Prolific commenter johnburger2013 issued this epic two days ago, but I confess, I didn’t have a chance to read it until today.Knowing john and his work, I expected to be impressed, and I was.
This is one of my favorite genres of comment: the personal ethics odyssey with fearless self-evaluation. Such comments require bravery, honesty, and objectivity, and the author displays all of these here. This comment is especially helpful to me today, for I am going over a confrontation I had today during a seminar that left me annoyed and questioning my response.
Ethics audits of an episode, a day, a relationship, a crisis, a problem or a life are invaluable tools on the way to building a more ethical approach to human existence. I encourage everyone to do what johnburger2013 does here as frequently as they can. If you are willing to share it with us, I will be grateful.
Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, From The Ethics Alarms “It’s NOT Okay To Be White?” Files: The Blacks-Only Opinion Section:
Alright, Ethics Alarmers. I must declare that I had one miserable weekend. Apropos of absolutely nothing, and related to nothing on this post, I thought I would relate the weekend’s experiences, simply to show that Ethics Alarms is having a positive impact on your humble correspondent. This is long, so bear with me.
It all began this past Friday evening. Our son is 13, in eighth grade, and is considering high school choices. The top three are Catholic, and the main differences are the cultures within the schools. The top two choices are all-boy schools, one Jesuit and one Basilian. The other is co-ed. Great schools. Friday night’s descent into madness began with a declaration that the Basilian school is his preferable choice to the Jesuit, resulting in a very strange argument, with hurt feelings, confusion, chaos, and shouting (handled very well by little ol’ me, oh yes, indeed! Sheesh.). On an ethics scale, my handling of the situation is still being calculated as it has passed more than -3500 on the Kelvin Scale of Absolute Stupidity, perhaps setting a new world record.
Anger and recriminations festered until the next morning. I took The Boy to his HSPT prep class. Ah, yes. The exalted HSPT. The all-important, all-consuming, all-destructive HSPT upon which the entire fate of humanity rests. Discussions en route to the class included such observations as, “Great! You left your notebook at home. That shows real organization skills and concern for you to do well, son.” Ethics Score: 2.9, or possibly a 3, if you discount the yellow-to-red light I rolled through.
Then, I returned to home to get some stuff done before picking The Boy up from the class. I was already on edge, and discovered that the pooch had decided to enjoy some of my wife’s lovely tree ornaments and left the resulting elation in shreds in the middle of the living room. That lead to a stern pooch reprimand. Considering that his mind is simply a buzz with constant low-level static, he wagged his tail and asked for a treat. Considering the torn apart ornament, he did not get a cookie. Ethics Score: 6, as I realized that he is still a puppy, the red-coated Santa ornament looked an awful lot like his favorite stuffed jalapeño toy, and was hanging in the perfect spot so he couldn’t resist the temptation.
Aggravated by having to fix a door latch, which took longer than I expected, and cleaning up the destroyed ornament, and a host of other nuisances, I was late picking up The Boy, well, by 2 minutes and nobody was annoyed. The trip to get him though, completely fails to register on the Ethics Score Board because of the many cursings and deleted expletives still echoing in my car. Rush’s “Hemispheres” could not fix that problem. Wow.
After leaving school, I had to get new screws for the door latch. That is when things got really ugly. Mind you, all of this happened between 8:30 am and 12;30 pm. A mere four hours. See? Awful.
I intended to go a local hardware store to get larger flat-headed wood screws and sanding paper to fix the mess I made on the door’s frame. A ten minute drive took well over 30 minutes because of traffic (horrendous), bad drivers (way too many), incessant stop lights (why can’t they be synchronized to ensure traffic flow?!), and already frayed nerves. Now, this hardware store is where you go to get things you won’t find in big stores, and is generally a wonderful experience (except for that damn parrot that shrieks when I walk by, but that is a different story), and the employees are wonderful. For some reason, the entire city of Houston, Texas, decided to be in the store and the same time. I needed two screws and two anchors. Is that too much to ask? They remodeled since the last time I was in the store and moved everything around so I couldn’t find the screw section. The aisle markers hadn’t been changed so I was wandering around looking for screws. I give the store a two-point deduction for that.
