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 I quickly found another parking 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 car bumper; fortunately there was no damage that occurred to the car. However, when I looked again at the wooden rail behind the car, 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 that was made, 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. I had to report the accident.
I made my way upstairs to the office lobby, and asked the security guard where the maintenance office was. He directed me to a small office in the corner of the lobby.
A middle-aged man behind the desk greeted me. “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, the man 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, read through all of the emails in my inbox and then attended 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 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.
I looked back at the man behind the desk.
“You know, you didn’t have to tell me that somebody else damaged that rail,” I said. “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.
Michael Feldstein works as a direct marketing professional in Stamford, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com.