Why Should I Pay 300 When I Can Get Away With 100

Posted on July 4, 2011

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My wife D, when she goes shopping to the congested Commercial Street area, insists on using her scooter. This weekend, unfortunately, she ran into trouble. Apparently she parked where she shouldn’t have and the traffic police towed away her scooter while she was inside a shop. Now D is a very conscientious citizen and obeys all rules and regulations and when she says that there was no sign that prohibited parking, I believe her. However, those of you who have had a similar experience know that, you really can’t argue with the cops and we had to go to the traffic police yard to retrieve D’s bike.

After asking a few people and walking in the hot afternoon sun for over a kilometer we finally located the yard. The cop in charge, a nice, polite chap, asked us to pay a fine of Rs. 300. We promptly did so and the cop asked one of his sidekicks to release our bike. As I waited for D to get her bike out of the yard, I noticed another gentleman now talking to the cop to get his bike released. To my amazement the cop asked him if he was ready to pay the Rs.300 fine and the gentleman said No. The cop then asked him to pay him Rs.100 which the gentleman promptly did and the cop asked for his bike to be released too. Keen India observers will know that the Rs.100 was a bribe that this gentleman paid and saved Rs.200. I was left wondering if I, rather D, did the right thing by paying Rs.300 when she could have got away with a mere Rs.100.

The answer is a uneqvivocal and emphatic Yes. What that bribe giving gentleman and the cop did was to weaken the principles of morality and justice that underpin our society. I recognize that the damage that this duo are inflicting is nothing compared to the damage inflicted by the folks currently in news for giving and accepting large bribes; however this does not trivialize the contribution of the gentleman and the cop in weakening the civil society. Make no mistake; the duo will pay for this damage. They will pay by living in a more corrupt, more expensive and ultimately more discontented society. Sadly, it’s not just them that will pay; their children will also pay for this damage. Newton was right – For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

What is true of civil society is also true of companies. Our everyday actions (or inaction) contribute to the company that we help build and work in. How we treat our customers, employers, vendors not only reflects the company’s culture but contributes to building that culture. Consider this:

  • When a customer sends an email complaining do you first say Sorry before investigating if there indeed is a problem or do you ignore the email to see if the customer feels frustrated and goes away.
  • Do you write your vendor letters of appreciation or write only to complain when the vendor has screwed up.
  • Do you pay your vendor on the day you committed or try to extract as many days of credit as you can
  • Do you pay your employees their previous year’s performance bonus the first month of the new year or do you delay it for 3 months hoping to use it as a retention tool

Remember if no act of kindness goes unnoticed neither does any act of unjust or immoral behaviour. You may succeed in making some short-term gain but I guarantee that you will pay for all your acts of omission and commission.

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Posted in: Misc., On Startups