At this point, I am no longer rational. I asked a fellow who I believed worked at the store where the screws were. He couldn’t tell because he didn’t work there. I hang my ethics head in shame at my response. I was rude, inconsiderate, and terribly unkind to this man, who was as pleasant as a person could be. I was completely in the wrong. He did not deserve my response. But, I was too committed to being a tool to stop. I walked away in disgust, and then found the damn screws and anchors, which I bought. Then, it dawned on me: I insulted a man with no justification. I had to make it right. Ethics Score: Zero. F-.
I searched the store for the man, and upon seeing him, I could tell he was thinking, “Here comes that jerk.” I approached him, and said, “Sir. I need to apologize to you. I was terribly rude to you and you did not deserve it. I sincerely apologize for my behavior. I am having a bad day and I took it out on you without any justification. Hope I haven’t ruined your day. Please accept my apology.” His response: Instead of giving me a much-deserved tongue lashing and possibly a kick in the ethics backside, he said, “Apology accepted. I could tell you were not having a good day. I hope your day gets better.” His Ethics Score: A+. My response: “Sir, you are very kind and I truly appreciate your considerate response.” We shook hands, and smiled, him patting me on the back, reassuring me that “this, too, will pass.” A very nice fellow.
My Ethics Apology: I hope a 1, especially because I resolved to settle down and reevaluate my behavior, which I did. My nerves mended and I was less agitated for the rest of the day. That evening, in the confessional, I confessed my terrible conduct especially to my wife, son, and that poor-unsuspecting hardware fellow. The priest gave me advice, absolution, and penance. Which I did.
Then, Sunday, I decided that I would begin the day with a different outlook, especially after eating my wife’s incredibly tasty French toast. Whoa. I worked in the flower beds, trying to tackle that confounded vine-weed thing that keeps covering my gardenias. Man, that is a hardy weed. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I tried to trim my bougainvillea but they would have none of it and scratched the bejesus out of my hands (I didn’t mind because I know they like to fight back and I was prepared to suffer).
I realized I needed topsoil and grass to fill in holes left by the pooch, so I went to Home Depot, which did not have grass. I bought my dirt and went to the upscale garden spot to see if they had grass (they didn’t as it is not the season) and/or azaleas to recommission my flower beds (they only had 2 gallon azaleas which are too small for my needs, to be reassured they will have more in mid-January and on sale). Satisfied, I decided to purchase some poinsettias because my long-suffering wife loves them.
The cashier rang up my purchase but knocked one over and the stems broke. She was kind and apologetic and told me to get another one. A nice Sunday then went weird. This conversation transpired:
She: “I am sorry! I damaged this one. You can get another one to replace it.”
Me: “Yeah, sure.” (pleasantly and not snarky, by any means – she was nice).
She: “That’s, ‘yes, ma’am.’”
She: “I’m a woman. You said, ‘Yessir.” (Now, she is mid-to-late-teens-early-twenties, tops, attractive, with short hair, dressed in the store’s uniform, African-American, and obviously female.)
Me: “I know you’re female. I didn’t say, ‘yessir.’. I said, ‘Yeah, sure’, about getting another poinsettia.”
She: Adamantly, “No, you said, ‘Yessir’ and I am a woman.”
Me: “I got that. I didn’t say, ‘Yessir’. I am from Ohio, and I would have said, ‘yeppers’ or ‘yup’, not ‘yessir’ to a woman.”
She: “Sir, you said, ‘yessir’. I know what I heard.”
Me: “You think you heard, ‘yessir’ because of the noise from that fan, the children running around and gushing over your Christmas displays, but I absolutely did not say what you think I said.”
She: Defiantly, “Yes, you did.”
Me: “You know what, young lady? This is a pointless conversation. We can keep this up and I will call your manager over to discuss this, if you want. I suggest I go replace me poinsettia and leave. Otherwise, is it going to get really unpleasant, which neither one of us wants or needs. You choose.”
She: Angrily. “Fine. You can get your poinsettia.”
Me: “Oh. Okay. Thanks. Well, not really. I am not pleased by this conversation. You took a comment as an insult which did not occur. You are incorrect and in the wrong. I think you should apologize.”
She: Begrudgingly, “Oh, I’m sorry. Have nice day.”
Me: “Thanks, even though I know you don’t mean it. Take care.”
I left, loaded my poinsettias, turned on Rush’s “Hemispheres” and drove home.
Ethics Score Board: She: 3 as she was inappropriate and rude and really did not want to apologize.
Me: 8 or 9, because I didn’t back down or capitulate for a perceived slight, I didn’t get angry or escalate the situation but stood my ground (probably unnecessarily, but . . .).