Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Ethics of Asking for Favors

I had intended to go on the annual Bridgewalk over the Columbia River today.  A friend had offered me her ticket to walk; it's an official 10 k. run/walk from one side of the river to the other and I've wanted to do it.  I thought this would be my chance and was glad to take her up on it.  But when I read the brochure she gave me along with the instructions for picking up the ticket and t-shirt, it clearly stated "tickets are not transferable" and "anyone caught with a transferred ticket will not be allowed to return".

I called her and voiced my concerns but she wasn't particularly concerned.  She has done this walk several times and was pretty sure that the restriction was only for runners, that nobody would have a problem with my using her ticket.  She suggested that I just go and pick up the ticket and packet and do it in her name.  I didn't want to insult her generosity but I just couldn't do that.  I thanked her for offering the ticket and told her that I didn't feel I wanted to take the chance and I wasn't comfortable asking the race officials for an exception to the rule.

So I've been thinking about where that discomfort comes from, because it's something I've experienced before---from the other side.  As a school teacher and counselor, I always had to deal with kids and parents who wanted an exception to the rule.  It was hugely annoying to be asked to circumvent the scheduling policies and give a kid Ms. Soandso for algebra instead of Mr. Whozit.  Or to let a kid cut into the lunch line so that he could go to the band room sooner.  Or to ask Mr. Whozit to change a grade.

As a minister, too, I had to deal with people who wanted to circumvent a policy:  to hold a fundraiser which set aside a Finance committee policy; to re-join the congregation despite the turmoil s/he had caused when s/he was a member previously, despite the disruptive behavior and covenant of right relations; to move a child from one RE class to another to avoid someone.

There's always the standard answer:  if I let you do it, I'll have to let others do it.  Everyone hates to hear that old saw, but it's true.  One camel's nose under the tent and what have you got?  A herd of camels trompling on your stuffed dates, that's what.  And I can be funny about it here, but it's gotten me into difficulty in the past and has caused me to harden my heart about circumventing rules and policies.

And it's made me resistant to asking others to circumvent stated rules, to do me a favor, to give me special consideration.  Of course, this kinda backfired when our son was having struggles in school; we delayed asking for help for him until we were all going crazy trying to cope.

It can also get mixed up with my "strong woman" persona, the one that doesn't like to ask for help for any reason!  As I age, it gets harder and harder to justify.  I know that someday I will have to rely on others for my needs.  Perhaps I will start practicing that particular skill.  But next year I will apply for my own ticket to do the Bridgewalk!


Judy said...

There is no way this could have been a bad decision, Kit. Your conscience is clear, your ethics are unblemished, and (also worthy of consideration) you didn't have to make some race official feel guilty or upset because they were upholding the rules. Thanks for the reminder.

Lilylou said...

Thanks, Judy!

UU Clicker said...

If you make an exception for one person, who says you have to do it for all? Each case should be weighed in a compassionate human mind. This is why I favor judges over mandatory sentences.

Lilylou said...

Of course you're right, Clicker. There are many situations in which an exception can be made and compassion is the key. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I think there is some aspect of cultural background to it. Here in the US, we tend to go by the rules, or break the rules. In New Zealand, the rules are much softer, and it is accepted that the decisions are actually made on a case by case basis.
The first time I went to Canada, many years ago, I saw a speed limit sign in the harbor. If it had been in the US, it would have said "5 miles per hour", but in Canada it said, "Dead Slow". It is assumed you have good judgement.

Lilylou said...

Great comment, Anon, thanks.