Sunday, October 19, 2014

Should you help those who don't help you?

About four years ago, L.S., was considering a career change. He liked his job, but internal politics had taken their toll and, after a decade at the same job, he decided it was time to consider other options.

Once he decided what he wanted to do next, he sought the advice of friends, current and former colleagues, and others who with some experience in the field. One former colleague in particular was among those with whom he wanted to chat. She'd left their company a few years earlier and had successfully carved out a new career path in the field L.S. hoped to enter.

L.S. emailed this former colleague, with whom he'd been friendly when they worked together. She acknowledged receipt of his email and promised to set up a time to speak. Weeks passed, and L.S. heard nothing. He followed up with another email, and this time received no response. After a few more failed attempts to seek the woman's advice, L.S. gave up and moved on.

A few months later, L.S. was offered a new position. He's managed to make the transition well and is thriving in his new position.

There are many reasons L.S.'s former colleague might not have responded. She could have been consumed with her own work and simply did not have time. He may have misinterpreted how close they'd been when they worked together. She might not have understood how urgent L.S.'s request for help had been. Or she simply might have forgotten to respond. The right thing would have been for her to let L.S. know she didn't have time to talk.

Four years later, L.S. found himself in a curious position after receiving an email from the former colleague. She filled him in a bit on what she'd been doing for the past several years professionally, closing by telling him she was planning to apply for a position at the company where L.S. now worked. She wondered if he might consider speaking with her and writing a reference.

No mention was made in the message about her failure to respond to his request for help four years before. While she'd clearly knew where he was working, she didn't ask how his career shift had gone or how he was faring in his new job.

L.S. now wonders what is the right thing for him to do. Should he treat his former colleague as she had treated him and ignore her request for help? Should he indicate he's busy and maybe they can talk later and then never make the time?

Ultimately, the decision for L.S. proved simple. He responded by telling her he'd be glad to talk with her about her interest in his company. He knew the right thing to do was behave in the manner he wished she had four years earlier. He was right to stay true to what he deemed appropriate, rather than let his former colleague's earlier actions define his own. 

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Slow down and count your money at the ATM

It happens to the best of us. We're busy, trying to juggle a dozen different errands, checking email on our cell phones, attempting to get to our next appointment on time. Ultimately, we lose track of something or other.

For a reader in Charlotte, N.C., forgetfulness came with a stinging price. After going to an ATM to withdrawal some cash, she drove off without the money.The trouble with cash withdrawals is that once the money is withdrawn, it can be challenging to prove it was yours if you leave it behind.

The cash, of course, disappeared, apparently taken by a subsequent customer. The reader contacted a representative of the bank, who said an investigation would be launched. However, the rep didn't hold out much hope that the cash would be recovered. In the interim, awaiting the results of the investigation, the reader was out the funds she forgot.

Concerned about the reader's loss and subsequent aggravation, a friend, P.B., writes to ask what the right thing to do is when you discover money left behind in an ATM.

"My recommendation is to return the money to the financial operation, to be returned to the customer," writes P.B.

There's no question that P.B. is right. If you find cash left in an ATM, there's certainly more chance of locating the rightful owner than if you found some money blowing around on a wooded trail or in a vacant parking lot. The security camera is likely to have captured the transaction that occurred just before you arrived at the ATM. Tempting as it might be to pocket the funds, the right thing to do is to turn the cash in to the financial institution.

There's no question that returning cash to the bank that's wrongly dispensed by an ATM is the right thing to do. There's also no question that if a financial institution incorrectly credits you with too much money on your bank statement, you should point out the error. Since you might get caught pocketing money left behind by a previous ATM customer, the right thing to do is attempt to return it to the rightful owner.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility for being mindful of her cash falls on P.B.'s friend, not the financial institution. While the person who took the money was wrong, the reader bears responsibility for not paying attention to what she was doing.

Whoever took the money should return it, but P.B.'s friend should take responsibility for not paying attention at the ATM -- a mistake she's unlikely to make again. 

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Acting as teen's sounding board trumps leaping into family feud

A grandparent -- let's call him Pops -- received a text message from his teenage grandson late one Friday evening. The grandson revealed that he'd been fighting with his parents because they'd refused permission for him to do something he wanted to do.

