I’ve spoke often here about my efforts to do the right thing, be it returning money that I found, correcting someone when they give me too much change, etc. It seems only fair that I report my ethical missteps as well. Yesterday’s dinner was a prime example.
Before the movie, we went to Panera Bread to get something to eat. I got a sandwich and soda; Kelly got a small soup, 1/2 sandwich and soda. But for some reason when they printed the bill, it came to almost $20. I looked at the bill and pointed out that they had charged us twice for the soup. So far so good. The cashier goes to get the manager. He comes out, looks at the bill, apologizes, asks for my credit card and gives me a $4.01 credit, which accounts for the soup plus tax.
It was only after I sat down that I realized that they never swiped my credit card the first time around because I never gave it to them. In other words, instead of paying $16 for dinner, I paid nothing and was given $4.01.
I could have gone back up to the counter and tried to explain all of this but (a) we had a short time to eat before the movie; (b) it seemed complicated; (c) I had the idea that I’d somehow get charged twice if I did. So I chose not to.
Yes, it was the wrong thing to do, and I’ve felt guilty about it all night. It was an example of ethical laziness of which I am ashamed. All I can do is try to do better next time.
This has probably been going on for quite some time, right under my nose, but my attention was drawn to it by this Yahoo!Tech article I saw this morning. Apparently, cheating at video games has been steadily on the rise and has become enough of a problem that cheaters are being punished.
Set aside the fact that I find it incredible that a person would feel the need to cheat at a video game. What impresses me most about this is that it seems that the video game industry is stepping into to actually do something about this, which is more than can be said for, oh, I don’t know, major league baseball, to pick one random example. (I know, I know, baseball did do something about it but it seems too little, too late.)
I don’t know why I find it amusing that someone would cheat at a video game. It somehow seems to me to be a particularly sinister form of cheating although I cannot say why this is. I guess it’s because I tend to associate a kind of laziness with video games (they are played while sitting on a couch), and that cheating is the lazy-person’s attempt at winning, and the combination of a lazy game and cheating at a lazy game seems to me to have a Milton-esque irony to it. But then again, I’ve never been able to understand cheating at any game. What’s the point really? The cheater knows that they didn’t win by any legitimate means. Any bragging rights associated with the cheat are built on a self-delusional house of cards.
I think it says something about society that we have to spend so much time and effort dealing with cheating in various forms. And what it says can’t be very good.
I leave my house at 4:55 AM each morning and head to the metro station to take the train into work. Yesterday morning, in the space of 2 minutes, I saw three people blatantly break the law. First, the car in front of me never even stopped at the stop sign at Riverdale Road. I’m not even sure they stepped on their brakes. Then, at the corner of Baltimore Avenue and East West Highway, I watched as two cars, coming from opposite direction each ignored the red left-turn arrows they had and made the turns anyway, without seemingly any hesitation. One was a taxicab.
Granted it was 5 AM and there were almost no other cars on the road. And yet it makes me wonder: what reasonable conclusions can I draw from this behavior?
Were the drivers this careless because there were no other cars on the road?
Or did they think it was okay to break the law because they wouldn’t get caught at 5 AM?
I know little stuff like this shouldn’t bother me, but it does. The cynical conclusion I tend to draw from this is that if no one is watching, it’s okay to break the law, and the rules of the road are just the most obvious example of this. I have to ask myself, if a person is willing to break the law when no one is looking at them drive, when else are they willing to break the law? Will they cheat on their taxes because they think they won’t get caught? Will they steal cable from the cable companies because, hey, it’s a big company and they can afford it? Is there a line?
Do they even think there is anything wrong with what they are doing?
This comes from the weekly Character Counts newsletter that I receive. The newsletter is a consolidation of Michael Josephson’s 5 radio essays on L.A.’s KNX1070 each week. Anyway, I liked this one a lot. It was originally written by a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard and he called it the “Paradoxical Commandments”:
- People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
- If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
- If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
- The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
- Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
- The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
- People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for underdogs anyway.
- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
- People who need help may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway.
- Give the world the best you have, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
Now that’s one of the coolest things I’ve read in a long time.
When I arrived at work this morning, the entrance to the mall via the metro was closed due to some construction. I had to use the main building entrance. At 5:30 AM, you have to “badge-in” to the building. In other words, you can’t get in without using your electronic badge. I did this and entered the lobby, where the security guard who checks badges sits.
He was sound asleep.
I’m not kidding. He had a little TV on and he was out cold. He never even saw me come into the lobby or get on the elevator. So the ethical dilemma: do I report this?
I went to my workout and thought about it. And when I returned to the office, I reluctantly did report it. My reasoning was that if I didn’t report it and the security of the building was violated by someone who might do harm, I would feel equally responsible as the guard who fell asleep at his post. I say “reluctantly” because I really didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. We have all been in situations where we weren’t paying attention to what we should be doing. And who knows what this guards circumstances might be that caused him to fall asleep; maybe he’s working multiple jobs? Still, I live an area that is very security conscious, work for a company that is very security conscious, and this is just a sign of the times, I suppose.
This is one of those cases, however, where although I did the right thing, I don’t feel good about it. I feel guilty.
