Modern Values

March 10, 2008 – Honor and responsibility are giving way to self-interest and shrewdness in our society, which does not bode well for our future.

By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond

Glowing plants on a spring afternoon
Glowing plants on a spring afternoon

I find myself troubled by a relatively minor incident which occurred a few days ago, but as a result of the baffling behavior by one of the parties involved, it is assuming disproportionate significance.

I’ve been visiting my parents in California for the last few weeks, waiting out the cold Kentucky winter. My parents live in a wealthy, quiet area. I’ve been parking my car in my parents’ driveway ever since the neighbors across the street left a nasty note on my car reading, “This is not a permanent parking space,” referring to my parking on the street. On Friday, those same neighbors backed into my car, while it was parked in my parents’ driveway! I only discovered the damage after finding a note on my car reading, “Sorry I scratched your car.” The damage was hardly a scratch. The rear bumper was scraped and deformed. I immediately ran off and got two repair estimates, one for $1,075 and another for $1,337. As soon as I got back to my parents’ house I called the man, who at least was honest enough to leave the note on my car, and told him about the two estimates. Even though he said he wanted to pay out of his own pocket rather than involve his insurance company, he immediately started seeking ways to reduce the cost, offering to send over some guy with a traveling repair shop. Well, his “guy” never called, so I took the car to the shop with the $1,337 estimate. I did so, not because it was the most expensive, but because I had more faith in that shop and they offered other advantages, such as a free shuttle service, which saves me $60 in cab fares.

Minor, but expensive damage to car
Minor, but expensive damage to car

I talked to the man in person the day after he damaged my car and I – generously, I thought – agreed to accept $1,075 from him – the lesser estimate – and pay the additional $262 for the higher estimate out of my own pocket. I agreed to let him pay out of pocket instead of involving his insurance company, I spent two hours running around to obtain repair estimates, I’m without my car for at least four days, and my return to Kentucky is now going to be delayed. All the while, the man who caused the damage hasn’t lifted a finger to do anything about it or suffered any inconvenience whatsoever. Given all the accommodations I’ve made, I would think that the least he could do is promptly pay me what he agreed, but as yet I’ve received nothing from him. I have the impression that he’s hoping the problem will just go away if he ignores it.

What baffles me is the man’s avoidance of responsibility for the damage he’s caused, especially since this is an affluent neighborhood. $1,075 cannot be much money to someone who lives in a million dollar house. To me, however, that’s two months’ worth of living expenses; it happens to be a lot of money to me at the moment.

I think if the roles were reversed, were I the one who damaged his car, I’d do everything in my power to expedite restoring the man’s car to the condition it was in before I damaged it. Not only would I reimburse him promptly and in full for the repair cost, I’d even offer to pick him up from the repair shop and drive him back to fetch his car. And I’d make sure he was satisfied with the repairs once he got his car back.

Frankly, I’m at a loss what to do about this. I’m trying to be nice about the whole thing and I don’t want to create a stink with the man because he’s my parents’ neighbor. I just don’t understand why he is unwilling to assume responsibility for his actions.

Maybe my mistake is assuming that other people are like me, or that the value system is the same as it was a few decades ago. Maybe modern values are different from what I grew up with.

The End