Sunday, July 14, 2024

To be an engaged citizen, vote

Is it wrong not to vote in elections?

An old friend chides me for regularly encouraging people to register to vote and then to vote in local, state, and federal elections. Among the reasons he cites for not having voted since 2012, are that he’s not a fan of any of the candidates running or that his vote is unlikely to make a difference. Nevertheless, I persist in encouraging him and others to register and to vote.

My friend is not alone in choosing not to vote. In the 2020 presidential election, only 66.9 percent of eligible voters chose to vote. That was higher than the turnouts in 2016 (59.2 percent), 2012 (58 percent), and 2008 (62.5 percent). Those voters who didn’t vote in the 2020 presidential election could have made a difference in the outcome given the closeness of four states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia. Joseph Biden beat Donald Trump by fewer than 125,000 votes in those four states. Back in 2000, George W. Bush beat Albert Gore by only 537 votes in Florida, a victory that put Bush in office over Gore (with the help of a Supreme Court ruling).

My friend hasn’t voted in state or local elections since 2012 either, even though he acknowledges that elections closer to home are likely to have more of a direct impact on his day-to-day affairs. But voter turnout in state and local elections is typically far worse than in presidential elections. In my home state of Massachusetts, only 51.42 percent of registered voters showed up to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Even closer to my home in Boston, only 18.97 percent of registered voters showed up to vote in the 2023 municipal election.

Unlike the United States, at least 21 countries make voting mandatory. In Australia, where voting is mandatory, an average of roughly 92 percent of eligible voters cast a vote, even though the fine for a first-time offender is only AU$20 (roughly $13 US) for not voting.

We don’t make voting compulsory in the United States and I’m not arguing that we should. My non-voting friend will sometimes chide me for encouraging everyone to vote even if it’s likely many will vote for someone or something he doesn’t like. But I continue to believe that as responsible citizens we should vote and accept the results of any elections even if our candidate or issue doesn’t win. (Full disclosure, in terms of party affiliation, I am registered as an “unenrolled” voter in Massachusetts, which is what my state calls non-party affiliated voters or independents.)

My non-voting friend should not be stripped of any rights (including that of complaining about his elected officials or regulations) because he doesn’t vote. Not voting is his right as a fellow citizen.

But if we truly want to have a voice in how our cities, states, or country are governed, the right thing is to register to vote and then vote in every election for which you are eligible to vote.

To get started, consider consulting BallotReady and Vote 411, a site run by the League of Women Voters. Each site includes information on national and local ballots, as it becomes available. Type in your location to get local election information and then please consider exercising your right to vote.

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, emeritus, 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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

Sunday, July 07, 2024

Is it ever OK to take someone else’s grocery cart?

Is it OK to take someone else’s grocery cart if it seems clear it’s not being used?

Typically, when a reader we’re calling Herman goes grocery shopping, there are dozens of empty grocery carts at the front of the store available for customers to use while shopping. But recently when Herman got to the grocery store, there were no empty grocery carts to be found.

He went to the courtesy counter and asked if there were any empty carts available anywhere but was told that if they weren’t out front, he was out of luck. He was advised to use a small handcart, which Herman knew wasn’t nearly big enough to hold all of the groceries he planned to purchase. Nevertheless, Herman grabbed a handcart and persisted in his grocery shopping adventure.

He quickly noticed that many of the shelves throughout the store were being stacked and that new signs were being placed on various items’ shelves. He also noticed that there were at least 20 shopping carts full of boxes or signs or other items that clerks were using to re-stock shelves.

As he got to the delicatessen counter, Herman noticed there were two grocery carts. Each was half full of empty boxes that had been broken down and laid flat. By the time he reached the deli counter, Herman’s hand cart was already almost full, so he set it on the floor and then proceeded to move the flattened boxes from one grocery cart and put them into the other. He then transferred his groceries from his hand cart into the grocery cart and went on his way.

