Lately, I’ve started questioning the point of being a good person, doing the right thing, and playing by the rules.
There was a quick workshop on “Incivility in the Workplace” a few weeks ago, in which the take-home message was “civility breeds civility” – namely, that it is up to me to make the workplace, and indeed the world, delightful in every way I can, and in return, I can expect that others will follow suit.
Here’s the problem:
That doesn’t work.
We bought a house six years ago. Four months later, when the basement flooded and the cleanup crew discovered the extent of black mold under the laminate and on the freshly-painted (by the seller) drywall, the rust under the freshly-painted (by the seller) metal studs, they informed us that the mold was a pre-existing condition, that water had been coming in for a very long time, and people that paint metal studs have something to hide. The insurance company didn’t cover most of the damages, because it was a pre-existing condition. So, the seller lied, repeatedly, and we not only exposed two very young children (4 months and 21 months) to a known hazardous substance, but lived in chaos and clutter* with four, then five of us sharing the 800-sq-ft above ground, while spending a lot of money in decontaminating/remediating the mold, excavating and sealing the foundation, then refinishing the basement.** We thought about it, and decided that, no, it wasn’t right. The seller had lied. He had lied and covered up the problem with paint, and caveat emptor SHOULDN’T apply. We did our due diligence and got screwed. We attempted a civil action, which settled (6 years and $20K of legal fees later) out of court for $1000.
We had tenants in our condo that promised not to smoke inside. They were an older couple who demanded a 5-year lease, broke things, verbally abused me every time I called, because she thought I suspected her of smoking in the unit, and she had promised not to. She ended up damaging a large area of our laminate flooring (which they covered with a rug so that we couldn’t see it for a year or two), breaking appliances and plumbing fixtures, and, after our final disagreement -- in which the fridge broke and we offered coolers the same day, had it replaced it within 2 days, and offered to compensate them $100 for the food that spoiled, to which she screamed at me that she had at least $300 worth of filet mignon and shrimp in the freezer, then told Chris in front of the kids that I was a F%&* B%&* -- then decided to give her 60 days’ notice 45 days before she vacated. From that time, she smoked so much inside the master bedroom that the ceiling yellowed and stained… We had a legal lease, and a verbal agreement that no smoking was allowed. She claims that the water damage to the flooring was “normal wear and tear”, and that the dishwasher was still working when she left, contrary to the burnt plastic spatula we found fused to the spinny part of it on her move-out. We followed the rules. In return, I had stress-to-the-point of nausea every time I had to deal with her, and am left with severely damaged property. I have lost faith that a civil action would do anything, and I have no interest in trying again.
People at work – SO many people – don’t do their jobs. They don’t want to one aspect or another of it, so they pretend that they don’t know how, or that they don’t want to make a mistake. And they get away with it. They bend the rules and try to get as much from their “entitlements” as they can out of their employer, even if it’s not ethical.
More than usual, lately, I’m noticing that people are rude. They’re mean. They take advantage. They are belligerent and fight back when their unreasonable demands are declined. How can I teach my kids to follow our examples of following the rules and being the bigger person, when most of the time, we seem to be the only ones following the rules and being bigger? Why should I bother?
So, yesterday… I sort of gave up. I gave in and made a bad choice, in the theme of “why shouldn’t I benefit as well”? Why not try to take advantage of a system that other people successfully exploit?
And I got called out.
And I felt terrible.
And I couldn’t sleep last night.
Although it was a small thing, a leave request that was mostly on the up-and-up -- but not completely – in submitting it, I compromised my integrity and my belief in following the rules and doing the right thing: my character. And someone I respect saw me do it. I have (probably) forever damaged our relationship, and her view of me, and if I haven’t, I’ve done it in my head, anyway. I feel sick about it. I have damaged my perception of myself, and I feel guilty and terrible, the way I felt when I stole a dime from my dad’s piggy bank when I was five. Even before he knew I had taken it (and he never called me out, even though I knew he knew), I felt shaky, sick. I didn’t come clean, but I immediately offered to give him one of mine to try to make it better, already knowing that I couldn’t make it better, because I did something wrong and he knew that I was so flawed, so bad, that I would steal. And maybe he didn’t know, but I knew, and that was the same feeling.
So, there it is. That’s why I do the right thing, why I always try to be a good person.
Last year, I did a really good thing. A shout-out-loud, “I’m a good person, dammit!” kind of thing, and I joked throughout that I was doing it because I needed the karma, because really, I’m a terrible person.
I know that I’m not “terrible”. But I think, truly, I’m only a good person because doing the wrong thing feels so, so terrible. Does that still count?
And how can I pass this on to my kids?
And how can I pass this on to my kids?
* moreso than usual, that is
** thanks, Dad! You're the best basement-finisher/Captain Grammar I know. And the basis of my entire moral compass – I am your fault. Also, I owe you a dime.