Why do people damage community property? No, I’m not talking about the playground swings that some fat idiot broke in a drunken neknomination. Neither am I talking about accidental damage that may have happened when Johnny borrowed the holiday resorts off-road trike and rolled it on the 18th green or when Mary dropped the plate in the mess-hall at the local boarding house. I am talking about private ‘shared’ property that people knowingly use and abuse without any attempt to repair or replace the items after the fact. These people are not strangers and have a vested interest in keeping things in working order. So why do they behave like this? Perhaps I need to submit this to Dan Arielys blog and see if he will offer an answer as part of his journey into understanding irrational behaviours.
To explain things a little clearer… Here is a real world example. My father-in-law owns a share in a small farm about 2 hours from Johannesburg and we regularly go there with family and friends for a quick break from the big city. Based on the size of the share, partners are allowed a set number of weekends and contribute proportionally for the general upkeep of the place and pay for the bare essentials (i.e. bedding, toilet paper etc.) which are stocked for everyone to use. Originally, everyone chipped in to get some other practical items like a TV (to catch the weekend games) and fishing rods, nets, wellies and other things that everyone could use. Each owner also has a private cupboard or two in which they keep the things they don’t want to cart back and forth each visit and they have privately purchased… e.g. their own fishing rods/reels, correctly sized kiddies life jackets and other playthings. You know, odds and ends that make the visit more comfortable and that you don’t need back at home. These cupboards are not normally locked and there is a general level of trust expected from visitors.
Ok, so now I have set the scene. Lets get onto the problem. Over time, the communal equipment has been damaged and broken by visitors and occasionally replaced, sometimes on a whim by an individual out of the goodness of their hearts. Sometimes this damage has been reported and the cost of the repair or replacement covered by whomever caused the problem. This damage has been pretty annoying, but most of the time its the kind of thing we all tend to ignore – you know, wear and tear, the usual bad treatment of equipment by people who don’t know better (e.g. using a screwdriver for a chisel etc). However, what we have found is that visitors to the farm sometimes use other peoples private items and do not take any care in doing so.
On principle and because we have some sort of connection to these people (via my father-in-law) I have no problem with someone using the $150 or so fishing equipment I personally purchased provided they treat it well and put it back how they found it afterwards. I really have no problem with someone forgetting to get a bag of charcoal on the drive in and using the spare we keep in our cupboard for just such an emergency. I have no problem with someone running out of flys and using a few from our batch.
I do have a problem with the fishing rods being broken and then ‘hidden’ back in the cupboard. I do have a problem with costly fly reels being attached to communal rods and then being damaged because someone got them tangled up and could not be bothered to fix the problem or put them back. I do have a problem when the nice aluminium fly cases and other things disappear never to be found again- i.e. stolen. The list goes on…. from utterly irrelevant things that cost less than a dollar but cause minor inconvenience to things that are pretty expensive or critical to an activity at the farm – you can’t really fly fish without a working rod and reel.
I do have a problem with no-one bothering to give an owner a call and having a conversation going something like this:
“Hey, we used your fishing rod and one of the kids broke it…”
“Oh. Ok. That’s a pity. Thanks for letting me know.”
“Can we replace it?”
“Sure. But don’t spend more than $25, it was a cheapish rod.”
“Ok, thanks and sorry about this.”
It’s not the value of the item broken or lost and neither is it the irritation or hassle that the loss causes. To me it’s the disrespect of other peoples things and indirectly the owner of those things that gets my goat. It seems totally irrational to me as to why people would behave like this. It’s like someone borrowing your car without asking you (stealing?) and then returning it in secret a few hours later after having a fender bender.
I honestly struggle to understand the logic here. Perhaps it’s because I would never do the same. If I could not contact the owner but needed to use something I would make sure that I put it back perfectly and if I did break something, I would replace it immediately even before informing the owner of the problem. The thought of just taking someone elses things and basically f*****g them up does not even occur to me.
Lets make some assumptions:
- Money is not the issue. People are all well-off enough that money is not the issue here – lets face it, if you can afford a share in a farm just for weekend getaways then I figure replacing a $25 fishing rod should not be anything to worry about.
- Education is not the issue. I do not see how someones level of general education has a bearing here. Perhaps someone could break something because they don’t know what they are doing but that does not explain the rest.
So to me, that leaves:
- Morals & respect. Is this the simple answer? Are people who do this simply disrespectful to others and have little or no care for what is considered acceptable community behaviour?
- Emotional Intelligence. Is this behaviour a factor of the persons inability to get over the guilt that they may have or are psychologically unable to bring themselves to apologise?
- Material Value. Are people who do this simply incapable of understanding the value that the items (and their use/procurement) represent? Such that they treat them like sand? Disposable fishing rods.
- Not mine, not my problem. Who cares if we break it, it’s not mine and someone else will replace it.
- We have a partnership that includes thieves and other degenerates? Unlikely but hey… maybe possible…
- Superior Beings. We are entitled to use whatever we want and break whatever we want because we are superior to everyone else in every way. Odd, I know but I am throwing ideas out here.
I really do not know and I can’t wrap my mind around the answer. I am willing to bet that the explanation to this behaviour is included in some thick tome of psychological wisdom but that does not really help us when next we visit the farm and realise that someone has decided to use the kitchen chairs for firewood and the plates for some late night greek dancing.
ps. swing image is from flickr