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.