Saturday, February 24, 2024

Does being cautious send message you don’t trust people?

Should you worry if your behavior in a new place sends the wrong message?

Once an avid swimmer, it had been many years since a reader we’re calling Sedna had found a regular place to swim. Not long ago, Sedna toured her local YMCA and found that it not only had a swimming pool, but that it also offered classes that fit nicely into her work schedule. The monthly membership fee was also far more affordable than many of the more expensive private gyms Sedna had once considered.

Just before she was to leave to attend her first swimming class at the Y, Sedna remembered that while the Y provided lockers for each of its members to use, she had to bring her own lock if she wanted to secure her clothing and valuables. Sedna meant to purchase a padlock, but simply had not gotten around it and now it was too late to do so before her first class.

Sedna figured she had two choices. She could leave her belongings in the locker without a lock and trust that no one would bother it. Or she could bring a small backpack with her, jam all her stuff into it, and leave it at the side of the pool so it was within eyesight as she swam. “I particularly didn’t want to leave my wallet with credit cards in it unlocked since I’d recently had someone try to use my credit card without my permission,” Sedna wrote.

But Sedna was concerned that bringing her stuff to the side of the pool rather than leave it in a locker would send the message to instructors and other members that she didn’t trust them. “Is it wrong to be extra cautious even if that might send the wrong message?” asked Sedna.

On a practical level, if it’s her credit cards Sedna is only worried about, she might consider taking them out of her wallet and leaving them home while she is at the gym. She already has paid her membership and unless she’s planning to make credit card purchases on her way to and from the gym she really doesn’t need it. It also makes sense not to wear any jewelry she doesn’t intend to wear while swimming. If she takes off a piece of jewelry while changing to swim and it goes missing, she might not know if the jewelry was stolen from her locker or simply misplaced. Again, aside from trying to look spiffy, there’s no real reason to have to wear expensive jewelry to the gym. In other words, until Sedna remembers to get a lock for her locker, she should do what she can to minimize her worry.

The right thing, however, is for Sedna to do what gives her the most comfort. If the gym allows its members to leave backpacks at the side of the pool and on this first outing doing so would ease Sedna’s mind, she should do that. Trying to guess what message that would send to others is just that, a guessing game. Others are just as likely to give it no thought at all. But Sedna does know that doing so would give her comfort, so she should trust her own sense of comfort. And on the way home she should stop at her local hardware store and pick up a lock.

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, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


No comments: