Friday, January 05, 2007

To pay or not to pay?

That is not even a question. I was having breakfast in Durham this afternoon with two friends on our way back from Sunderland, where we went out last night with Lav and Laura. I can't name the two friends, because to do so may harm one of their reputations when I say what I'm about to say. We've all seen the national witch hunts that can result from hysterical News of The World-style 'naming and shamings', and I wouldn't want anything similar to result from Never In All My Life.

Having devoured my nice, warm BLT baguette (replete with tea for one), the bill arrived and it transpired that our waitress had only charged us for two of them instead of three. Without hesitation, myself and Person 'J' said that we would tell her of the mistake. But an interjection from Person 'W' claimed it would be a foolish move to do so, along the lines of some flimsy rationale that it was the cafe's mistake and incompetence that led to the shortfall, and wasn't our problem. As it happened, the waitress realised her mistake and brought over an extra receipt while we were discussing the matter.

I've had arguments on points like this on numerous occasions when similar things have happened in recent years. Of course, as imperfect humans, the temptation to just get up and leave without paying what you owe is there for us all. We could use the money for personal treats, such as packets of Chewits or Kim Tate action figures. But it's a task and should be a duty to do what you know is the right thing. It's not about wishy washy 'morality', a goody-two-shoes act, or taking the high ground. I just think that we've got so little control over our human makeup and 'natural instincts', and when these rare opportunities arise in life that we can actually positively exert our character through learned principles of fairness and honesty, we should take them. Nobody is perfect, and we've all done things we probably shouldn't have in the past, and will again in the future. I think it's different when you know what the right thing to do is, and just choose not to do it. Anybody remotely interested in the advancement and evolution of the human species would've willingly paid for that bloody baguette.

This example is obviously very small-fry in the grand scheme of things, and I'll admit the tone of this post is slightly tongue-in-cheek. I said I'd name and shame Person 'W' on here, but then decided I wouldn't. And then decided I would again. But it's about a wider principle for me. Living our lives honestly and fairly - at least to the best of our capabilities - will serve us all well in the long run. It really is the best policy. Otherwise, the temporary and fleeting gains we're rewarded with are easily outweighed by a long-term realisation that you're a real bastard deep down.

Money cant buy back your youth when youre old
A friend, when youre lonely, or peace to your soul.
The wealthiest person is a pauper at times
Compared to the man with a satisfied mind.


Blogger Toby said...

It's all about scale. Who are you cheating out of this money.

Upon exit of a large cash and carry store, noticing on your receipt missed items.. do you return and confess.

Or receiving a delivery from a large supermarket chain confess to any erroneousness items included (a complementary packet of all bran for example)should you inform the supermarket (bearing in mind they may well be taking 1 in 8 pounds spent in the UK retail industry)?

Finally... upon leaving a small town corner shop and finding that two phone top up cards were stuck together for your purchase of a single one. Do you return and provide a useful and well run convenience store with the respect that they deserve for treating you as a human being.

January 08, 2007 12:26 pm  
Blogger Paddy said...

I can see how scale comes into it. And when you're in a small shop face to face with someone - a real human for instance - there's the added embarrassment factor thrown in.

But then again, I wouldn't go about spitting on the floor or defacating on the counter in major high street retailers but not the little shops. Some consistency of standards is needed.

January 08, 2007 6:55 pm  
Blogger Toby said...

Ah thats true, but I'm talking about whether your actions have specific human implications.

Someone in Tesco not swiping a banana correctly will not result in that specific workers quality of life reducing. Taking a banana from Verna or indeed Max (much beloved convenience store employees) would probably incur some wrath!

You could probably argue that it only exacerbates the faceless nature of large chains by grabbing all you can get and I agree, do as you would be done by etc. but sometimes I want a banana, right?

January 09, 2007 1:46 pm  
Blogger Paddy said...

I think the human factor can be overplayed though. It does make it worse if it affects a specific person (particularly Max or Verna, who no doubt get medieval beatings over the back of the sofa from Thandi Snr whenever the Drumsticks takings don't add up). For instance, In my example in Durham we were face to face with the woman and would've had to brazenly bid farewell to her knowing what we'd done. If I later realised I had an extra pack of All Bran from a shopping delivery I probably wouldn't act on it, truth be told. Too much effort. When you're there, and can do something about it, it's worse.

Or is it.

January 09, 2007 7:47 pm  
Anonymous Jess said...

A late edition to this debate, but I agree with Toby - it matters who is effected by your actions.

To throw another example onto the pile; this morning riding the bus to work, I paid my fare and reached into the compartment to collect my change. To my delight I felt piles of loose coins; the forgotten accumulated returns of previous passengers. Jackpot. However I had only moments, my fingers lingering within the compartment, to swiftly calculate that: By pocketing the money (easy & anonymous) I would be robbing either a) the bus company (already underfunded, yet reasonnably priced), b) the bus driver (seemed like a nice chap) or c) subsequent passengers almost certainly worse off than myself.

No contest, I left the money.

Had I been riding Virgin rail, Swansea-Paddingtion (an extortionately overpriced prosperous service) and encountered a similar situation, I would have taken the money, without moral dilemma, and considered it a personal victory!

January 11, 2007 5:36 pm  
Blogger Paddy said...

I'm not sure I've got fast enough cognitive processes to make such on the spot analyses in these situations. It's much quicker and easier to just decide to either be a thief or not a thief...!

January 11, 2007 9:12 pm  
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