While people globally are experiencing the scourge of terrorism, there is a less obvious form of destruction affecting people’s quality of life – it is what I call hefkerness or blatant incompetence.
I began writing this column in March and now it is mid-May. During this time, the news has been saturated with horrific, yet seemingly preventable events. The media reported on a helicopter crash in which five people died; several small airplanes crashes in which entire families were wiped out; a woman lost her life when the engine of a commercial airplane fell apart, and debris shattered her window; 16 lives lost when a bus carrying aspiring hockey players collided with a truck at an intersection; six people were crushed to death when a pedestrian bridge under construction at a Florida university collapsed – cars had been allowed under while it was being tested.
In Israel, 10 beautiful teenagers drowned while hiking during torrential rains in an area known for flash flooding.
How many children have become tragic statistics because their assigned caseworker from the local Child and Family Services didn’t do a thorough investigation or ignored the glaring red flags of child abuse waving in their face?
How many judges have been lenient with serial drunk drivers or lax when sentencing repeat criminal offenders, giving them the opportunity to injure or kill again?
So many lives shattered because of someone’s mind-boggling hefkerness.
Hefkerness is a word that is difficult to translate. It’s a combination of lackadaisical, apathetic, careless, lax, slapdash, sloppy and half-hearted. It’s a symptom of the laissez-faire attitude that has saturated society – “the rules don’t apply to me, and if I don’t feel like doing my job, then I won’t.”
Several decades ago, people took great pride in doing a good job, in being competent, even going the extra mile to produce a quality product. Appliances, like washing machines or furnaces or cars, lasted for years, whereas now consumers are encouraged to buy warranties at extra cost in case whatever they are purchasing stops working in a year or two.
Are we more aware of plane, train, bus and medical mishaps because of the Internet and social media, or is it because these life-changing events seem to take place on a more frequent basis? Perhaps it’s both, but the common denominator is that someone didn’t do his or her job properly; someone dropped the ball with horrific consequences.
Many tragic “accidents” should not have ever happened – and in fact, they weren’t true accidents, but the horrific outcome of gross hefkerness.
Sometimes the mishap is a result of incompetence, often the people involved know what needs to be done, they just don’t bother doing it. They do the bare minimum of what is necessary, or allow themselves to be distracted by other matters, thereby undermining their job performance.
Gross indifference, narcissistic arrogance and other self-serving behaviors are a common component as well. Another factor is excessive greed that leads to shoddy, cheaper materials being used in order to save money and increase the bottom line, or the hiring of incompetent staff because of nepotism or societal pressure.
We must, to the best of our ability, be alert and aware when we buy appliances, a car, a house etc., or hire people to “fix” things – and we need to daven that we don’t “fall in”.
In Parshas Bereishis 2:5, Rashi comments that though rain was created, it did not fall until Adam prayed for it. His doing so demonstrated a basic tenet of faith: Hashem provides what man needs, but it is up to man to pray for it.
I believe that when women light their Shabbat candles, it’s as if the flickering flames illuminate a secret passageway into Hashem’s inner court. That is why I spend a considerable amount of time “bending” Hashem’s ear.
I pray that those close to me enjoy good physical, emotional, spiritual, social and financial health. That there be shalom bayis in their home, with mutual love, respect and support between all members of the nuclear and extended families, encompassing grandparents, uncles and aunts, and in-laws.
But due to an epidemic of life-threatening hefkerness, I also daven that our lives aren’t harmed and undermined by apathetic, distracted, or complacent people who shirk and shrug off their grave responsibility to perform their jobs efficiently, competently and safely.
I can accept paying the price for my own mistakes or carelessness – if, for example, I was texting while walking and broke my nose walking into a pole. I wouldn’t be happy about it, but at least I was the “author of my own misfortunes.” If I am a victim of some mishap, let it be because of my own shortcomings, not someone else’s.
However, if I was walking and a distracted or drunk driver swerved onto the sidewalk and my nose was broken, that would be intolerable.
Recently, I read a very scary statistic. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine estimated that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors, just behind heart disease and cancer, which each took about 600,000 lives in 2014, and ahead of respiratory disease, which caused about 150,000 deaths.
Medical mistakes ranged from surgical complications to dosage mix-ups or types of medications patients received. News reports described the horrific death of a young Russian woman whose IV contained a preservative used in corpses, instead of saline.
And in Britain, a woman had several limbs amputated because the doctors failed to recognize a very obvious and very treatable infection.
In almost all the above-mentioned cases, someone failed to do their job properly.
Mistakes happen, no one is infallible, but it seems the pervading ethos of this century is apathy and a “do the bare minimum” attitude with often horrific consequences. May Hashem keep us safe from other people’s hefkerness.