Q. I just came from the store, having bought an mp3 player. When I opened it I noticed that they had given me a newer, enhanced model, not the one I had paid for. The store is about 25 miles away. To return it I would be spending as much on gas for the round trip as I would have spent had I purchased the newer model. What is the ethical thing to do?
A. Order online next time! That way you’ll spend nothing on gas, preserving our scarce energy resources, and you’ll feel less constrained about doing the right thing, which, BTW, would be to return the item.
It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a multinational corporation or a nine-year old’s lemonade stand. You paid for one thing and got another.
Let’s say you are in a checkout line at the local supermarket and the cashier gives you too much change. While scanners tend to reduce the likelihood of this happening, human error is still thankfully part of our commercial and social interactions. So who do you think will pay the price at the end of the day, when records are checked and the register is short. Messrs. A and P and Stop and Shop won’t feel the pain. But the cashier will. (Incidentally, did you ever wonder what they would call it if A&P and Stop and Shop merged?)
So maybe the clerk at your store was having a bad day; maybe this error will be the one that seals his fate and sends him to the unemployment line. I think it would be worth a half a tank of gas to save a guy’s job, don’t you?
When the Talmud states that the first question we’ll be asked when we get to heaven is whether we conducted our business affairs honestly, that didn’t just apply to the seller. The buyer needs to be honest too, or the whole enterprise crumbles.
This is a case of "buyer beware" in reverse. Buyer, beware not to cheat the seller!
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter.
Have an ethical dilemma? Email Rabbi Hammerman at HammermanOnEthics@gmail.com