Everyday Ethics

Raise your hand if you’re familiar with  Chances are, there’s one that serves your community.  And it’s extremely handy for job listings, housing, dating, selling your old crap or buying new old crap.

Really, it’s ingenious. 
But why’s it also so darn discouraging?  As great as it is for selling your car or finding a roommate, it’s also astonishingly chock-full of scam artists, sleaze balls and assorted other unsavory elements – from the criminal to the just plain kinky.
Honestly, what Craigslist says about us humans as a whole really makes me shake my head. Take just a few moments to peruse the ‘services’ offered or the ‘casual encounters’ section, and your eyes may pop. Tales also abound of robbery schemes set up through the site, rip-offs, hook-ups, prostitution and etc.  The bigotry, ignorance, and, heck, just generally appalling grammar casually displayed on some of the discussion forums (like ‘rants and raves’) will make you want to flee to Timbuktu and change your name – unless they’ve already got a branch there too.  (So far as I know, CL hasn’t spread to Mali yet.)
In my own experience buying and selling stuff, I’ve seen just how thoughtlessly people behave toward one another when their only connection is through the internet.  I discussed this issue before in my post about blog commenting courtesy, but I believe it bears another mention.
Let me give an example: 

So, I’m of the ethos that if you don’t like your meal, you send it back. It’s how I was raised, and I don’t have any sense of shame about that. When you pay for something, you should get your money’s worth. 

HOWEVER, I also believe there’s a polite way to do it, and a wrong way.
Sometimes I don’t manage to do it the polite way.
Today I accepted delivery of a piece of furniture, and, guess what? It arrived badly scratched.  I’m afraid I freaked out a little bit. I was standing out in the freezing cold, trying to communicate with the truck driver, who did not speak my language very well, that I was unhappy and that the damage was unacceptable. Turned out, the people I needed to complain to weren’t the delivery guys but the original shippers. But before I figured that out, I was a bit curt with the guys. Not mean, not nasty, but not exactly cordial either. After all, they had wanted to drop the damn thing off a block away and make me drag it home from the curb, which wasn’t exactly what I signed up for. Had I not demanded they do the right thing, they would have left me completely in the lurch. Still, I didn’t like getting all up in their grilles, so to speak.
I’d prefer to be a master of decorum and serenity all the time. I want to always treat people with kindness and understanding. But there are times when, in the heat of a moment, I don’t find that easy. I ended up emailing a very strongly worded, yet reasonable letter to the shipper, who promised to rectify matters. Let’s hope he does, because I really hate confrontation, but I’m not afraid to stand up for myself either.
How about you? Are you afraid to make a stink, or are you comfortable with confrontation?
Subscribe to receive updates from Everyday Ethics or follow us on Twitter!

Holiday Tip.jpgOy Vey. It’s that time again. The time when we’ve got to open our wallets and dole out a fistful of hard-earned cash to the service workers who make our lives run smoothly all year round. The postal carrier. The building superintendant. Your kid’s babysitter.

But what if you make less than they do?

The building where I live has 14 tip-hungry employees. I know because they send around a card to all the tenants, carefully listing all of their names – and their job titles – so we’ll know who to remunerate and at what level on the tipping etiquette hierarchy to do so.

I’m lucky to live where I live, and I wholeheartedly appreciate the work done by the building crew. They’re some of the nicest, most responsible and hard-working guys around. Yet, paying a decent gratuity to each of them takes a huge chunk out of my funds just when I need money most to treat my own family to a pleasant holiday. Honestly the whole practice makes me – and I’m not proud of this – just a bit resentful.

After all, I pay a monthly maintenance fee to cover their salaries, and that is difficult enough for me to scrape up. The economy’s hit hard, and I know for a fact that I earn roughly half of what the building guys do. So, do I still have to cough up the cash? And if so, how much, and how do I do it with panache? 

