Sunday, May 27, 2018

Do good flower boxes make good neighbors?


There's a bit of a construction boom going on in Theresa's (that's what we're calling her here) neighborhood. Once a quiet, tightly knit neighborhood on the outskirts of a relatively small city, it had recently been discovered by a new generation of buyers and developers looking to invest in the next hot city neighborhood. By virtue of having been born and raised there, Theresa had discovered the neighborhood long ago.

Some of the activity has involved people buying older homes in a new neighborhood for themselves. Other activity has resulted from developers buying older properties and either renovating them and flipping them to sell or knocking them down and building larger, more modern units to sell.

While the activity has driven up the value of most of the houses in the neighborhood, including Theresa's, it's also resulted in a lot of noise and construction traffic during the week and often on weekends. Theresa says she will be happy when the activity dies down.

For about a year, developers have been working on a multi-family house behind Theresa's house. The backs of the two houses share a private road, along with four or five other houses. Most of the homeowners keep their trash cans out back and don't pay nearly as much attention to how the area looks as they do with the area in front of their houses.

But the developers next door are hoping to charge a premium price for the units behind Theresa's house and they're not sure prospective buyers are going to love the idea of looking out onto random trash cans and old porch stoops.

"The developer asked if he could attach a flower box to the railing of my back porch," Theresa says. He's indicated that he'd pay to have the flower box attached and also planted with flowers once it's installed. Apparently, according to Theresa, he's asked the owners of other houses on that shared road the same thing.

"I don't want to be a bad neighbor," says Theresa. "But I don't want to have a flower box out there that I have to keep up all the time. It's where I keep my trash." As long as the trash is neatly secured, Theresa says she doesn't care as much how it looks behind her house as she cares about the lawn and gardens in the front and side yards.

"He did offer to pay for it," she says. "But would it be wrong to decline his offer?"

Of course it wouldn't be wrong to decline his offer. It's her house and the right thing is to decide what to do and what not to do to it, regardless of who pays. It's not Theresa's or her neighbors' responsibility to tidy up so the developer next door can get top dollar for his new units.

But if Theresa or any of her neighbors always wanted a flower box for their back stoop, there'd be nothing wrong with seizing the opportunity to have someone else pay to install it and to plant the first round of flowers, knowing they would be footing the bill for any flowers to come. 

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, May 20, 2018

When parents break the rules, should other parents report them?


Each school-day afternoon during the school year, the pick-up line at a particular public grade school can wind out of the school parking lot and onto the shoulder of the entering street for at least a half a mile. The school has no official school buses, so parents must arrange to pick up their children after school.

Because so many cars are moving in and out of the parking lot, the officials at the school have made their best effort to impose safety regulations on all students and drivers to ensure that the pick-ups are safe. One of the rules hammered home to parents is that once they are in line, they are asked to refrain from speaking on their cellphones. From a safety perspective, this lessens the chance of distracted drivers holding up the line or inadvertently rolling into the car ahead of them. It also helps ensure that the flow of cars continues to move. (In this public school's state, it's illegal to text while driving, but not illegal to speak on your cellphone.)

Often, parents are not great about following the no cellphones in line rule. The teachers or staff monitoring the line do their best to remind parents, but, well, they're not always successful.

Recently, a parent reports that when she was home one evening checking her Facebook newsfeed, she clicked on the unofficial page for her child's school. Often that site is full of announcements about upcoming events and relevant bits of information about the school. But tonight, she came across a link to a short video that was posted by one of the other parents to promote her small business.

"It didn't seem entirely appropriate to have this post on the unofficial school Facebook pages," writes that parent who noticed the post. "But that's not what concerned me the most."

On the video, the parent was clearly taping her announcement while sitting in the front seat of her car. She announced to the viewers that she was taping as she was sitting in the pickup line for her child's school.

"She was using her cellphone and then posted the video to the Facebook group," writes the parent who noticed the post.

"Am I obligated to tell school officials about this?" asks the parent. It struck her as a flagrant violation of the rules.

There's no obligation to report the parent. If the observer is concerned that the taping posed a safety threat or that it could have disrupted the pick-up procedure, the right thing would be to post a comment in response to the video letting the poster know this. If the view believes that promoting a business on the unofficial school site is inappropriate, the right thing is to message the site's administrator and ask for the post to be removed. But the right thing and the thoughtful thing for the parent making the video while on the pick-up line is to reconsider doing such things in the future and instead wait until she is not in line to record the post. 

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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