Sunday, October 06, 2019
No need to bring up neighbor's inconsistencies
A reader we're calling Daniel has lived in the same neighborhood bordering a large city in New England for almost 40 years. He and his wife purchased their house, raised their kids and watched as urban sprawl increased the value of their neighborhood.
What were once multifamily houses that could be purchased at a reasonable price for a working or middle-class family were now being gobbled up and converted to million-dollar condos. Nevertheless, Daniel saw the value of his home grow as well, but aside from steeper property taxes it didn't change how Daniel and his wife maintained their property.
Shortly after a new neighbor purchased one of the pricey condos about a year ago, he mentioned to Daniel that out of concern for the environment he and the other condo owners in his building, he planned to use a push reel lawn mower rather than a gas lawn mower.
Daniel still uses an old gas lawn mower to mow his lawn. At the time his neighbor mentioned his machine preferences, Daniel doubted his neighbor knew about his own preferences. But his neighbor has since seen or heard Daniel mow his lawn.
A few weeks ago as Daniel was unloading bundles from the trunk of his car, his neighbor strolled by and asked him if he could borrow his gas mower sometime the following day because he had let his grass grow too long to use the push mower.
"My initial response was to say 'sure,'" writes Daniel. But he wonders if he should have said something to remind his neighbor about how important he said it was for him to avoid using a gas mower to avoid adding to his carbon footprint. "Or should I have just said 'no'"? asks Daniel.
Daniel's neighbor's decision to avoid using products that add to air pollution is a good one for him. It's not clear he was judging Daniel because he continued to use a gas mower. If his neighbor decides to use a gas mower to enable him to more easily catch up on his missed lawn mowing, that's a choice he has to make.
It would have been OK for Daniel to say "no" when asked to borrow his mower. Given that he regularly helps out neighbors by lending a hand or a tool, that would not be in keeping with Daniel's style. Besides, he already agreed to the loan.
Whether or not he reminds his neighbor about his original declaration depends on the type of relationship they have. If they've kidded around before and he wants to rib the neighbor about his inconsistency in a joking manner, that's up to him.
But unless it is in the spirit of joking around, belittling his neighbor over his inconsistency hardly seems a neighborly thing to do. If Daniel has maintained some sort of grudge since the neighbor's initial mower comments and sees this as an opportunity to put him in his place, that reeks of pettiness.
The right thing is simply to lend his neighbor his gas mower if he wants to and to avoid lending anything he doesn't care to lend now or in the future because he doesn't want to.
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: @jseglinDo you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to email@example.com.