Exit Ramp: Do the right thing

Exit Ramp: Do the right thing

It was a Tuesday morning, about 8:30 a.m., and I headed off to work in my blue Honda as I usually do. I turned into the office parking lot, and noticed that a vehicle was already parked in the spot that I ordinarily take. No problem, I thought, and quickly found another space close by.

I backed up slowly into the spot between two other cars. Suddenly I heard a bump.

I exited my car, and saw a wooden guardrail behind the car, which I figured I must have tapped. I checked my bumper; fortunately, there was no damage to the car. However, when I looked again at the wooden rail, I noticed that it was split right in the middle.

That’s strange, I thought. I didn’t think I was moving fast enough to split the wooden barrier. And from the sound, it didn’t seem like I had split the wooden rail, either. But the evidence was clear — the wooden rail had a large crack in its center — and I knew I had to report the accident.

I made my way to a small corner office by the lobby where I was greeted by a middle-aged man behind the maintenance desk. “May I help you?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “I’d like to report some damage that unfortunately occurred this morning in the parking lot, for which I’m responsible.”

I proceeded to tell him the details of the incident, and exactly where the parking spot was located. I gave him my license number and insurance information, along with my phone number, and assured him that I would pay any costs associated with repairing the damage. The man told me that he would be in touch.

As I was leaving the office, he said, “You know, there were likely no witnesses. You probably could have ignored the incident and not reported it, and nobody would have known.”

I answered, “Yes, that’s true. But it just wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.” He smiled, and I headed to my office to begin the workday, albeit on a sour note.

I made myself a cup of coffee and read through all of the emails in my inbox before heading to a morning meeting. When I returned to my office, there was a phone message from the maintenance man downstairs — he needed to speak with me.

Expecting the worst in terms of what the incident was going to cost me, I went down to the maintenance office again. The man who I had seen earlier that morning was behind the desk.

“Mr. Feldstein,” he said. “We checked the wooden rail behind the parking spot that you described. It was indeed split, exactly as you said. But I looked back at our records, and I found out that this particular wooden rail had already been split before today. You didn’t create the damage. Someone else who chose not to report the incident had damaged the wooden rail earlier.”

I was relieved about not having to pay for the damage, and was also reassured in my original belief that the contact I had made with the rail was not strong enough to split the wood.  

“Thank you for your time,” I said. And I began walking out of the office.

And then I stopped.

I remembered a maxim in Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers”: “One good deed will bring about another good deed.” Although there are multiple interpretations, one way of understanding this sentence is that by witnessing a good deed being done by another, an individual will be more likely to follow in that path.

“You know, you didn’t have to tell me that somebody else damaged that rail,” I said to the man. “You could have simply given me an estimate on repairing the rail. I would have paid for it, and you would have been able to get a brand-new guard rail for that parking space.”

The man responded, “Yes, that’s true. But it just wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.”

We both smiled at each other. And for a very brief moment — at least in an office complex in Stamford, Conn. — everything seemed exactly right with the world.

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