Sunday, April 05, 2015
Spilled soup offers a lesson in effective human relations
Should you expect others to treat you well when you treat them well?
That's not something you can count on. Expecting something in return for civil behavior can be a frustrating game. The motivation for behaving well toward others should fall more in line with the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.
But sometimes a good deed done can yield a good deed in response -- and even a healthy dose of mutual respect.
G.L., a reader from Boston, writes that he often buys his lunch at a burrito cart parked in the lobby of a nearby government building downtown. About a year-and-a-half ago, G.L. bought a bowl of chicken vegetable soup at the stand. Granted, this was an unorthodox choice at a burrito stand, but he had a hankering for a nice cup of soup.
G.L. paid for the soup, then walked back to his own office building. Unfortunately, when he got into the elevator, he dropped the soup and watched it spill all over the floor. He took care of getting the mess cleaned up, but was still hungry so headed back to the burrito stand. The owners expressed surprise at his quick return, wondering if something had been wrong with the first bowl of soup.
G.L. admitted what had happened and was surprised by their response. They handed him another bowl "for no charge," he writes.
Ever since then, G.L. makes a point of leaving a small tip -- anywhere from a quarter to $1 -- when he buys something at the burrito stand.
"I like the people who run the stand," he writes.
Last week, G.L. bought a chicken burrito for $6.75. Feeling particularly generous, he handed the cashier what he thought was a $10 bill and told her to keep the change.
As he started to walk away, he heard the cashier shout, "No!"
"You gave me $20," she said. She handed him his change, of which he took $10 and gave her the rest as a tip, thanking her profusely.
"I was touched by her doing this," he writes, "especially since I'd explicitly said, 'Keep the change,'"
G.L. writes that he believes the cashier's actions prove that "good deeds spur other good deeds and build relationships." Sometimes they do. And the cashier went above and beyond to do the right thing even when, given G.L.'s instructions to keep the change, she didn't have to.
Would G.L. have felt so generous had the elevator soup mishap not happened? Would the cashier have done the same thing for a customer who hadn't been such a good tipper and loyal customer? Perhaps not.
But the right thing is for both burrito stand buyers and sellers to treat each other well, regardless of whether they receive anything in return. The same goes for each of us. Do unto others and sometimes what others do unto you will warm your heart. Enjoy the soup.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.