Blog for weekly ethics column by Jeffrey L. Seglin distributed by Tribune Media. For information about carrying The Right Thing in your print or online publication, contact information is available at http://www.tmsfeatures.com/contact/ or a e-mail a Tribune Media sales representative at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your ethical questions to email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @jseglin or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seglin
Chris, a reader from Columbus, Ohio, knows a good deal
when he finds one. The challenge is that he needs his reading glasses to be
able to spot a good deal close up when shopping.
That's no problem, since he's managed to find a great
deal on reading glasses at the dollar discount store he frequents. There, he
regularly purchases a pair when he needs one. They generally range in price
from $4 to $6.
"I keep the package and receipt in case I need to
return them," writes Chris. "Sometimes the pin will fall out.
Sometimes the lens will fall out or the lens will get scratched."
He maintains he is not a "skinflint" nor does
he want to make waves, but he has regularly returned a pair of glasses for an
exchange if something goes wrong with them.
Over the past several months, Chris says he returned
about six pairs with no problem in making the exchange.
A few weeks ago, however, the dollar store manager told
him enough was enough. The returns are entered onto the cash register, so after
his sixth return, the manager decided to step in and put a stop to it.
Chris explained to the manager that it said right on the
package that the reading glasses are good for one year. Given the inexpensive
nature of the product, Chris wonders whether he was in the wrong for trying to
return glasses for a new pair when something went wrong with them.
Granted, the dollar store may be banking on the fact that
by charging such a low price for its reading glasses that readers will be more
likely to purchase a new pair if something goes wrong than to ask the store to
make good on its returns policy. (I suspect that I'm not alone in purchasing
several pairs at my local discount store so that at any given time I have a
half dozen or so lying around in case one is lost or broken.)
But as long as whatever goes wrong with his reading
glasses is based on regular wear and tear, Chris is doing nothing wrong by
seeking a replacement. If there are no stipulations on the package about how
often the reading glasses can be returned, or anything about the returns being
based on a store manager's discretion, then the right thing is for the store to
honor its return policy and give Chris a replacement without moaning about how
often he has made such a return in the past.
The challenge for the consumer when purchasing such
low-cost glasses is that the quality is likely not to be great and regular
breakage may not be all that uncommon. It can be a hassle and a waste of
resources to continue to have to replace the reading glasses. The challenge for
the store is that if it is going to sell things that are cheaply made and offer
a money-back guarantee on those products, then the store's management needs to
honor that commitment regardless of how few customers take advantage of it.
It takes a shortsighted manager to try to make a customer
feel guilty for taking advantage of the store's own policy.
Who doesn't like to feel appreciated for doing something
good? Particularly when an act requires a little bit of extra effort, it seems
natural to want to feel some gratitude.
As a reader from Southern California was walking to her
car in a bank's parking lot near where its ATM was located, she found $200
"I am unemployed and $196 overdrawn in my checking
account," she writes. Nevertheless, the next day she went to the bank and
asked the manager if someone had reported the money missing. Luckily, the
manager told her, they had indeed received a call from a customer who had lost
her money in the bank's parking lot.
The manager asked her to leave her name and number with
him. He told her that he would forward the information to the woman who had
reported losing the money. The plan was for the manager to return the money if
the woman could identify how much and where she lost it. He would also pass
along the name of the person who had found and returned the lost cash.
Indeed, when the woman was called she identified the
amount she had lost and where she had lost it. She retrieved her lost funds
from the bank's manager who told her the name of the woman who had found her
"The woman never even called to say thank you,"
my reader says. "I didn't return the money expecting anything, but a thank
you would have been nice."
She's angry that the woman did not call to thank her and
she is "seriously regretting" her decision to give the money back,
especial with her "financial dire straits."
"I am hopeful that there truly is karma, and that I
made the right decision," she says.
My reader was certain no one was looking when she found
the cash in the bank's parking lot. It would have been easy for her to simply
scoop up the cash strewn about the parking lot and use it for her personal
expenses. Clearly, she was in need of the funds. But she believed that the
right thing to do was to make an effort to see if anyone had lost the cash. She
showed great character.
Did she do the right thing? Yes, she did.
It also would have been the right thing for the person
who lost the money to acknowledge the person who found it and returned it.
That she didn't may say something about her character,
but it shouldn't change the reader's understanding that she acted with great
character when she tried to get the cash to its rightful owner. After all, she
didn't try to return it because she wanted a thank you, but because she believed
it to be the responsible thing to do.
She can certainly regret that the money's owner didn't
acknowledge her. But she can only control how she behaves, not how others
do...even though the money loser might take a lesson in civil behavior from my
As the summer bears down on us, the anticipation of
holidays and family gatherings is not far behind. A reader from Southern
California observes that while she looks forward to the joy a family holiday
can bring, she also approaches each with some trepidation. "If families
get along great, it's all wonderful," she writes.
