≡ Menu

A Matter of Integrity– Maybe

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.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous June 20, 2011, 3:54 pm

    Sometimes when we are willing to fess up about the little things, people will want to take advantage of us. It is not always fair. It usually seems that it is a lot easier to be mad and upset with a stranger than it is with someone we know. Good luck!

  • Alison Moore Smith June 20, 2011, 5:42 pm

    I have a car that has more than one “ding” in it. Thanks to my student drivers. We decided not get them fixed — because none cause serious functional issues — until this batch of kids is out of the student driver phase and more reliable.

    OTOH, if someone outside of my family caused the damage, I would probably get it repaired, for a few reasons (below), or get the insurance money to cover the depreciation on the vehicle.

    1. Within my family, we often take responsibility for each other.
    2. When the car is finally fixed, the responsible children will help with repairs.
    3. If I choose not to have the stranger help with repairs, I don’t get to go back later (when I decide to have them fixed) and have them chip in. It’s rather a one-shot deal.
  • Heidi June 20, 2011, 8:21 pm

    The principal is anal. Hate that word but it fits. I strongly dislike people like that. Believe me there is karma and you will eventually come out ahead.

  • Oregonian June 20, 2011, 9:51 pm

    i read this post twice. you call it “the principal’s very reasonable request,” but i dont think you really believe it. i think you think the principal is not reasonable.
    i think you are pissed off and want everyone to tell you that youre right to be pissed off. i think you wanted to do the right thing and confess the damage and then have her let you off the hook for the damage so you could FEEL good but not have the pain of paying the cost.
    if you were going to get all bent out of shape for having to pay the consequences, then maybe you shouldn’t have told her. im not sure its the RIGHT THING to confess and then tell everyone you think she doesnt have integrity.

  • jennycherie June 21, 2011, 6:19 am

    You know – I can see why you might come to that conclusion, Oregonian, but honestly – my thoughts are a little different. I am always frustrated that people who make *SO* much more money than I do, are LESS generous than I would be in a given situation. I don’t know the principal to whom Tracy is referring, but I know that the principal at our school drives a VERY expensive car. I don’t know his exact salary but I know the going rate. This principal, who works in the same state as us but in a much nicer neighborhood, surely has a very nice salary. That doesn’t make Tracy less responsible, but I think it should cross her mind, “I make $_ _ , _ _ _ / year and this woman is going to be working in our cafeteria for $ _ . _ _ /hour. Maybe I should just ask for the repair and not the extra expense of a rental which I can do without.” I realize not everyone has the same values, but it disappoints me that people who are MORE able to be generous often seem less so. That’s a terrible generalization, but one that I have seen over and over.

    The other thought that occurs to me is that the principal *might* just be requesting it because many insurance policies will cover it so she thinks she can ask for it without it being a big deal. I know that my pediatrician will routinely provide services we do NOT want as part of a yearly checkup, simply because she thinks it’s a good idea and insurance will likely cover it. And if insurance doesn’t cover it, she will remove it from our bill. But I don’t WANT the service and I don’t want my insurance charged (even if they will cover it) because that WILL cost me money some where down the road. So, I think that sometimes, really good people will use insurance as a reason to be less worried about costs, not realizing that it will still cost – just later.

  • Tracy Keeney June 21, 2011, 7:37 am

    Depreciation– there’s a good point. I guess for those who typically “trade in” cars for a nicer/newer/ one that would make a difference. As someone who runs their vehicles until they can’t run anymore, depreciation didn’t even occur to me.

