Drowning in a Sea of Ignorance

Many of you may already know there is often a great disparity between knowledge and wisdom. Take for example a recent situation I had at an annual meeting for the building I live in.

My neighbourhood, and more specifically my apartment building, is comprised of high-income earning professionals — doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc., and therefore, one may think with such a concentration of intellectuals, common sense would thrive like algae under the hot sun. However, if you thought that, like I did, you would be wrong. As I discovered, common sense can be crushed by the obese weight of ignorance. I documented the experience in a little short story I’m calling…

Drowning in a Sea of Ignorance

The meeting was held at seven o’clock on a Thursday night. My girlfriend and I arrived early and found a set of seats about midway down the aisle. While browsing the Internet on our phones to pass the time, we took notice of the mix of people who funnelled in through the rear doors.

The room quickly filled with chatter as people took to their seats. Acquaintances made polite introductions to one another and laughed over small talk. Despite the familiar faces, most people did not know each other beyond holding open a door in the rain, or sharing an elevator ride. As I would expect is the case with many apartment buildings, we are a community of strangers.

There were several topics on the agenda for our building’s annual meeting. One of which was to discuss the issue of owners renting out their parking spaces to non-building residents. As it occurred to some, this created a potential security risk.

parking garage black and white

Photo credit: midnight-vanburen.deviantart.com

“I’d like to open the floor for discussion,” the speaker announced.

“We cannot just allow non-residents access to our building,” a man said smugly.

I try not to make snap judgements about people, but we all do it. When analyzing the man’s purposefully stiff posture and very deliberate outfit, I began to unconsciously put him into a particular category. He had been the most vocal participant for the better part of an hour, and quite frankly I was getting annoyed. He spoke confidently and mostly went unchallenged.

As he was talking, I leaned over to my girlfriend and asked, “Who is this guy?”

“He’s this really pretentious painter who lives on the second floor,” she informed me. “I once overheard someone inquire about one of his paintings, and he told her, ‘You couldn’t afford my work’.”

man holding a sign that says, "I am a moron."

Photo credit: gawker.com

“Wow, what an obnoxious thing to say to someone.”

The man continued. “We have had several car break-ins and bike thefts recently and we need to keep ourselves and our property safe,” the stout man said. “I say we outright ban this practice.”

I looked around the crowd and saw people nodding in unison. It appeared as though this overly simplified and obviously ignorant assumption was gaining support. Up until that point, neither my girlfriend nor I had said a word, we remained passive listeners. I decided that I had heard enough and was going to offer the crowd an alternative to his one-sided ear beating.

“Do we even know this to be an issue?” I asked. There were some murmurs amongst the crowd, but I cleared my throat and proceeded. “If I understand this correctly, you’re saying that non-residents are the cause of the break-ins and bike thefts. If this is true and this is a real issue, then there are several solutions we could discuss rather than an outright ban. However, if they are not the cause, then we are not only banning something that doesn’t need to be banned, we are also wasting time discussing a non-issue.”

“So what do you propose?” the speaker asked.

“First,” I said, “we need to know if people are renting their stalls to non-residents. I mean, how many people are actually doing this? Second, we need to know if those individuals, if there are indeed some, are the cause of the break-ins and thefts. If a resident is renting their stall to a non-resident, then perhaps a simple registration would allow us to screen people and keep a record of who is coming and going from our building.”

“A registration?” the man scoffed in outrage. “Nobody fills out forms!”

“Then we can make a rule, if you don’t fill out the form, you don’t get the parking stall,” I suggested.

“But then we’re going to have a stack of forms and it will be too difficult to maintain,” the man said in disgust as if I made some horrible proposal.

“A stack of forms?” I questioned. “We have no idea how many, if any of us, actually rent out their stalls.”

“I rent out my stall,” someone from the crowd said.

“Okay, and who do you rent out your stall to, if you don’t mind me asking?” I said.

“My sister.”

“Okay, so we know of at least one person, are there any others?”

