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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Right Thing

Life is constantly presenting us with choices, sometimes benign ones which require no moral struggle but other times weighty and difficult choices that test our ethical limits.  Few of us can say with absolute conviction that we have always made the right choice.  To be human is to err, and even if we lean largely to the right side sometimes the right thing is not without pain for us or for others.


The other day we were faced with a choice, though not one we thought would require any moral handwringing.  Our geothermal heating system finally gave up the ghost after 22 years of loyal service.  We knew it was coming and that it would be costly to replace but were not quite prepared for just how much prices had risen over the last few years.  But as we had little choice in the matter, we reconciled ourselves to the expense and dutifully asked several firms to gives us a price to do the work.  We included two companies that had serviced our systems over the years, another that was recommended to us by a friend in the trade, and two others who specialized in the type of work we needed.  All the firms came out, evaluated our needs and submitted bids. 


We took pains to make sure the companies we solicited had the requisite knowledge to do the work. We told each firm that we had asked others to bid and made sure they were all working from the same information.  Three firms came in with almost identical bids—all at the lower end of the range.  Two were high—the highest almost $10,000 above everyone else.  We settled on a firm that had been extremely responsive, and knowledgeable.  They were also transparent with us, sharing information about the cost of the equipment which was more than half of the final price.  After we made our choice I called each vendor to thank them for their time and to let those whose bids we declined know we had chosen another firm.  All were unfailingly nice about it.  It is a small industry, and everyone seems to know each other.


When I called the high bidder, someone we had not known but who had connections to our family, (a discovery we made during the inspection), he was shocked at how far off his proposal was from the rest.  He had proposed a system that was top of the line, the Rolls Royce of systems. And there is little doubt in my mind that it would be reliable and efficient for years to come.  But not so efficient or so much better than the systems others had proposed that it would have paid for itself over the years we are likely to continue to live in this house.  These systems last a very long time, but we aren't as young as we once were.


What happened next, however goes to the heart of this post.  Our high bidder suggested he rebid, substituting different equipment, also efficient and reliable, at a price many thousands below the lowest bid.  I suspect he realized that he had misread the situation and wanted the business badly enough to essentially eliminate most of his profit. But whatever his reasoning he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.  Except we did. 

In the kindest way possible I explained that we had already awarded the work to another company and that we could not and would not go back on our word—even though the phone calls I had made that morning were less than an hour in the past and we had not signed a contract as of yet.  We were under no legal obligation and could have called our winning bidder back and explained the situation.  But we didn’t.  We talked, briefly and we both knew we had to do the right thing.  We declined the new offer and I hope parted on a respectful basis.


Sometime later, I spoke to the President of the company that is doing our work and prefacing my comments with the note that I was not looking to gain anything by relating what occurred I told him about what had transpired, reserving only the name of his competitor. His immediate reaction was, “most people would have taken the deal”. 


Now before anyone suggests I am telling this story to burnish our reputations, let me say that I don’t think we did anything special.  We did what anyone in our situation should have done, honored our word. We deserve no pats on the back for doing what was right.  And that is the point of this post.  The capacity for doing the right thing is within us all.  It is not always rewarded, we could have saved ourselves a lot of money, but we would have to look ourselves in the mirror and that was something neither of us was prepared to do had we reneged.


Most of the time we humans can recognize the right thing.  That doesn’t mean we make the right choice for a variety of reasons, vanity, greed, the desire for personal gain, the need for revenge, misplaced anger, resentment or hatred are among the reasons we cross the divide and do what we know or should know is wrong.


In our present day a lot of people are failing to make the right choices and doing so for all the wrong reasons. Justifying oneself becomes easier and easier once you go down this path.  A small slight leads to a larger and graver one until we are in so far we can no longer see right from wrong.


If you live long enough chances are good you’ll be faced with much tougher choices than I’ve described; hard, morally conflicting choices.  It isn’t my place to tell you what to do when confronted with such a situation.  You’ll have to search your own conscience, ask for guidance and counsel from those you trust and in the end vote with honor, with integrity and for the right thing for the right reasons.  This always rests on us individually. We cannot lay blame on parents, society, our preacher, or our religious convictions.  We can look only to our humanity—the one thing we share with the other 8.1 billion people who walk this earth. 


Some believe we will answer for our choices in another life, others do not.  I believe we will answer for our choices in this life. We can choose to make the world a better, more accepting, kinder and more peaceful place or a nuclear waste heap.  We can choose to love our neighbors as ourselves and mean it, or foster resentment and hatred for those who differ from us.  We can act out of fear, greed, or self-interest, or out of compassion, tolerance and kinship for our fellow human beings.  Choosing to do the right thing is never without consequence and I can live with that.

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