“Do as you would be done by”.
This is a principle I’ve always applied, but recently questioned. That’s because it seems to based on idealistic, possibly misguided and arguably naive ideas about life. That life is fair, that you reap what you sow, that it’ll all come back around.
But you don’t necessarily reap what you sow, as argued whiningly before here in countless blog posts, life is certainly not fair. You can do the good thing and report something, confess something you might otherwise have got away with, and still be the recipient of similar bad luck: somebody not doing the same for you.
It can be a middle class moral minefield out there, and you could easily promote the flipside. We must live in hope. We need to have some basic faith in the goodness of other humans in order for a decent civilised society to function. We can’t go around doubting everyone: I know you’d screw me over so I’m going to screw you over. Although you sense others might employ that strategy, you can’t do it yourself if you want a modicum of self respect.
We have to trust that there are some decent humans out there, and you should try to set a standard – particularly if you have kids who you want to be decent people.
Context of this recent conundrum…
Last Saturday night I reversed out of my parents’ driveway onto a pitch black road. There was a car parked on the opposite side of the residential village road where there is usually no car parked, and which I did not see at all. I reversed squarely into it. Not a light kiss of bumper. A sturdy thwunk. No tinkles of glass.
Fuck fuckity FUCK. I tried looking for damage in the dark. There were scrape marks I probably caused on the other car – fortunately a fairly old looking Skoda, but none discernible on mine.
My angst was considerable about what to do next. I could probably get away with it, but I shouldn’t. I wouldn’t like it if someone did that to me. It didn’t stop me sleeping but it was the last thing I thought about when I went to sleep and the first thing I thought about when I woke up, and I could barely stop thinking about it when walking the parents’ dog the next morning, guiltily wringing it over and over in my head.
They had a white van in their driveway, small but still industrial and workmanlike. I didn’t want to risk knocking on the door to find a typical bolshy, arsey white van man. No thanks.
My preferred, admittedly cowardly option was to leave a short apologetic note on their windscreen with my mobile number, so the ball was in their court – would they care that much about a shitty old Skoda? I’d had a similar scrape in the courtyard car park of my city flats a while ago, and the owner hadn’t really cared. As soon as I pinned the note, I would promptly leave the village and return to my city flat.
That’s what I did.
Sadly, after seeing the note they visited my parents and appeared to charm them to the point it felt like my parents were firmly on their side. A prickly email exchange with my stubborn, never wrong mother ensued over a difference between the photographs I had taken – showing scrape marks and an intact seam of bodywork, and the photographs they had later taken – showing the seam of bodywork that had come apart.
They would come back to me with some figures. Terrific news. What would those figures be? How big? Fuck fuckity fuck. At the time I was chasing a number of late payments and my bank balance was plummeting accordingly. There is still an excessively direct correlation between my mental health and the silly poxy numbers on a screen representing my bank balance. These indicate if business and life things are good, or not good; or shaky, iffy and worrying. I can never see six months into the future with any confidence, but I try to pacify myself with the notion that nobody can.
One of these outstanding payments was due from a businessman I had never wholly trusted, a man about whom I had been warned before beginning a professional engagement. I had decided to make my own judgement, and now all the evidence was pointing towards him trying to wriggle out of paying me a few hundred quid.
He had dropped me from his team without any explanation for a following fixture – leading to minor awkwardness; he had acted casual when I had asked him in person about the payment, as if there was a perfectly innocent reason. He had promised it would be in my account on a certain day which came and went and no money was in my account. When I next asked, he told me to call him in a couple of days and when I called him it rang and rang, and I left a voice message he didn’t respond to. I called again the next day and withheld my number. Nothing.
It irritated me more and more, how he was appearing to squirm out of it, ignoring me, how massively unethical it was. I envisaged ways I might publicly expose him online, several months down the line. I daydreamed a scenario where I had a big dramatic stand-up argument with him in a busy press room and my articulation powered through and I won and everybody clapped and he stormed out and I was a big glorious hero.
He is a respected, successful, tidily off businessman. But he is also sort of slippery. I accepted no excuses for part of the payment being over three months late. It was disrespectful and plainly wrong.
Then suddenly, surprisingly, he paid. Perhaps he realised I wasn’t going to let it drop when others previously had. I had to make a real fucking nuisance of myself in order to get paid and would keep doing so until I was paid. He sent a mildly apologetic email saying something about an automated payment system not working, which I didn’t really believe.
He might have got away with it again, as he apparently did previously with another colleague of mine.
Like I might have got away with bumping the other vehicle, if I’d left and said nothing. If my guilty conscience would have permitted it. Which it wouldn’t.
I suppose it’s as much about our conscience, and if we can live comfortably with our own decisions. I’ve often struggled with the need to be brutally honest, for good and bad. Being honest and highly valuing honesty, hoping for similar in other people: it usually means your morals are sound. But it can make you sensitive, perhaps oversensitive, potentially weak, and expose you to more biting levels of disappointment in others.
On occasion it seems like ‘do as you would be done by’ has no rewards.