A half dozen people reluctantly raised their hands.

man shouting in a meeting

Photo credit: thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com

“So if this ban goes through, we will not only be limiting the income of some individuals, we’d be denying a person’s sister — someone who they’ve presumably known their entire life — the opportunity and convenience to use an otherwise unoccupied space. At the very least there ought to be a grandfather clause to allow residents to continue to rent their stall to people they know well. If it is deemed necessary, we could simply ask these individuals, as well as future stall renters, to give us some details about themselves. In the event of a break-in or theft, and they are suspected, we can have a database of who they are.”

“You’re missing the point,” the man said. “We don’t want non-residents in the building. With their key fobs, they can access certain floors… it’s a safety concern.”

“With respect, I think I understand the point very clearly. And if I may, I’d like to point out that this fear-based decision may not have anything to do with non-resident stall-renters. If having superfluous access is the issue, perhaps we could limit their fobs usage to just the parkade.”

The groans from the audience told me I was barking up the wrong tree. Mind you, I do not rent my stall so either way the vote goes, I won’t be affected. The main reason I spoke up was to save common sense from drowning in a sea of ignorance. As a secondary reason, I wanted to speak up for those who may be absent from the meeting, or are too shy to address their concern in front of a room full of their peers, especially in the face of such defiant dissention.

“Don’t renters pose the same problem?” someone else said. Yes, I am not alone! As soon as I heard the sweet voice of reason amongst the crowd, I had a brief glimmer of hope. Common sense may be gaining momentum after all. The optimism was short-lived when I realized the voice was coming from my girlfriend, who was sitting beside me.

“Currently, owners are permitted to rent their units to anyone they wish,” she pointed out, “and no one has said a word about that. How is renting a stall any different? In fact, one could argue, renting an apartment to someone poses even more of a security threat since it gives the renter a reason to be in the same living space as everyone in the building. This could lead to more opportunities of crime for opportunistic criminals.”

“I agree,” I said in support.

“And what if we have an overnight guest,” she said, “—someone we trust — a friend over for a visit, relatives from out of town? Can we not provide our space to certain people in certain instances?”

“Of course, that is most certainly acceptable,” the speaker said.

“So lending out our space is permitted, but accepting a fee for it is not?” she pointed out.

“The two scenarios are a bit different.”

“How are they different? Moments ago we learned that someone is renting their space to their sister, for which it is certainly reasonable to accept a fee. The ban would effectively prohibit this exchange. Does that seem right to everyone?”

Since no one was brave enough to answer the question, the room fell into an awkward silence.

“Alright, I think we’ve heard enough from both sides to make a decision on the issue,” the speaker announced. “Let’s put it to a vote, shall we?”

Photo credit: www.nola.com

Photo credit: http://www.nola.com

After the final votes were tableted, the results were astounding. 54 people voted ‘Nay’, and a meager 10 people voted ‘Yay’. Shocking, I know. As my girlfriend and I later discussed the issue, we concluded the people who voted ‘Nay’ fell into at least one of the following categories:

  • Most people don’t rent their stalls so they did not have a dog in the fight
  • Despite the lack of evidence for the threat, most people would rather err on the side of caution
  • Most people who show up to these events (a small fraction of the building’s residence) are dumb people who want to feel important — the type of people who are unaware they are dumb
  • Professionals who spent most of their lives studying and have very little common sense

As we shook our heads at the fact the ban was passed with such overwhelming support, we realized three loopholes that are equally as dumbfounding.

  • Despite their best efforts to curb a potential security risk, there was no discussion as to how this policy will be enforced. Will it go on the honour system? As it stands, there is no way to know if people are renting their stalls.
  • Lending out your stall seems to be permissible, even if it’s for an indefinite period of time. In effect, this amounts to the same way it was before.
  • The rule, as it was purposed, only prohibits a resident from renting their own space to non-residents, but one can still rent their stall to a resident within the building. However, there is no rule in place that prevents this renter from subsequently renting the stall to a non-resident. In effect creating an easy way to circumvent this policy.

In conclusion, ignorance prevailed, but I hope with this post, I will spread the word of my cause and have common sense live up to its name, and be common.

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