  • Tracy Keeney June 21, 2011, 8:18 am

    Oregonian, believe me, I’m a “self-analyzer” by nature. I thought about all that myself and asked myself those questions– wondering if my frustration was fair. And of course, I WAS hoping she’d let me off the hook. I was hoping she’d say something like “Thank you so much for letting me know, but don’t worry about it. It’s just a little scratch, no big deal.” And naturally, I was bummed when she didn’t.
    For the record though, this was an honest attempt to collect the thoughts of others because I didn’t know WHAT to call it– integrity? honesty? I wasn’t comfortable with either word, but couldn’t find a word that fit what it was I was questioning and I wasn’t even sure that my “questioning” was fair. I try very hard to be honest with myself– but even when I was sure that I WAS being honest with myself (and not just stewing about having to be held responsible) I STILL had the same questions about the way she responded. I wrote this because I’m curious how others view this issue of treating people differently. The issue of the car, in reality, is a seperate issue. It’s just the “vehicle” , pardon the pun, for addressing the other. That’s WHY I can say– ” since I’M the one who’s responsible for causing the damage, I’M the one who’s responsible for getting it fixed, and her expecting that of me is completely reasonable” — but also say, seperate from that– “would she bother to get it fixed if she did it herself?” If she WOULD, then I would HAVE no question. (And in reality, I don’t know the woman personally at ALL. So maybe she WOULD. I don’t know.)
    So, I’m not telling everyone she doesn’t have integrity– I don’t KNOW whether she does or not. (And again– I’m not even sure that word fits).
    That was my whole point in how I ended the post. My question was, would she get the scratch fixed no matter WHO caused the damage, herself, her mother, her husband, a friend, a close neighbor?
    Again, I don’t know. But it was THAT– the question of how people treat people differently– that I was pondering.
    I think about that everytime I see a report on TV about someone suing someone in what I see under “dishonest” terms. A kid trips over a toy in their house and bumps their head– mom kisses it better and all is well. That kid trips over a toy in someone ELSE’S house and bumps their head, and they sue for damages. —That kind of thing.
    And let me say here, that it turned out that this whole thing isn’t going to cost us a dime. We’ve been with our insurance company for 16 years– not one ticket, not one accident, not one claim. So they’re going to fix her car, get her a rental, and we’re not paying a dime NOR is our rate going up. So in the end, it turns out best for both of us. She gets her car fixed, and it doesn’t cost us a dime. Yay for insurance actually paying off.
    But again– her CAR is a seperate issue from what the point of the article was. And maybe I didn’t write it well enough to make the point clear. Even though its not costing us a dime– no hurt to us at all– my questions still remain, which is why I wrote the article. (Which actually confirmed to me that my questions really WEREN’T because I was “bent out of shape” for having to be held responsible) The question isn’t about whether or not her request was reasonable and fair– it was. The question is about how we treat people differently.

  • Tracy Keeney June 21, 2011, 10:10 am

    You touched on my point— because I don’t really feel like she’s taking advantage of me simply because she wants the damage fixed. I did it, I’m responsible. It’s on me/my insurance to have it fixed. If I’m the one responsible, then it’s not taking advantage of me, it what right, fair and just. But what you said next is what I was getting at –“It usually seems that it is a lot easier to be and upset with a stranger than it is with someone we know.”
    Several years ago, I was carpooling with another parent behind the buses for a school field trip. I don’t even remember what happened– but the woman who I was riding with (she was driving) got really angry about what another driver was doing, maybe they cut her off or something– I don’t remember– I just remember that she was all huffy about it UNTIL the car came alongside us, and she realized it was someone she knew. THEN she started laughing and joking about it. And I thought– “okay, that’s weird. You’re all ticked off at the guy but when you realize it’s a friend, it’s okay??” And that’s why I remember the incident– because the disparity with which she treated the situation when she THOUGHT it was stranger, and when she realized it wasn’t, was so different, and it made an impression on me.
    Me, on the other hand? Our high councilman could tell you how I showed my “moxy” (ie?) as he called it when I chewed him out in the church parking lot.
    I was on my way to church, just passing an exit ramp, when an SUV came barrelling around me from the right, off the beginning of the exit ramp, and swirved right in front of me. It’s weird how time slows — because even though it was only a second or two, I knew I had to hit the brakes, but I also knew I’d flip my car if I slammed the brakes at 70 miles an hour– so I had to hit them, but hit them very carefully, while simultaneously looking in my rear view to see if I could swerve out of the way into the left lane without hitting anyone already there. Amazingly, I was able to do it, but it totally freaked the kids out, who were screaming their heads off. I was TICKED off! As we were approaching our exit, I noticed that the SUV, who was now quite a ways in front of me was getting off the same exit, and turning in the direction of the church. Now– you have to realize that our church building is in a small town out in the country, so there was a good chance that someone out early on a Sunday morning going in the same direction was possibly a church member. So as the SUV continuously made every turn ahead of us that we were going to make, I was more and more sure that this was a church member. By the time we got to the church, I was right behind him, due to traffic lights. He pulled in and parked, and I pulled in right beside him and chewed him out. No profanity or anything unkind of course, but church member and high councilman aside, I gave him a piece of my mind, just like I would have with anyone else.