But, she asks, what if the family doesn't all get along?
"What if a Hatfield-McCoy type feud lingers on?"
Even worse, she writes, is when everyone in her household
hates one family member so much they want to cut him out of any holiday
gatherings in her home.
"How do you really get rid of that person when you
grew up with him and you still have deep memories of the good times in the past
and the current situation breaks you up inside?" she asks. "It tears
your soul and you know that taking that person out of your life holds
consequences. Then again, you also know that it will be better to exclude him
because life with your current family means more to you than anything."
She aaks: "What do you do in that situation? Someone
out there must be going through a similar situation and feeling the same
The reader recognizes that this relative is not perfect.
He likes attention and speaks louder than he should. He doesn't take no for an
answer. "Above all else, he's confronted me whenever I have asked him to leave."
In the past, the reader has tried before to eliminate the
relative from events and, she writes, it made her "a different person
"Is it ethical for people to ask to eliminate a
family member from gatherings just because everyone doesn't get along with
There is nothing unethical about my reader's family
members asking that someone not be invited to gatherings because of his past
behavior. But if my reader is the person who takes responsibility for
organizing and planning family events, there is nothing unethical about her
deciding to invite the fellow anyway.
Her challenge is to figure out how to weigh the desires
of her immediate family to avoid having contact with someone they deem
unpleasant against her own desire to be as inclusive as she can when it comes
to family gatherings.
She may decide it sets an uncomfortable precedent to
single out family members for exclusion. Or she may be concerned that it sends
a message of intolerance she doesn't want to convey. If these are true, then
she's likely to want to keep inviting him, making it clear why to those
requesting his absence.
But if she decides that he is simply so disruptive and
uncontrollable at events that any hope of a joyful event is lost, then she's
not obligated to invite him.
Ultimately, the choice is hers. Given that excluding him
in the past has torn her up inside, it would seem the best right thing is to
continue to invite him but to be clear with her family members why. They, in
turn, should respect her decision.
I am always looking for stories of ethical challenges, dilemmas, and
perplexing situations. If you have such a story or question based on
an incident and would like it to be considered for the column, please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please make sure to include enough
details about the story, the issue that you're wrestling with, and your name and the city and state or province where you are located. Also include a way for me to contact you.
Early each morning during the school year, a big yellow
school bus tries to maneuver the tight corner in front of my house. On-street
parking is legal on both sides of the street, so there are times when it's
particularly difficult for a big yellow school bus to maneuver its way around
parked cars to make its way around the corner.
We can tell when it's a particularly challenging morning
because we begin to hear the back-up beeps that large vehicles like big yellow
school buses make when they attempt to back up, and the bus driver beeps his
horn signaling that he's stuck.
While most neighbors know not to park their cars on both
sides of this corner so large vehicles (fire trucks also have a way of getting
stuck), parking remains legal on both sides of the street.
Recently, the owner of a 1990s blue sedan has decided to
park regularly in the spot that is the direct culprit for making corner
maneuvers tough. For several mornings, the driver of the big yellow school bus
tried to navigate his way through the narrow corner passageway. Traffic piled
up behind the bus streaming down a one-way side street, but on most of these
days the bus made it through.
That success came to an end last week. The passageway was
simply too narrow and the bus driver ultimately hooked onto the front side
fender of the car. Traffic piled up. Neighbors emerged from their homes. The
bus driver got off the bus to see if he could figure out who owned the blue
sedan. (None of the neighbors knew at that point.)
Finally, the owner of the blue sedan came out from his
house, asking neighbors if they knew what was going on.
"Someone's parked their car and blocked the school
bus," came the answer.
The fellow looked toward the bus. "That's my
car," he responded.
Meanwhile, as the bus driver approached the car owner, a
neighbor was talking to the kids on the stuck bus to keep them calm. (For the
record, they were not only calm, but were enjoying the drama.)
"The city should add a sign that says it's not legal
to park there so the bus can make it through," the car owner said to the
neighbor as she left the kids.
She told him that it would be a lot easier for large
vehicles to make the turn around the corner if he didn't park his car where he
had been parking it.
"But it's a legal spot," he responded, adding,
"I'm a lawyer, so I know it's legal."
The car owner knows that it's difficult for large
vehicles to make the turn around the bend when he parks his car where it does.
But since it's not illegal to park there, he sees no wrong in doing so even
knowing the resulting traffic tie up he often causes.
"The city should do something about this!" he
The right thing, regardless of whether it's legal, is for
him to do something about it and not park his car where he knows it's a
problem. Other neighbors already know this is the right thing to do - even if
it's not illegal to do otherwise. If ethics is how we decide to behave when we
belong together, we shouldn't always need a no-parking sign to tell us how to