Herman was concerned that he might have crossed a line by taking the cart. He also was concerned that whoever had been putting those empty boxes into the cart would hunt him down and chastise him for taking it. The latter never happened, but Herman still wonders if he was wrong to transfer the flattened boxes to another cart and then use it rather than finding someone to ask permission first.

I’m with Herman and likely would have done the same thing. The carts were only half full and none of the boxes were full. He didn’t toss anything onto the floor to empty a cart, but found a way to try to minimize any disruption to whoever had been emptying the boxes. He did the right thing by asking the courtesy desk first and then trying to find a solution that might solve his challenge without causing hardship to others.

But a larger question is why the grocery store would tie up all of its grocery carts by having them used for restocking shelves. Also, why wasn’t anyone around to inform customers of the shortage when they entered the store? And why was there no one around many of the grocery carts – including the one Herman took – so a customer could ask about using it? The grocery store management team should have found a way to do its job without causing such a disruption to shoppers. That would have been the right thing to do.

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, emeritus, 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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

(c) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Should you decline politician’s handouts?

Should you take promotional materials for something you have no interest in?

In early June, a reader we’re calling Nadine was walking along the route for an annual parade that has been honoring her town for more than a century. There were marching bands, dance troupes, politicians, clowns and floats from assorted community businesses and not-for-profit organizations.

The parade is an event Nadine enjoys. It’s a chance to see old neighbors and join them in celebrating where they live. Rather than find a place to stand or sit and watch the parade pass by, Nadine likes to walk along the route since it gives her a chance to see more people than if she stayed in one place.

Organizations regularly hand out imprinted tchotchkes to onlookers ranging from balloons to plastic hand clappers. Small pieces of candy are tossed to children along the route. One business along the parade route set up a table to distribute bottles of water to parade participants and viewers. Nadine typically enjoys taking it all in.

But this year, Nadine noticed that far more politicians were handing out printed materials as they marched. Glossy cards with candidate bios. Typed documents laying out the politicians’ positions on various issues. Cards with information on how to donate to the campaigns. In retrospect, Nadine’s not certain whether there was far more of such materials being handed out to the crowd. The volume of paper being offered her as she walked past the politicians just seemed to be more than typical.

Nadine took the materials offered to her and as she continued to walk she deposited most of them in any trash receptacle she could find. “I wasn’t interested in most of the candidates since I already knew who I’d be supporting,” wrote Nadine. “But I didn’t want to be rude by refusing to take what they were handing out.”

Nadine now wonders if she was wrong not to decline the material she knew she didn’t want. “I was just going to throw it out,” she wrote. “It seems such a waste.” But she also doesn’t want to insult those giving out the papers by refusing them. So what should she have done?

If Nadine knew she was simply going to throw out the materials being tossed her way, then declining the offer of them would have been the right thing to do. It’s not rude to indicate you don’t want something. It might be rude to start shouting all the things you loathe about a particular candidate when approached by them or a supporter, but there’s nothing rude or wrong with simply saying no to something you don’t want.

While campaigning is a necessary evil for any elected official, the right thing for any politician would be to limit the amount of waste created by trying to distribute far more materials than are necessary. Supporting the community and getting a candidate’s name in front of parade onlookers might be enough to support all those materials that are likely to end up on voters’ doorsteps anyway. Both candidates and voters should appreciate any effort to reduce waste.

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, emeritus, 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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

(c) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Are annoying advertisements wrong?

How responsible is a business to avoid confusing customers with mailed advertisements?

A reader we’re calling Wynn recently shared a copy of an advertisement he received in the mail for new windows. The ad was made to look like parts of it were a handwritten note along with drawings of portions of windows and doors that had been circled to indicate possible damage. The one-page document was labeled “Window Inspection Form.”

At first, Wynn was confused. He thought someone had inspected his house when he wasn’t there and followed up by sending a customized report. It was only upon closer inspection that Wynn realized the notations were machine generated and only made to look like a personal note. What tipped him off first is that the drawings of windows that had damage were not the type of windows he had in his house. But then the note itself made clear that the “issues” noted were of the type the company representatives found when replacing windows in Wynn’s neighborhood.