  • Tracy Keeney June 21, 2011, 10:15 am

    So then, if “depreciation” was the principal’s reason for wanting it fixed, then my question to her would be, “would you be worried about the depreciation and be getting it fixed if you’d dinged it yourself?”

  • Alison Moore Smith June 21, 2011, 9:57 am

    Yea, if it’s a business car, if you try to resell, etc. If it’s a lease, you have to pay for damage at the lease expiration.

  • Jane June 21, 2011, 11:24 am

    Is your unsettled frame of mind perhaps because you have learned to celebrate the quality of mercy and in this case just the quality of justice was employed? You don’t say much about your actual conversation with the principal but the implication is that it was rather perfunctory, with little outreach or sympathy. Perhaps you are simply mourning the absence of one virtue in her choice to only employ another.

    Reading your story reminds me of the importance of employing both virtues in my interactions with an individual who causes physical damage to my stuff. Using just one or just the other can leave a sense of incompleteness.

  • jennycherie June 21, 2011, 12:30 pm

    I see your point – I notice that we (humans) are VERY willing to overlook things or to believe the best about someone when we are friendly with someone (or want them to be friendly with us) but not so much when it is a stranger.

  • jennycherie June 21, 2011, 12:32 pm

    I am very relieved to hear that your insurance is covering this so nicely!

  • Alison Moore Smith June 21, 2011, 12:24 pm

    If she dinged it herself, she would be taking the depreciation hit herself. Whether she paid for it on the front end or the back end, the damage would hurt her bottom line. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t worry when they ding up their own car, unless it’s a junker.

  • Tracy Keeney June 22, 2011, 6:26 am

    I love how you worded that Jane– and maybe that’s exactly it. Even though I know it’s completely fair and just for me to held responsible, I feel at the same time, a sense of unfairness as well, because even though I don’t know her at all, I can’t help but think that the mark I put on her car would probably remain there if it was something her son did. But maybe that’s because it would remain there if MY son did it, and I’m projecting my way of thinking onto her.

  • Tracy Keeney June 22, 2011, 6:57 am

    Alison, I’m not sure how the new blogging format works, but it wouldn’t let me reply directly to your last comment.
    I found your last statement interesting, because depending on what you mean by “worrying” about dinging up one’s own car, I’m not sure I know anyone who WOULD “worry” about dinging up their own car.
    “Worry” as in “oh no!! I can’t believe I did that. I hope my husband doesn’t get too upset about this. Boy do I feel stupid. Doggone it! If I wasn’t in such a rush this wouldn’t have happened!! ” etc, etc without putting out $500 for a deductible and possibly taking a hit on your insurance rates…. yes …. but not, “Oh no!! I’ve GOT to get this fixed. Having a scratch in my paint is absolutely intolerable. It has to look like new and if I have to fork out a $500 deductible and take a hit on my rates, so be it.”
    If it’s a business car that you’re planning to resell, or a lease like you mentioned earlier, and you’d end up taking a hit in the end anyway, then I suppose so. But not the average personal vehicle — especially if you’re planning on using it until it’s no longer useable. I don’t know if I know anyone who would worry about the way their car looks that much.
    In fact– the incident DID leave scratch marks on my van as well. My van wasn’t left unscathed–and the marks on my van are pretty much the same as what happened to her car. A couple horizontally parallel scratch marks. But the way our insurance is set up (our agent explained it to me, but I can’t remember how it all works– something about liability and something or other), it will cover the damages to the OTHER car without anything coming out of our pocket, but if want the damage to our van fixed, we have to pay the deductible. So we’re not getting it fixed– I’m not spending $500 just to have a mark buffed out of my paint. And I don’t consider my van a “junker”. It’s a nice van– it had a couple previous “dings” in it already, as I mentioned before, but it’s not a junker. Either way though, neither me or my husband are “worried” about it enough to spend $500 just to have a touch up on the paint job. And if someone else had put that mark there by their doing, I wouldnt ask THEM to fork out $500 to fix it either.

