Sunday, September 01, 2013
The return of the power saw
I don't own a lot of power tools. On the odd occasion that I really need a power tool for a project, I tend to borrow it from my son-in-law, preferably with him in tow to operate the power tool.
But the occasion arose this summer where I needed to cut up large planks of wood from an old deck we were dismantling so we could re-purpose some of that wood. It would have taken far longer to saw the wood with a hand saw than it did to dismantle the entire deck. My son-in-law and his tools were not handy, so I decided to purchase a circular saw from the hardware store to do the job.
Once figuring out how to attach the blade to the saw for the first time (thank you, help boards on the Internet), the job went pretty easily. I sawed through large planks in seconds and created neat piles of short lengths of 2 inches-by-6 inches. All went well until I got to the last plank.
When I went to cut the last plank, the motor made an odd sound and the saw stopped working. I'd been using the power saw for less than an hour, but I let it sit idle for an hour or so in case I had somehow overtaxed the motor. But when I went to use the saw again, it still didn't work.
Since it was still early evening, I decided to return to the hardware store.
I told the clerk why I had purchased the saw, what had happened, and how the saw had stopped working. He asked if I still needed a saw to get the job done. If I did, he said, he'd be glad to exchange it for a new one. If not, he told me I could return the saw for a refund.
I told him that the job was practically done and that I could use a hand saw on the final board.
No problem, he told me. He took the saw back and refunded the purchase price.
A neighbor who had been checking up on my work throughout the day noticed that I was hand sawing the last plank and pointed out that essentially I had purchased the circular saw in the morning, used it for a job, and then returned it after I was almost done.
"Was that ethical?" he asked. His point was that I had used a piece of equipment without having to pay for it.
I had a choice. I could have done precisely what my neighbor suggested I did -- just go back to the hardware store and return the circular saw without explanation. I could have done this regardless of whether the saw had stopped working. But I tried to do what I thought was the right thing by explaining to the clerk exactly how much I had used the saw, as well as how I no longer needed it for the job.
Perhaps I was a bit more forthcoming than I needed to be with the clerk, but it seemed the right thing to do. What would you have done?
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.