Aside from trying to sell him new windows, there was nothing on the advertisement Wynn received that was specific to his house. If the intent of the advertisement was to catch Wynn’s attention by raising concern that his windows might be failing, it worked. Given he hasn’t seen any work being done on windows in his neighborhood, he also doubts the company replaced any neighbors’ windows recently as claimed.

Wynn wondered if preying on customer fears was wrong.

If the intent of advertising is to pique customer interest, the advertisement Wynn received was effective. By making the advertisement look like something it wasn’t – a window inspection form for Wynn’s house – the company didn’t break any laws since it is made clear in the text of the advertisement that what’s being presented are things that might be wrong and that the customer might want to address.

Was the ad annoying? For customers like Wynn, yes. Was it wrong to send it? As long as the ad itself makes clear what it is and what is being sold, then no.

It would be nice to be able to tell immediately what an advertisement is offering or trying to do. Often, however, it takes some work. Many of us have received emails offering us something for free only to find out that to get it we need to buy something else or commit to a contract for something we didn’t really want. Such advertisements might work to gain our interest, but the work involved in figuring out what’s being offered may dampen that initial interest. If the come-on in the advertisement strikes us as misleading, the resulting annoyance might also diminish the possibility of a sale.

But again, as long as the details become clear in the text of these ads, companies can go ahead and send them.

The right thing for readers like Wynn to do is to make sure to read such advertisements closely to get clear on what exactly is being offered. If they don’t understand the details, that’s a good sign that they might want to pass or to call for clarification if there’s a number to call. If they find the ads or the representatives explaining the ads annoying, they should trust that that annoyance is a real possibility should they do business together.

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, emeritus, 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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

(c) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

 

 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Do I have to leave a tip at a takeout restaurant?

Is it wrong not to leave a tip at a takeout restaurant?

Each state in the United States sets its own minimum wage law, but in most states there is a different, lower, minimum wage set for employees who receive tips as part of their compensation. Tips may be customary at many restaurants and for many employees, and these tips might bring what they earn up to that state’s minimum wage. But it’s challenging for diners to know if they are tipping to help their server make a living wage or if they are tipping to reflect good service offered, or both.

Unless a restaurant has a posted automatic gratuity policy, which some establishments use for large parties, diners are still left to determine how much if anything to tip. Once they do decide to tip, do they calculate the tip on the pre-tax bill total? Do they leave 15% of the bill? Twenty percent? More?

Some restaurants offer a handy guide at the bottom of each bill to indicate how much varying percentage tips would amount to. This saves diners from having to whip out their phone’s calculator to do the math. It also signals to diners that while a tip might not be required, it’s an accepted norm that one would be considered.

A question arose, however, from a reader we’re calling Bill about whether it’s wrong not to leave a tip where no table service is involved. Bill wants to know if he goes to pick up a pizza or orders a cup of coffee and a doughnut or waits at a counter for a clam strip plate if he should be expected to leave a tip with the person collecting his money.

While it may strike some customers as annoying, many takeout establishments have a built-in option for tipping when they use some point-of-sale software to settle the bill. In other words, a screen pops up with various percentage options for a tip that then gets added to the bill. Again, this sends a message to customers like Bill that, yes, tipping is customary and likely expected, even at those takeout places he likes to frequent. (Those big tip jars on the counter also send a similar albeit low-tech signal.)

But that doesn’t answer Bill’s question about whether it’s wrong to not leave a tip at some places. The right thing is for Bill and others to decide how much gratuity should be left. And while they can think whatever they want about the customer, the right thing for whomever is collecting payment is not to treat the customer any worse if he or she or they decides to forgo tipping. On occasion, lousy tippers get outed on social media. While the venting may feel good, I’m not convinced such shaming results in converting lousy tippers to good ones.

For me, I choose to tip well for good service (even at takeout) not just because it’s the norm in the United States, but because it’s clear, if we’re paying attention, how hard most restaurant workers work and because it helps them make a living wage.

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, emeritus, 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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin

(c) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.