Picking Up New Boots at a Party

The Ethicist column in the Sunday New York Times generally has questions about racist neighbors, landlords, etc. or roofers who have Confederate flags on their trucks. My favorite was the politically incorrect landlord that the tenant did not want to do anything about because the landlord was giving them a smokin’ deal on rent. The description sounded as if (because there was only one mailbox between landlord and tenant) there were zoning and housing ordinances being disregarded by the politically incorrect landlord to the benefit of the politically correct tenant (who did not want to rock the low-rent boat).

Then there are the family squabbles about who should pay for what. These are questions from lost souls seeking an ethics guru’s imprimatur for not helping some family member who is sick, broke, or both. The helpless they do not want to help are always helpless because of their own actions, decisions, obnoxiousness. The question-asker always details the flaws of the helpless.

Finally, there are the, “Should I tell them?” questions. You have a middle-school girl writing to see if she should disclose that her friends cheated on yet another one of those tests for admission to a highfalutin public school in New York City. This group includes disclosure angst to cheatees about cheaters: affairs of parents, best friends, teachers, and roofers who have Confederate flags on their trucks.

However, last Sunday there was a novel question. The teen daughter of the ethically inquiring mind had gone to a friend’s birthday party. The friend is Asian, and the party-goers followed the custom of removing shoes at the doorway. When the inquiring mind’s daughter was leaving the party she discovered that her boots were missing. Some scoundrel had traded up from the assortment of shoes and gone home in a quasi-new pair of boots. Nancy Sinatra warned us that boots were made for walking.

The Ethicist fan assured us that she would not demand payment for the boots for the hosts, so as to preserve her daughter’s friendship. Those of you with an ounce of graciousness should breathe a sigh of relief here. However, she wondered if it would be right to hold the hosts responsible for the theft. The Ethicist postured that the hosts were negligent for not having some form of check-in system for all the shoes. Wouldn’t that be a fun greeting? But he added, the hosts were negligent with their own stuff. If you invite people to parties in your home without any form of screening you risk things beyond boots in the doorway being pilfered.

Some of us still have faith in mankind (used in the anthropomorphic sense here). We open our homes and shoe deposits at our doors with faith that people will do the right thing and leave in their own shoes. If you want the thrill of wearing shoes that carry someone else’s smells and body oils, try bowling. Sometimes we are wrong about mankind (disclaimer here again). However, the Barometer would not be above posting copies of a photo of the boots around the school with a caption, “Seen these? If so, call this number.” Sometimes disclosure and enforcement improve mankind’s behavior going forward.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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