This is an eternal question that both priests and politicians claim to know the answer for but each of us struggles to find our own individual response: Is human nature good or bad?
Depending on when and where you catch me I could give you two opposing answers to that question. People are good because they are nice to me. People are bad because they are selfish and forgot to do a favor for me.
Then something happened very recently that made me think I have found the the right answer to this question and won’t change my mind till the end comes.
It all started on a bright October 2011 afternoon when a tall skinny, young guy in a dark ill fitting suit entered my studio.
– You a printer? Printer? Have a printer? – he bombarded me with a question. English was his second language and he seemed to know mainly nouns and had no grasp of grammar serving as the glue of the verbs and nouns. I sometimes have the same problem, English being my third language.
I was irritated with the interruption of my work flow and was about to throw the unsolicited visitor out when he said the magic words:
– Need ink? Printer Epson?
His professional eagle eyes had spotted my Epson printer and that was the start of our conversation and later – the deal.
It turned out the man was from Hong Kong and had studied business at some New Jersey college. After he graduated he decided to work for an American company for one year to get experience. He got a job as a sales agent at Quill, a job to recruit new customers. He put on the best suit he knew to get, put the contracts in a business bag and started walking the hood. In my building he started from the bottom floors and was kicked out from every single space (they are mostly carpenters here, with no fancy Epson printers). Undeterred by the failure, he continued on till reached the top floor. Me.
– What’s the deal with Quill? – I asked. I am very conservative by nature (yet liberal in opinion) and my default state is suspicion, caution and fear. I had never heard of Quill and thought maybe this is some kind of scam. Although, the man in the ill fitting suit despite his grammar failings seemed honest.
It turned out the deal with Quill was the best deal in the world. I could order letter size paper, ink for my printer and many other essential office things so cheap they seemed almost free. Oh, and shipping was complimentary.
All of sudden my 15 year long relationship with Staples seemed abusive, unnecessary and a waste of time.
I signed on and besides ink ordered toilet paper, paper towels and other things I can’t live/work without.
I shook hands with the sales agent and he left. It was 4:30 PM.
The next morning, at 10 AM the shipment arrived. The complimentary shipping was nimble and exact. Everything I had ordered was in the box.
– Quill, – I said. – My new favorite company.
But, as you know, relationships, with a company or a friend, have their ups and have their downs.
Four weeks ago I placed a new order through Quill website, paid with my credit card, received the goodies the next day but also got an invoice a day later stating on black and white that I owed Quill $188.23. Upset, I called their Customer Service.
– Hmm, – they said when they reviewed my account. – It seems your online payment didn’t go through. Would you like to send us a check?
Checks are an old fashioned form of payment, they leave a solid carbon footprint, but they also leave a reliable paper trail which you can use to track and retrack your steps. A trail you can bring to a court if a dispute shall arise. One can never be too cautious in the matters of money.
So I wrote a check of $188.23 to Quill, put it in envelope, sealed the envelope, wrote Quill Pennsylvania address on it and put on my table to wait till I had time to mail it.
Saturday arrived sunny and windy. I got up early and plotted out my errands.
– First I deposit garbage, then I’ll go to Home Depot to get a new pot for my plant, on my way back I’ll stop at Rossmans to get vegetables, then go to that Spanish meat place on 5th avenue to get chicken legs.
I attached the bags for the pot, vegetables and chicken legs to the bicycle, picked up garbage when I saw the envelope waiting to be mailed.
– And I’ll stop at the Post Office to drop off the mail, – I added to the list, put the envelope in my coat’s pocket and pushed the bicycle onto the road.
Going uphill against the wind with all those bags attached to my hands and bicycle was a struggle. When I finally turned onto the straight line of 3rd avenue I was a bit dishevelled. The Saturday traffic was not too bad. I relaxed and looked on the sidewalk. A mailman was pushing his mail bags for delivery.
– Time to deposit the mail, – I said and reached for the envelope in my pocket. It wasn’t there.
You know that feeling when you just held something valuable in your hands and the next moment it’s gone? The feeling of disbelief while the image of the thing flashes through your head mooning you?
I had that feeling. The check inside the envelope was mooning me. It hurt.
I made a desperate U turn and went back to retrack my steps.
– It must have fell out when I turned here.
But no. The envelope wasn’t there.
– It must have fallen out when I hit that bump.
But no. It wasn’t there.
I did the round twice, went back home and sat down mentally drained. The image of the envelope laying on the street under the merciless tires of fast cars haunted me. Then the other image started to haunt me, that of strangers finding the envelope and depositing the check into their personal bank accounts.
I called my bank.
– Call our hotline and cancel the check immediately, – the bank advised.
I hung up and another thought entered my mind. If I had found a lost mail on a road or a sidewalk, I would have taken it to the closest mailbox and mailed it. So, in an improbable scenario where a stranger finds and mails my lost letter, Quill would receive the check which would mean that Quill and me would have to pay penalty for attempting to deposit a cancelled check. No good.
I called Quill.
– If we receive the check, we deposit it, – they told me. – Our computer system doesn’t allow us to mark upcoming payments as ‘cancelled checks’.
Another thought entered my mind.
The check was written to Quill, a company. An individual might have a hard time to deposit it, unless his/her last name was Quill.
I decided to place my bets on goodness of humans and good intentions of Chance. I did nothing to stop the check. I just worried slightly about my name, address and bank info floating around Brooklyn.
A week later I called Quill.
– I think I owe you $188.23?- I asked their Customer Service.
They pulled up my account information.
– Nope, you don’t owe us anything. -they said. – Your check of $188.23 arrived on Tuesday and we promptly deposited it.
The question about human nature? Humans are essentially good, as far as I am concerned.
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