Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ethics Suck

My current issue: do you have a responsibility to tell someone if you might have been robbed?

This is what happened. CKL and I went to see Iron Man at the Hulen Movie Tavern on Friday morning. While there, we ordered an apple crisp (very slow to arrive but very tasty) and an iced tea (very quick to arrive and very huge).

Some time into the movie, our server brought us the tab. It was just under $10, so I pulled a bill out of my wallet. I had used the last of my small bills tipping the maids, and had five twenties and a ten. I hoped I was pulling out the ten, but it was dark. I figured it didn't matter that much. If I overpaid, they'd bring change.

Just in case I had pulled out the ten, I asked CKL to give me a couple of ones for the tip. Then I folded the big bill into the two small bills, and wrapped the tab around the money.

After a few minutes, someone... possibly our server... walked down the aisle and collected the various tabs and payments from me and the people in my area. Some time later, our server came to tell me that he didn't have enough money to pay the check. There were only two dollars.

It seemed strange. I had pulled a bill out of my wallet. By definition, there was more than enough money to pay the tab. I asked him to check again. He gave me back two bills. I always prefer to believe that there has been a mistake, so I took the two bills and gave him another bill out of my wallet. He went away again.

CKL and I finished watching Iron Man. During the credits, our server brought back two fives and a one dollar bill. I took out my wallet and counted my money. I had three twenties and a ten for a total of $70. Which means that the bill I had initially pulled out of my wallet was a twenty, and the second bill was a twenty. I searched my purse for a dropped bill. Nope. I looked on the floor. Nope again.

Then I asked CKL to check to see if the bills that had been returned were ones. They were. So a twenty dollar bill went missing from the middle of a short stack of bills. Definitely weird. But if someone was systematically stealing money from movie patrons, surely they would have been smart enough to swap the twenty for another one-dollar bill. Most people would chalk that up to confusion in the dark. I would have fallen for it. Even knowing that I only had tens and twenties in my wallet. After all, We all make mistakes.

I told CKL that I needed to pee, and wandered around the theater and toward the exit to see if maybe the bill had been dropped further away. I didn't find one. I checked out the people nearby. A few guys seemed to be in heated conversation, but everyone else seemed normal. Possible geeky Iron Man movie debrief in progress. I went to the bathroom.

I wouldn't call the bathroom my happy place, but it's close. It's where I go when I need to take some time off. My way of calling time out on life. When I go in and close the door, I get to take a break and realign. If I'm having a bad day, I go into the bathroom, reboot, and start the day over. If I'm upset, I sit in that blank space and calm down. If I'm confused, I get the chance to breathe, think, and set it aside. As an added bonus, I also get to relieve myself at the same time. Efficiency is spiffy.

Anyway. I'm confused, so I go to the bathroom. I do a quick preview on the situation and its outcomes. Two things occur to me: someone made a mistake, or someone steals money. Are there bad consequences for me either way? No. I can afford to lose $20 without much hassle at all. Are there bad consequences for others? Not really; we're all responsible for watching after our own money.

All things considered, I actually had a pretty inexpensive lesson: people can rob you if you flash cash and don't pay attention to your surroundings. That lesson could have been much, Much, MUCH more painful.

Confusion resolved. I flush, wash my hands and rejoin CKL for the end of the credits. The four young guys are still in heated discussion. Turns out it's not a movie vs. comic breakdown. One of the young men never got his credit card back after using it to pay his bill.

This is where the ethical dilemma hit me.

The young guys were obviously distressed. As a person, I have to help other people if the cost to me doesn't outweigh the help. Given that something similar had just happened to me, did need to stick around and tell the manager that I was missing money too? If I did, would it serve a useful purpose? Specifically, would it help these guys? Or stop anyone else from being in the same position?

I agonized for a minute. I was pretty sure that telling the management wouldn't help these guys at all. It would just muddy the waters. There was, however, a small chance that it would help other people. Best case, however, would be that we would document that *maybe* some money was stolen and that management needed to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior patterns.

To do their job properly, management should already be on the lookout for suspicious behavior patterns. No useful purpose could be served. So we left.

But it's still bugging me. Not that the money is gone. That's nothing. What's bothering me is that maybe I missed the right thing. That there was someone else that I should have told, or something else that I should have done.

So, fine. I just told you. Feel free to tell me what I should have done.



At May 4, 2008 at 2:03 PM , Blogger lahosken said...

I hope this kind of thing won't happen to you enough for you to figure out the perfect way to handle it.

At May 4, 2008 at 10:49 PM , Blogger LC said...

This is a tough one. Although I think management should watch out for this kind of thing, any input to them helps. Thus, ideally, I probably would have let them know that there this happened -- and in the same breath, making it clear you weren't seeking any recompense because at the end of the day it's a he said she said situation.

That said, personally, if I was planning on going back to the theater, I might hesitate to call this out. Same concern as in a restaurant -- staff spitting in your food. This is more selfish than doing the right thing.

Also, this was a pretty confusing situation. So I think there still would have been a seed of doubt in my head as to what bills actually exchanged hands, and I would have been unsure of going forward.

That you gave this much thought to it indicates how you and CKL have always wanted to do the right thing. I've always admired you two for that.

At May 7, 2008 at 1:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd call it out. Usually if there's been pattern of this, any additional data will help them to figure out who the bad seed is. If there isn't an existing pattern of this problem, then it was likely to be a random occurrence and unlikely to be a problem again, but it's still good to know.

At May 10, 2008 at 2:19 AM , Blogger DeeAnn said...

All right. You have good points. I let the Movie Tavern management know. If it's a pattern, they've at least been warned to look for it.


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