I am to transport a suitcase from here to Chicago for a friend later this week. I picked up the suitcase from a prearranged place where it was left earlier this morning. It’s packed and ready to go.
However, as I lifted it into my truck, I noticed that one of the zippers was broken: it was one of those situations where you think you’ve pulled the zipper shut, but it leaves a trail of unconnected little zipper teeth in its wake. It was not a crucial zipper, not the foundation that holds the whole bag together, but it does expand and contract the suitcase and so it does serve a function.
Dilemma: should I fix it before handing it over to the friend in Chicago? I mean, Cecil over at shoe repair is a magician with these things. But if I fix it, shouldn’t I unpack it first? [The friend cannot be consulted with on this one – he’s up in the air somewhere, flying around the States.]
I could unpack it and no one would ever know. Unless my friend put one of those crucial hairs or threads in a particular place to see if any person would poke around his personal belongings. But the ethics of such an intrusion notwithstanding, I do not really want to poke around someone’s stuff. There are things that one doesn’t really want to know, even about very very good friends. Like how many mismatched socks they have or if they fold shirts neatly.
Handing a filled suitcase to Cecil is also unfair. Do you know Cecil? He is old, stooped, frail. He should not have to muck around with packed suitcases.
What would the ethicist say?
Answer: for every ethical dilemma there is an innovative solution. Cecil solved this one for me by fixing it on the spot while I lifted and moved the bag around for him. The guy is a repair genius – always has been. My kids were raised to show great reverence and respect for the man, as he has bailed us out of many shoe and suitcase problems over the decades.
Cecil understood the dilemma. Of course! He’s the kind of guy who may have himself packed an odd little private something in his day. He’s a man of strange habits after all – the same man who kept cats in his store and got chased out of the strip mall because the cats peed on the hallway carpets. Cecil didn’t seem to mind. He loved his cats and proclaimed: if the cats go, I go. And so out he went, to a different strip mall, one without any carpeted hallway to pee on and mess with.
It says something about my days that this was by far the most interesting thing that happened to me all morning.