Jewish Journal

A Better Person

by Susan Esther Barnes

June 4, 2014 | 1:30 am

Photo from Wikimedia/D. Helber

I’m going to describe a situation that happened recently to someone I know. We’ll call him the “Observer.” His desk at work has a lovely view of the building parking lot. One day he noticed a car pulling into a rather tight parking spot. As it pulled in, the car to one side of it seemed to shake. We’ll call the person parking the car the “Driver.”

The Driver got out, looked at the car that had shaken, looked at the Driver’s own car, then looked around to see whether anyone else in the parking lot might be looking. Spotting nobody, the Driver got back in the car, backed out, and parked in another spot elsewhere in the lot. Then the Driver went into the building, without stopping to leave a note on the other car.

Now, it just so happens the Observer knows the Driver, who is a coworker of his. He didn’t know who owned the car that was hit – the “Owner.” Nor, from his vantage point, could he see what damage, if any, had been done to either car.

What would you do at this point? Go out to the parking lot to examine both cars? Try to find out who the Owner was? Confront the Driver?

In this case, the Observer stayed at his desk and continued working. Toward the end of the day, the Owner appeared, got into the car that had been shaken, and drove off. It turns out the Observer knows and likes the Owner. Should that make a difference?

All this happened on a Friday. The Observer thought about it all weekend. When he and the Owner returned to work the next week, the Observer saw the damage to the Owner’s car. And it was damaged. There was no question about that.

Now what would you do if you were the Observer? Would you tell the Owner what had happened? Would you keep out of it? The Observer felt bad for the Owner, but he didn’t want the Driver to be mad at him. They all work together in the same company. They see each other every day.

The Observer knew he would think about this every time he saw either one of them. He knew he had to act.

It so happened the Observer made an interesting choice. He did not go to the Owner to tell him what he had seen. Rather, he sought out the Driver, and, with nobody else around, described to the Driver what he had seen. The Driver looked ashamed. The Driver didn’t know who owned the other car, so the Observer told the Driver the name of the Owner.

The Observer returned to his desk, unsure of what would happen next. Perhaps he felt a bit apprehensive when, about 15 minutes later, he saw the Driver approaching his desk. That is when the most amazing thing happened. The Driver was not angry.

The Driver told the Observer that the Driver had just spoken with the Owner. “Thank you,” the Driver said, “for making me a better person.”

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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