If you live near the water, there's a sign you'll see at the entrance to almost every marina. It says "No Wake."

When you take your boat out for a day of fun — whether it's a speedboat, a cabin cruiser or a yacht — as you leave and enter the marina, it's important to go slow enough not to create waves that could smash moored boats against the dock, or even swamp smaller boats. It's not just a courtesy to go slowly, it's important safety-wise.

But there's always some fool who thinks the sign doesn't apply to him — not because he's rich, stupid, inexperienced or illiterate, but because he's selfish.

Some people go through life making wakes, heedless of the damage they do to other people. Alcoholics, drug addicts, sexual abusers, in-too-deep gamblers — they all share a selfishness that they won't admit to. "It's my life and I'll do what I want," they say, while they heedlessly go around wrecking the lives of everyone around them.

It's not just "your life" if you have children, if you have a spouse, if you have anyone at all who you care about. You're creating a wake that will damage their boats, that may even swamp them entirely. If you were just wrecking your own life, that'd be one thing, but is that ever true?

Imagine a set of parents who won't let their teenage son get a swastika tattooed on his forehead. Or a mom who won't let her 13-year-old date a 19-year-old. "You've wrecked my life!" the kids will probably scream. But who's really wrecking whose life?

The parents might say something like, "You can get that tattoo when you're living in your own house" or "when you're 18." But that doesn't address the problem that the kid is only thinking of himself, and not others. If he does get that tattoo when he leaves home, who would ever give him a job? How will he make a living? And if he can't get a job, who will pay to feed and clothe him? When the 19-year-old dumps his pregnant underage "girlfriend," who will pay to raise the child? Their bad choices affect their families' lives as well as their own.

The lesson shouldn't be whether to get an offensive tattoo or whether to have an age-inappropriate boyfriend. The lesson is to start thinking about other people, not just yourself.

I saw a college-aged kid in a coffee shop the other day. His head was shaved, and over one ear there was a tattoo that read, "That's the last time you'll tell me what to do." Would you let him take a boat out of your marina? When his hair grows out, the tattoo will be invisible, but I wonder who's paying for his education. If it's me, with some of my tax money, I'd just as soon it went to a more mature, well-rounded person, thank you very much.

Sometimes I wonder why we don't want to let people into this country who have the gumption to walk a thousand miles over dirt roads to get jobs here, but we let this spoiled kid who can afford to buy a $6 mocha-choco latte and a tattoo, and who thinks he's being treated badly, stay. Do you think he's doing his own laundry? Do you think he's helping out with the chores around the house? What do you think his major is? Moping? Whining? Complaining about the used car his parents bought him to get to school? I'll bet he's fun to be with at Thanksgiving.

We all know people who never grew out of that stage at any age. There's probably one at a bar downtown right now, on his third beer, telling everyone in the place how to solve all the problems in the Middle East, what's wrong with Facebook and that there's only one way to make "real" chili. If only he weren't unemployed and six months behind on alimony and child support, you might believe him.

It seems he can solve everyone's problems but his own. Don't let him on your boat or near your marina. He'll be sure to leave a wake.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life,” “Baby’s First Tattoo” and “Now in Paperback.” He can be reached at mullen.jim@gmail.com

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