His chosen activity didn't present any danger to himself, his family, or anyone else. The problem was, he'd made the request at the last minute, after the family had already made plans to do something else together.

The grandson didn't ask Pops to intercede; apparently, he just wanted to unload on someone about the situation. The text message indicated there was shouting on both sides, and that the grandson felt he was being treated unjustly.

Pops responded by suggesting that his grandson try not argue, but rather to state his case as calmly as possible. He reasoned that if the grandson really wanted his parents to agree to something, raising his voice was not the way to win them over.

The grandson texted back that his parents just didn't understand how important it was that he be granted permission for the activity.

Throughout the exchange, Pops tried to reassure his grandson that his parents weren't trying to be mean, but that they just disagreed with him. He reminded him that the parents were reasonable people, but that sometimes reasonable people simply disagreed. Ultimately, though, Pops reminded his grandson that as his parents, they had the final say.

Pops didn't feel his grandson was in danger of acting out over his anger, and never asked if it might help if he spoke to the boy's parents on his behalf.

Pops tried hard in his responses to advise his grandson on how he might behave if he wanted to have any hope of his parents hearing his concerns. He never took sides or suggested that he thought that the boy or his parents were right or wrong, beyond reminding his grandson that the parents had final authority.

Given how upset the grandson was, however, Pops couldn't help but wonder if he had an obligation to tell the boy's parents about the texts.

What was the right thing to do when weighing the responsibility to let the parents know that their son reached out to him, against the confidence his grandson presumably placed in Pops?

Granted, the grandson might have been reaching out in the hope that Pops would see the injustice of the situation and reason with the parents. All Pops had to go on, though, was that his grandson was confiding in him about the dispute -- something he'd done in the past.

Pops let his grandson know that he could always rely on him as a sounding board, but simultaneously reminded him to be respectful of his parents. As long as his grandson didn't seem to be any danger, Pops did the right thing by listening (well, reading) and not jumping into the middle of the family argument. 

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Should you ignore the stench in a crowded subway car?

A crowded subway car can bring out some curious behavior.

Not long ago, as the subway train pulled into a downtown station in a Northeast city in the U.S., a group of riders got on board. There were no seats available and little standing room remained. A well-dressed man who looked to be in his 40s got on board with his traveling companion and walked to grab a spot to hang onto in the car. As he made his way in, he looked at the people standing near him and then said in a loud voice to his companion, "That stench. Can you smell that stench? Let's move."

The two passengers moved, but as they did so, the same man repeated, "What a stench. Can you smell that stench?"

Once they'd settled in another spot, the man could again be heard throughout the car commenting on the smell where he'd originally boarded the train.

While it was difficult to determine if the smell emanated from the subway car itself (unfortunate incidents regularly occur on city subway cars) or if a passenger generated the odor, the man seemed to be directing his comments at the people who stood where he originally intended to stand for the ride.

Finally, after yet another loud comment, a passenger standing in that original spot, shouted back, "OK. We heard you." A smattering of laughter and light applause followed. The man curtailed his comments for the remainder of his ride, but his behavior begs the question: What is the right thing to do is when confronted by someone who gives off an unpleasant smell?

If you're in a subway car and it's difficult to pinpoint where the smell is coming from, the question is moot. If the smell bothers you, the right thing to do is simply move to another part of the car. Making boisterous pronouncements solves nothing and risks insulting other passengers who presumably already notice the smell.

But what if it's a friend or family member giving off a bad smell?

Family members might be more comfortable letting a sibling or a child know about the problem, but friends might have more trouble talking about it.

While it may be uncomfortable to alert someone to such a problem, equally uncomfortable is having a friend who later finds out from others ask you why you didn't tell him or her when you smelled on them earlier in the day.

Faced with this problem, the right thing to do would be to find a way to alert your friend. Feelings might be hurt, but the honesty would go a long way toward protecting the friend from embarrassment in among others who might not be so charitable.

There's no need to go into excruciating detail about just how bad the smell might be. Truth dumping, as Sissela Bok called it in her book, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (Vintage Books, 1989), goes beyond the call for honesty and can careen into cruel behavior.

It's highly likely that on that subway car, just as many people were eager to get away from the well-dressed man complaining about the odor as they were from the stench. The right thing is to be honest, but kind. 

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