Friday, May 29, 2009

Read Before You Sign! We live in the information age. Written information is everywhere; sometimes we just take it for granted and ignore it. We sign for everything, gas, money, bills, websites, school and work. Hardly an hour goes by that we are not presented with a form to sign. The form always comes with terms, on and on they go with rules and then the final blank where we agree to all those terms….whether we have read them or not! House closings, they push stacks of paper in front of you to sign. People everyday sign things without reading them. The agent says its just boilerplate. Read it before you sign it! The small print is never to your advantage. They don’t expect you to read it so that put stuff in there you can negotiate away…but you have to know it is there and you have to negotiate it. Employment contracts, work rules, and mandatory memos control a third of our life. If we pause to read them, someone will tell us to just sign it. Read it before you sign it. A teacher was handed a slip of paper to sign while teaching her class. The messenger waited! She scanned it quickly, and then signed it to get on with her class. Later she read the receipt she had signed. She had agreed to remain standing, moving from the back of the room to the front to give all students equal access to her as she taught. It seemed like a small thing at the time, but it would come back to haunt her. The school year went on, and often she would start to take her seat but remembered the memo she had signed. Being a person of her word, she’d stand up and walk the room. Before the term was out, she had to take medical leave. She had vascular trouble in her legs from being on her feet too much. How about those thousands of people in Katarina who lost their houses to flood-- only to find out about the flood exclusion after it was too late. Similar thing in Ike, people lost their house to hurricane winds only to find out they had signed an endorsement excluding wind in return for a lower premium on their home insurance. They read the part about the cut in premium, but they were too busy to read the part about giving up wind coverage. It didn’t turn out to be such a bargain after all. For most of us our home is our largest investment. How many people have read their policy? After major disasters, when some people are hurt badly because they didn’t read their policy, the news media likes to do stories about how bad the insurance company is. Those talking heads have pretty faces and brains that are NEVER tuned to a higher level than the average 7th grader. Instead of urging people to read their policy, they convince them that they are full of legalese, small print and impossible to read. That is not true! Most homeowner’s policies are very readable and fairly short and the print large enough for old people to read. Of course, if we don’t read it we will never know. It is so customary to sign without reading that the person on the other side of the table gets annoyed if we don’t just sign and move on. If you pause to see what you are agreeing to they act like you are being unreasonable. We can’t stop America from jumping the cliff like lemmings, but each of us can break the pattern by reading everything before we sign. Each time we interrupt the brainless pattern of signing without reading, the zombies on the other side of the deal get a chance to break the coma they are in. Recently Congress voted to bail out financial institutions with our money…lots of our money. Our elected officials signed the bill and then the details began to come out. They gave away billions without any oversight at all. Their excuse was they had signed without reading the bill. That’s not unbelievable, but it should be! If ever there was proof that we are on an insane course of self-destruction, collectively and individually, our quickness to sign without reading is it. Take a deep breath. Take two! Let the oxygen refresh our brain, consider the foolishness of not reading the agreements we sign, admit that we do this, and commit to never doing it again. Read it, then sign or not based on full knowledge of what we are agreeing to. Read everything before you sign it. If you don’t have time to read it, you don’t have time to sign it.

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