Sunday, April 29, 2018

Showing kindness without thanks


Winter weather had finally given over to a glimpse of sunshine in the Boston area. Nevertheless, the subway trains were running particularly slow one April morning. At regular intervals on M.N.'s ride to work, the train would remain a few extra minutes at the station with a barely audible message alerting passengers to a "schedule adjustment" or "traffic ahead," although the latter of these seems a given for any train on any track ever.

While riders seemed a bit happier than a few weeks earlier when they sloshed through snow and muck to catch the train, patience was wearing a bit thin because of the delays. Finally, about halfway to M.N.'s destination, a subway employee helped an elderly gentleman using a support cane onto the train. A few passengers moved and offered their seats to the man who appeared to be blind, an assumption that was confirmed when he sat down directly across from M.N., and said in a loud voice: "I'm blind. I hate the world."

A young woman sitting next to the gentleman asked him if he needed any help, to which he responded, "I don't know you" in a response that sounded somewhat perturbed.

The doors closed and the train finally made its way to the next station.

There wasn't a delay at the stop and M.N. was concerned that the man might miss his stop. As they were about to arrive at the next station, M.N. shouted across the way, "What stop do you want to get off at?"

The man responded, "Who are you?" again sounding perturbed.

"I'm the guy you told you were blind and hated the world," M.N. responded.

The gentleman laughed. Loudly.

When they finally pulled into M.N.'s stop for work, he saw that the gentleman got up as well.

"Do you need help?" M.N. asked him.

"Yes, I'm going downstairs to catch the bus?"

As they exited the train M.N. offered the man his arm, which he took, and they started walking.

"Can't you walk any faster?" the man asked M.N.

So M.N. picked up the pace. They arrived at the lower-level bus stop.

"OK, we're here," M.N. said.

The man removed his armed, grumbled "yeah," and walked away.

M.N. was a bit taken aback that the gentleman seemed brusque and didn't offer as much as a "thank you" for M.N.'s efforts.

Now, M.N. wonders if he was wrong to offer help.

Offering help to someone who seemed in need was an appropriate and kind gesture. If the man didn't want the help, he could have refused it. But he accepted the offer and M.N. helped him get to his desired location.

The polite and gracious thing would have been for the man to thank M.N. But if M.N.'s motivation was to do something helpful to someone who appeared to need help, then that act alone should have been sufficient. While a thank you might have made M.N. feel good, not getting one doesn't diminish the kindness he tried to show.

Getting acknowledged for a good act shouldn't be the primary driving force if the desire is truly to show kindness or to help someone in need. The right thing is to know that sometimes showing kindness to a stranger is its own reward. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

If a tree falls, who owns it?


A reader we're calling, Gil, and his neighbor, Roger, became friendly shortly after Gil and his family bought their house about a decade ago. Since Roger had lived on the property abutting Gil's backyard for more than 30 years, he was quick to share wisdom about the neighborhood and most anything else to which Gil was willing to listen.

Roger was older and made clear to Gil that the two of them did not share political views. Occasionally, Roger was prone to make an inappropriate remark about a particular group of people and Gil was in the habit of regularly calling Roger on why what he said was thoughtless or worse.

Nevertheless, the two neighbors got along well and, as Gil tells it, enjoyed the occasional company of one another.

Shortly after Gil purchased his house, he began to stack fallen twigs and leaves behind a row of trees in the back of his yard. He stopped once Roger pointed out that Gil was "technically" dumping stuff on his property line, which he proceeded to walk off as a way of pointing out to Gil what was Roger's and what wasn't.

Gil was pretty certain that the plot map indicated his twigs and leaves were stacked on his property, but he wanted to avoid an argument, so he began placing them in a heap next to the shed in his side yard - well out of view of Roger's house.

This past winter hit Gil's and Roger's neighborhood hard. Week-long, sub-zero temperatures followed by snowstorms accompanied by 60-plus mile-an-hour winds wreaked havoc. Pipes froze, though luckily nothing burst in Gil's or Roger's houses.

They weren't so lucky when it came to the two 50-foot trees that fell between Gil's and Roger's house. The trees had tipped over, broken, and the root ball had lifted out of the ground. They would need to be removed by a tree service so more damage wasn't done to other trees during a subsequent storm.

Since the trees were right behind where Gil had placed those twigs and leaves years earlier, he asked Roger if he planned to call a tree service to have the felled trees removed.

"I'd be glad to, but they're on your property," Roger responded. Gil then says he walked off the property line to show Gil where it was, although this time it was a few feet back from where Roger had walked off the line years earlier.

Now, Gil wants to know if he should remind Roger that he had claimed that property as his own and get him to pay for the tree removal, even though Gil always believed the property was his? Or should he be a good neighbor, have the trees removed, and eat the cost?

Gil could spend the money on a surveyor to settle who owns what, but that's likely wasted money since his plot plan already points to the land as his. The right thing to do is for Gil to pay to have the trees removed because they are on his property. He should then feel free to dump his twigs and leaves where he originally wanted. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2018 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


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