots? Perhaps a shrug of indifference, perhaps a curse, maybe a bout of road rage. A recent TV documentary described a man in the UK who was severely beaten for apparently doing nothing other than cycling on the road.

A driver cut him off, got out and proceeded to dish out 30 stitches of punishment. The scariest thing is cyclist could be any one of us on a Sunday drive.

This behavior is indicative of an attitude shared among all drivers, and perhaps an attitude most people possess of other people. We’ve all got a story of how idiotic we thought some customer/professor/institution was (no names mentioned). The result is a natural tendency to discredit and judge before really understanding a situation. In other words, it’s simply much easier to say: "People are stupid" than really question what motivates a person’s actions.

Perhaps people change as they climb behind the wheel, but with so many opportunities to point fingers at other drivers it becomes hard to forgive-especially when someone is so close to your bumper you can spit on them as you travel 100 km/h on Deerfoot Trail (I’ve pondered it, believe me).

News Item: Ken Charles Barger, 47, accidentally shot himself to death in December in Newton, North Carolina. As he awakened to the sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed, he reached for the phone but instead grabbed a Smith & Wesson .38 Special, which discharged when he drew it to his ear.

How easily do you discredit people? Deciding someone is an idiot is easy; opening one’s mind to the possibilities means a great deal more. That doesn’t mean idiot status is out of the question-but it might save a headache or two.

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