Of all the annoying things I’ve encountered during this pan-panic — and there have been many — the most annoying are those notices on the doors of businesses and other establishments proclaiming piously, “Your safety is our first priority!”

(The second-most annoying thing is that you can’t sit down anywhere other than your own home. You can’t sit at McDonald’s. You can’t sit at Chick-fil-A. You can’t sit on the patio furniture at Walmart. Because, as everyone knows, sitting is what causes people to get COVID-19. Oh my gosh! We’ve been sitting on our couches for three months solid! We’re all going to die! But you already knew that.)

The “safety first” bromide is annoying because, first of all, it isn’t true. If our safety really was your first priority, big-box store that shall not be named, you wouldn’t be running adds to entice us out of our perfectly safe homes and onto the highly dangerous local roadways just to come and purchase your wares.

If our safety really was your first priority, you’d have armed guards meet us in the parking lot and escort us inside, with paramedics standing by just in case one of us keels over from a heart attack. That’s unlikely, to be sure, but statistically more likely than dying from coronavirus.

You’re not fooling anybody. Our safety is not your first priority — nor should it be. As a big-box store, your first priority should be to make a profit by selling us overpriced stuff we don’t need. If you’re a fast-food restaurant, your first priority is to turn a buck by making me a sandwich (please!).

Hopefully, my safety is at least a secondary concern, which may occasionally override the first. I don’t want a chair that’s going to collapse or a hamburger laced with botulism. But the reason such issues rarely arise is not that you care about me personally but because it would be bad for the bottom line.

And that’s fine. As a consumer, I’d much rather rely on the old-fashioned profit motive than on the presumed benevolence of people who don’t even know me.

Meanwhile, I’m even hearing schools, of all places, claiming virtuously that students’ safety is their first priority.

No, it isn’t. Your first priority is, or at least ought to be, providing an education. If you genuinely cared about students’ safety ABOVE ALL ELSE, you would literally never open. There are so many bad things that can happen to students while they’re on your premises or en route — and coronavirus is among the least dangerous, statistically speaking — you could not in good conscience allow them to show up.

In short, you’d all be out of a job.

So yes, commercial and educational establishments, please take reasonable precautions to ensure my safety. I’m glad you care, even if your motives aren’t entirely altruistic. Just stop signaling your virtue with transparent nonsense.

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Rob Jenkins is a college professor. The views expressed here are his own. You can email Rob at rob.jenkins@outlook.com.

(2) comments


True, if the sole aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he'd keep it in port forever. Saint Thomas Aquinus said that. What the author says is strictly true. Safety is rarely a top priority. But I think this is some semantic nitpicking. What people really mean when they say this, is that they are taking safety seriously.

Stephen Lykins

I agree with Mr. Jenkins 100%. MarvinGardens: "What people really mean when they say this, is that they are taking safety seriously". They should say that then!

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