Long story, short. I was trying out for a job at a school and it went great…right up until I pulled out of my parking spot and “rubbed bumpers” with a parked car. And not just any car. The principal's car. Calgon, take me away.

Thankfully, there wasn't any significant damage. No dents or buckling. A couple scratches in the paint just above left bumper. I took out my cell phone and took a few pictures, wrote down the make and model of the car along with the license plate number, then started to pull around to the front of the school to go in and confess my crime. As I drove through the parking lot, I noticed that it was completely devoid of people. No one was else was around too see what had happened. For a flashing moment, the thought occured to me that I could simply leave. My own van has the marks and scrapes to prove that people “hit and run” all the time. I actually chuckled outloud a little as the fleeting thought concluded. “Are you kidding me? I can't even walk out of the bank with the teller's pen without going back in to return it.” I went in to the school, told the receptionist what happened, gave her my contact info and asked if she could send out a bulk email to the school staff since I didn't know who's car it was that I'd hit. Three days later, I heard from the principal. How lovely.

Aside from the frustration and aggravation that always come along when you're mad at yourself for accidently doing something stupid and want to knock yourself in the head, I've found myself frustrated with the prinicpal as well, even though the incident was completely my own fault. She wasn't even in her car. She wants it fixed, along with a rental car to use while her car is in the shop getting touched up. Is that unreasonable? No, it really isn't. So what's my beef?

Flashback to two seperate incidents when I got “dinged” in parking lots. (What's the deal with parking lots, anyway?) On one occasion, a woman accidently backed into me and in the other a little girl swung her car door open a little fast and heavily and sent it slamming in to the side of my van.

In both cases the women were extremely apologetic and offered to exchange information, but in each instance I told them not to worry about it. With the first I had a two or three inch black streak on my paint and the other left a “ding” in my door and the paint was scratched off. No big deal. I wasn't worried about it, so why would I make them pay for something, or have their insurance rate go up over something so insignificant?

My “issue” with the principal whose car paint I messed up isn't simply “I didn't make other people pay for damage to my car, therefore she shouldn't make me pay for damage to hers.” That would be silly. Just because I offered mercy, doesn't mean she has to do the same. And more pertinent to the issue I'm addressing, how I handle business shouldn't impose any requirement on her part to handle her business the same way I handle mine.

It isn't about comparing the way she's handling this incident to the way I handled mine, nor is it even a matter of offering mercy, but rather, comparing her to herself.

I'd be interested in knowing the answers to these questions.

If a friend of hers was visiting at her house (or her husband, mother, or a driving child) and dinged her car while backing out of the driveway, causing the exact same damage that I did, would she go through the hassle of doing a walk-in report to the police, gather insurance information and insist the driver pay for it or would she dismiss the scratch without a thought and tell them not worry about it—no big deal? If so, then why would she treat a stranger differently? Does the damage only become an important and a necessary fix if it's caused by a stranger?

If she was backing out of her own driveway and hit her mailbox, causing the same damage to her own car (this just happened to a sister in our ward), would she contact her insurance and go through the expense to take the car in to have the paint fixed and pay for a rental car while her car was in the shop or would she just be frustrated at herself for not paying close enough attention and leave the minor paint scratch as is? If the damage was insignificant enough that it wouldn't be worth the expense or frustration of having it fixed, then how is it suddenly “significant and worth it” just because someone else did it?

Same questions if it was her son who caused the scratch mark with the handle bars of his bike.

I've been thinking about this for a couple weeks now, and I still can't find the word to describe what I'm questioning. Is it integrity? I'm not sure. But when I think back on the incidents where people have damaged my car, the reason I didn't make them pay for the damage is because I wouldn't pay for it myself if I'd caused it myself. It's not that important to me to spend money on it, and I feel like asking them to pay for something that's unimportant enough that I wouldn't pay for myself if I'd caused the damage myself isn't exactly “honest.” (And I'm not sure that that is the right word to use, either.) Additionally, in both cases it seemed, at least from appearances, neither of the people were well off. Their cars were clearly old and not in the best shape. So even though the “dings” were their fault and they were willing to take responsibility, why would I burden them with the cost when I wouldn't burden myself with it if I'd caused the damage myself, even if I was wealthy?

To be clear on my point, if the damage was significant, then things might be different. If my son had broken a window when he ran his bike into the van in our driveway, the yes, I would have paid to have that fixed. I need the window. Similarly, if a friend accidently backed into my car and it was enough force to break out a window (or if either of my previous parking lot incidents would have ended up with a broken window), then I'd have expected them to cover the cost either out of pocket or through their insurance. Having the window is important enough that I'd pay the cost myself if I or my son had accidently broken it. So if someone else caused it, I'd expect the responsible party to pay for it.

When I was discussing these thoughts with my husband, he posed an interesting question. He thought maybe my issue was partly due to the fact that I'm a woman to whom cars and their body condition simply aren't important. “Let me put it this way,” he said. “What if we were talking about your piano instead of a car?” Ahhhhhh, good one.

I admit right up front that someone scratching my piano would hurt me more than scratching the paint on my car—that's a given. But that's besides the point, because the philosophy remains the same for me. There are marks on my piano. A couple dings from kids I was babysitting sending toys flying into it's legs, another one from the move to the new house, along with some paint overspray from when we were getting the old house ready for the market. In an attempt to help me out with the painting (since my husband was usually at work while I was working on the house), he surprised me by painting the living room ceiling while I was out at a Relief Society meeting. Unfortunately, he forgot to cover my piano, so my lovely, “almost cherry”-stained piano has little white dots all over the top of it. They're so small that you can't really see them unless you're right next to it and really look at the finish, but everytime I dust I cringe a little. The point though, is that those little flecks of paint are still there because I don't have the nerve to use any kind of abrasive material to scratch them off and I don't want to spend the money to have it refinished. And had a friend been helping me by painting my ceiling for me, I wouldn't make them pay for it either. Neither would I ever charge anyone for the dings their children put into it.

On the other hand, if one of my children took a baseball to my keyboard and broke the keys and some weren't sounding, then yes, I'd pay to have that fixed. And similarly, I'd expect the parent of a child I was babysitting to cover the cost if their child was the one wielding the bat.

So, back to the principal's car—yes, we're getting it fixed for her. And I want to be clear that I do admit that I was 100% at fault, which is why I immediately went into the school to claim responsibility.

As a person who tries my best to live with the highest level of integrity and moral character, I don't begrudge being held accountable for my mistakes. On my end, I'm making sure the principal's very reasonable request for repairs and a substitute vehicle during the time her car is in the shop, are being honored. I'll feel very confidant that I've handled the situation with integrity.

On her end however, despite the fact that her desire for the repairs is reasonable, I wonder if any of the questions I posed have even entered her mind. Maybe they have. And maybe she would make her mother pay for the scratched paint on her car, if her mother had been the one to “rub bumpers” with her. If that's the case, then “touche” on me.