When the guests started arrived for W.B.'s birthday celebration, she was excited. It'd been a long time since she had had many of these friends and relatives in one place together, so she was convinced it would be a grand affair.
Because W.B. lives in a city neighborhood in the Northeast, parking is scarce. Her guests would have to jockey for a space and seize upon any that they found open. They'd also have to make sure to read the posted traffic signs to make sure they weren't violating parking rules.
When she invited them, W.B. recommended to her guests where they might try to park since some streets were more restricted about parking than others. Her invitation list to this party was longer than usual since she had hit a milestone birthday, so she was hopeful everyone could park safely and legally and then enjoy themselves at her celebration.
The guests started piling in, food and drink was consumed, cake was eaten, gifts were given, and birthday wishes were spread. Her guests began to disperse, but a few stayed and helped W.B. clean up and get her apartment back in order. After the last of the guests had departed, W.B. was pooped. But all in all she writes that it was a great celebration.
The next day, one of the guests emailed her to say what a good time he'd had, to thank her, and to wish her happy birthday again. He closed by telling her that the party and good company had taken the sting out of getting a parking ticket.
W.B. felt terrible. As the day went on and other guests checked in, she learned that at least four others had also received parking tickets the night of her party.
"I'm feeling like I have some responsibility here," writes W.B. "Should I offer to pay their tickets?"
W.B. can offer to pay for the tickets if she wants, but she has no ethical obligation to do so. She went out of her way to recommend where her guests might look to park in her neighborhood, but even if she hadn't, it's not on her to check to make sure they'd parked their cars legally. Presumably, they can read a parking sign as well as she can.
If a guest had gotten a flat tire on the drive to her party, no one would expect W.B. to foot the bill for a new tire. Or if they felt a little flush on the way over and picked up a slice of pizza to take the edge off, no one would expect W.B. to reimburse for the pizza.
Knowing that some guests got hit with parking tickets may have taken some of the joy out of an otherwise positive celebration, but paying their tickets for them won't likely take away the sting. It strikes me that a good friend might have refrained from mentioning the ticket, knowing W.B. would feel bad. But none of them suggested she should pay.
The right thing is for the guests who received them to pay their own parking tickets, and to remember to park legally next time they visit W.B.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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