Emily Post’s website has some great etiquette for holiday tipping. Or you can find more concrete adivce on holiday tipping (including suggested amounts) at MSNBC or a whole host of other sites. But here are my own ideas for tipping with an ethical slant:

First, ditch the Scrooge attitude. Tip generously and tip freely, or don’t tip at all. Whoever instituted the practice of paying holiday gratuities may need to be taken out back to the shed, but now that it’s here, it’s here to stay. People expect it, they consider it a snub if you don’t do it, and may wonder if you think they’ve given bad service if you don’t acknowledge them in some fashion. Plus, some folks really rely on their holiday bonuses – since the system is institutionalized now, a lot of times salaries are adjusted lower with the expectation that employees will receive an end-of-the-year bump. So, when I’m feeling resentful, I just need to suck it up and deal. Being ungracious or stingy will only make me feel small and petty – and BE small and petty – whereas tipping with an open heart as well as an open wallet will spread goodwill.

Second, get creative. If you’re low on moolah, why not make something like cookies or holiday ornaments that don’t cost a lot but may be appreciated (nearly) as much? Each year I set aside a day to bake huge batches of my famous gingersnaps and package them all up carefully into holiday gift bags, with ribbons and all. Maybe my doorman would prefer $50, but if I can’t swing that, maybe $20 and a side of yummy treats will still show I appreciate his work. 

Be thoughtful. My husband and I usually spend a good amount of time composing cards to all the folks on our tip list. Who knows if they can read our crappy handwriting or if they even care what we have to say, but I like to think it means something to thank them individually and personally, and let them know I noticed the special attentions they’ve shown me over the year. 

Relax. A lot of people tip out of fear (as a great New York Times article from a few years back discussed), believing their super or plumber or massuese (yeah, right!) or garbage collector will retaliate with bad service or a sullen attitude if they don’t. Being held hostage to today’s tipping expectations is no fun, but it’s my belief that most people aren’t that sinister. Also, you’re free to tip year-round, for individual services, rather than handing out one lump sum at a time when it’s tough to scrape up that much cash for multiple recipients.

Lastly, ride the good karma. Research the going rates, crunch the numbers, and see what you can afford and what you WANT to afford. Consult your gut as well as your finances, and act accordingly. But in the end, just know money’s never as important as making people happy and ensuring a smooth transition into the coming year. Enjoy the feeling of having done the right thing, rather than focusing on what it costs you. It’s advice I’m taking. Maybe in the process, my too-small heart will grow a size or two.

How do you handle holiday tipping?

Subscribe to receive updates from Everyday Ethics or follow us on Twitter!


One of our regular
commenters, Steve Allen, recently wrote the following in response to Paddy’s post about buying the gender of your child:

To my way of thinking, we are EITHER
accidental accumulations of atoms, and our actions and experiences are without
moral weight, OR “faith” as you put it, (ie that we were created by
God) has a place, and our actions and experiences do matter.

I cannot see the logic of the person who
asserts both that we evolved from the primordial soup and that we have any
moral obligations to anyone at all.

Personally, I am of the latter view –
that we are ultimately accountable to the god who created us – and that means I
would always let him choose the gender of my children, and that I’m pro-life.
That’s because I believe he knows better than I do.

I just had to respond, as I think this is one of the biggest and best questions this blog can address. First, Steve, I thank
you for your thoughtful and ongoing contributions. Second, I heartily disagree.
I’ll explain my reasoning below, but first I’d like to encourage other readers
of this blog to weigh in, since this is such a central issue in the theory of ethics. I would
really like to hear some other thoughts on the topic.

For myself, I see
ethics as easily separable from religion. Steve argues, if I’m understanding him aright, that we are accountable
ultimately to God, and that that is the only true source of our morality and moral
obligations. Without a supreme being, our actions are meaningless: ‘without moral weight’. If we are accidental, we have no need to concern ourselves with ethics.

I would argue, on the contrary, that our accountability to our fellow humans quite
suffices to encourage our desire to behave in ways that ensure society functions
properly. But more than that, I believe it’s in our nature as humans to want to
do good (as well as bad).