I was thinking about elections earlier and that led me to think about ethics (something which always seems to come up when discussing politics). It made me think in turn about a quote I once read on ethics and ethical behavior. I couldn’t remember the quote word for word, but I did some digging and here is what I came up with:
“Ethical people often choose to do less than the maximally allowable, and more than the minimally acceptable.”
I like it because of it’s simple parallelism. It is particularly useful in looking at “what the law allows”. People and politicians often justify their behavior by saying that “it’s legal”. The false assumption is that if something is legal, it is ipso facto ethical. Jury duty is a good example. I know a lot of people who complain about jury duty and try to arrange so that they have t serve the absolute minimally acceptable amount of time. But jury duty is a civic responsibility and it seems to me it is a good opportunity to go beyond the minimally acceptable. (I have performed jury duty 3 times and served on a jury once. For some reason, I have never been called to jury duty in Maryland.)
The real test of our ethics is whether we are willing to do the right thing even when it is not in our self-interest. Do you tell the clerk at the grocery store when you have been under-charged, even though it is not in your self-interest? Do you report all of your tips on your income taxes, even though you could probably get away without reporting them?
As the election approaches, it is a good time to look at our own ethical behavior before we start criticizing the ethical behavior of our representatives. After all, if we can’t be ethical, how can we expect our representatives to be when they are merely a reflection of ourselves?
I ran over to Rite Aid this morning because I needed more milk and was too lazy to go all the way to the grocery store for it. I picked up my milk and made my way back to the cashier, and right there, in the middle of the greeting cards aisle was a $100 bill.
At first I didn’t think it was real. It was folded in half and I thought for sure it was a fake. Prior to this, the most money I’ve ever found just laying around was a $20 bill that I found in a coffee shop on the UCR campus. This was 5 times that amount. What luck! I stuffed the bill in my back pocket, paid for my milk and then asked for the manager.
When the manager came, I gave her the $100 bill and said, “I found this in the greeting card aisle. Here it is, in case someone comes looking for it.” She thanked me and said she’d lock it up in the office. And I came home to have my breakfast.
There was never any chance that I would have kept that $100. I got an adreneline rush just finding it, but there is more to the phrase “finders keepers” than meets the eye. For one thing, the area around where I live has it’s share of lower income people. The $100 bill was folded in half and chances were it slipped out of someone’s pocket while walking through the store. Chances are good that the someone whose pocket out of which it slipped is someone who can ill afford to lose a $100 bill. So it was my duty as an honest person to give the money to the store manager, in the hope that whoever lost it will come looking for it and be reunited with it. It is not up to me to question the honesty of the store manager–who seemed very nice. I believe I did the right thing and I hope I would do it again in a simiar situation. After all, if I lost a $100 bill, I would hope that someone would do what I did today.
It does make me wonder about the limits of my ethical behavior. Regarless of circumstance, the right thing to do was to return the money to its rightful owner. As it turns out, I am not in dire financial straights and could well afford to return to the money. But what if that money would have helped to pay my rent for the money, or help to pay the electric bill? Would I have the same moral courage under those circumstances, as I did today?
I hope I would, but I don’t know.
I’m a big fan of Michael Josephson’s “Character Counts” essays on KNX 1070 in Los Angeles. The daily essays on ethics and character are a breath of fresh air compared to most news programming out there. Recently, these essays have reached their 10th anniversary.
Tomorrow, at 11 AM Pacific (2 PM Eastern), there will be a one-hour long interview with Michael Josephson on KNX 1070 in L.aA. For those of you no longer living in L.A., you can listen to the interview (as I will) on the live feed at http://www.knx1070.com. Click on the “Listen Live” button once you get to the site to listen to the program.
I came across this great verse while reading the lastest Character Counts commentaries that I receive each Thursday in email. The verse is by Dale Wimbrow, and was written in 1934. (For more info, see his website.)
When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father or Mother or Wife
Who judgment upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.
He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.
I have a theory: I think you can tell a lot about a person’s character by how they drive their car.
And just how can you do this?
A few minutes ago, I went down to Larry’s Cookies to feed my craving for some chocolate chip cookies. I got two large ones and the bill came to $5.20. The woman behind the counter bugs me. She’s been there before (of course) and she is always on the phone, never says “thank you”, and rarely pays attention to what she is doing. Today was the worst because, when I handed her the $10 bill, I found that she wouldn’t even put down the phone, and that she was slowing pulling my change out of the register one bill at a time, while she talk-talk-talked away.
I was seething!
She handed me my change without evening looking at me, let alone stopping her phone conversation. In counting off the change, I discovered that in addition to four dollar bills, she included the $10 bill that I gave her. She paid so little attention that she never put it in the register.
I looked at the money in my hand and thought, serves you right! I even hesistated knowing I could get away with keeping the money.
But in the end, I did the right thing. Scowling, shaking my head, I tossed the $10 bill onto the counter, and said, “Looks like you screwed up and gave this back to me too.”
And without pausing from her conversation, she sneered at me and stuffed the bill into the register.
But at least I’ll sleep well tonight.
My weekly newsletter containing this weeks radio commentaries on “Character Counts” by Michael Josephson had a commentary on racism and hate, which contained a verse by James Patrick Kinney called “The Cold Within”. I’d never seen the verse before, but after hearing it, I decided I liked it. (It’s not free verse, so that might have helped.)
Read the poem