  • Tracy Keeney June 22, 2011, 5:53 pm

    I agree– which is why I don’t think what she’s asked for is unreasonable at all– it’s just, pure and simple.

    As for the rest of your comments– you’ve confirmed my reasons for dreading the fact that I have a 17 year old getting ready to take his license exam. 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith June 22, 2011, 5:28 pm

    Tracy, the comment nesting is limited by the software.

    I’m not sure I know anyone who WOULD “worry” about dinging up their own car.

    worry = feel concern, feel anxiety, cause annoyance to

    Like I said, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t worry about dinging up a decent car. The example you gave demonstrate exactly that and, of course, don’t need to result in the extreme you present later.

    If I cause damage to my own car, then I live the the consequences whether I fix it or not. If you damage my car, you only live with the consequences if you pay for the damage.

    I might well choose to leave the damage unfixed. But I have chosen to drive a damaged or dinged car. But when I damage someone else’s car, the choice simply isn’t mine to make for the other person.

    For full disclosure:

    Others have paid for damage to my cars three times. Twice when we were re-ended by strangers and once when a friend’s daughter sideswiped the car backing out of a driveway.

    I have paid for damage twice. Once when I rear ended a car and once when I slid — at about .05 miles per hour — across a sheet of ice and bumped into an older vehicle that had just been refurbished and painted. (The car wasn’t worth a lot, but I chipped the door paint in the middle of the night after a pageant party, left a note on the windshield, and settled later. I as 19.)

    I have ignored lots of damage to my own cars, both confessed and not, but it bothers me (no matter who did it) to have messed up cars. We got keyed once and left the damage until something more significant happened (see fence incident, below) to fix both at once. My oldest daughter backed into a fence when she was a new driver. We fixed the damage right away. My second daughter backed into an apple tree when she was a new driver. We glued the taillight back together and left the big side bash. My third hit the garage when she was a new driver. We left the bumper damage. The car has over 100k miles, but is still running strong and in very good shape other than the student driver damage. When we feel safely out of the student driver woods, we will get the cars repaired (for cash, not through insurance).

    As I said before, if you lease a vehicle, dealers will generally COUNT the scratches and dents on turn in and the owner is charged for them.

    To me, I guess, the issue really isn’t an issue. If you do the damage, your obligation is to do your best to make it up. It’s hard for me to be bothered about someone expecting the damage to be fixed, as if we can demand “mercy” based on some unspoken criteria. As per my examples above, I don’t think the fact that my family might choose to suffer the consequences of my our accidents in a DIFFERENT way than paying for a fix (like paying for a fix later or living with a crappy looking car) makes it unreasonable for me to expect someone outside the family to fix the damage they cause by paying for it.

  • DeeAnn June 25, 2011, 10:49 am

    I had a very similar experience a few years ago. I dinged a car in the school parking lot. It turned out to be the school secretary’s daughter’s NEW car, so of course she wanted it fixed. It really annoyed me because it was such a small scratch and like you, I just don’t expect people to pay for dings. Karma intervened for me, though, as the next day she totaled the car so I didn’t have to pay for the ding. I shouldn’t admit that I kind of smiled when I heard, but I did.

  • DeeAnn June 25, 2011, 10:52 am

    Well, maybe a better descriptor would be “breathed a sign of relief” rather than smiled.

  • Tracy Keeney June 25, 2011, 9:20 pm

    Oh my! That’s quite a turn of events! And that brings up a seperate but related issue– the uncomfortable feeling when someone else’s misfortune is “fortunate” for you. I had quite a mix of feelings, knowing that the incredible bargain we got on our home was because it was foreclosed on for the previous owners. (Even more weird was that my daughter and the girl who lived her before us and occupied what is now my daughter’s bedroom, ended up in the same class at school and became friends. Then she came and spent the night, playing and hanging out in what use to be HER bedroom. Yeah– that was kind of awkward. Even more awkward than that though was the morning after, when the doorbell rang and a Repo guy came knocking on the door at 7am, wanting to repossess her father’s car, with her asleep on the livingroom floor only 10 feet away, and I had to step outside to tell him that the guy whose car he wanted no longer lived here.)

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Next post:

Previous post: