Don't treat businesses like people
When you fall short of meeting your obligations, it's natural to feel bad. In fact, it's natural to want to not only meet the letter of your obligation, but also the spirit: to do what it takes to make the other person feel fairly treated. These feelings are very human, and they work well when you're interacting with humans acting as individuals. When you're dealing with businesses, though, they work against you--and businesses will take advantage of that.
Nobody is much surprised when a corporation meets its legal obligations but goes no further. People like to suggest that going beyond is often good business--a reputation for providing good service is worth something--but they don't think it's a moral failure when a corporation does only the legal minimum, because everybody knows that corporations are not moral entities.
With people, though, the rules seem different.
You see this distinction especially starkly with bankruptcy. A person will often feel shame at the idea of bankruptcy. Obviously, a corporation does not. (The owner of a very small corporation might, but that's just another example of confusing the person with the business.) When a corporation files for chapter 11 and the court tells it that it doesn't need to honor its gift cards or its pension obligations, no one imagines that they'll be able to get better treatment by making the corporation feel bad.
Corporations, on the other hand, use this sort of moral suasion to try to control people all the time. You see it, for example, with debt collectors--they try to establish something that seems like a personal relationship, so that the borrower feels bad about being unable to meet his obligation.
You see it most often with employees, because the constant interactions between employee and manager create a circumstance where it's natural to feel a personal relationship.
When a friend of mine quit one job to take another, his old employer offered a large raise and said a lot of nice things about how important he was and how highly valued his work was. My friend was feeling bad about leaving and seriously considering changing his mind, because he wanted to do right by his moral obligation to his old employer, but then remembered that he'd had a salary review just a few months before, where the focus had been on his shortcomings and where the employer had put a dollar figure on the value of his work that was quite a bit lower. Neither those critical statements nor the new complimentary ones were a reflection of what the corporation actually thought--after all, corporations don't think. Rather, both were an attempt by management to get what they wanted--my friend's work at the lowest possible cost.
Another friend was hesitating to move to a much better job, because when she'd been hired, her boss had asked her to "commit" to stay until the end of a project and she'd done so. I pointed out that there were many things her boss might have done to give her incentives to stay--most obviously, he might have given her a contract with a completion bonus. Not only had he not done that, he hadn't given her a contract at all--and I'm sure he wouldn't have "committed" to keep paying her until the end of the project even if business turned down. He had asked for a commitment because such a request costs nothing, and just might work.
Corporations would rather not do expensive things like paying competitive salaries, giving regular raises, and offering a pension to reward long-term service. That costs money, and corporations would rather not spend money. So, they usually start by trying to use a sense of personal obligation to get people to do whatever will help the business. That's why they ask people to "commit" to the company--they do it because they know people will feel obliged to stand by their word, and because guilt is much cheaper than paying a project completion bonus.
This is true for relationships besides just that of employee--customers, borrowers, clients, and venders are all subjected to similar efforts, where the corporation tries to structure things so that people feel (and behave) as if they were in a personal relationship with the business. They do this because it works. It works because people have trouble distinguishing between their legal obligations and their moral obligations, they allow their feelings to push them into making poorer choices.
Because this is all a deliberate effort by corporations to control you, it's sometimes not quite clear what kind of relationship you're in. After all, even though your counterpart is a corporation, your interface with it--boss, loan officer, salesperson--is a person. The whole thing is structured to make you feel uncomfortable if you leave him or her in the lurch. Don't be fooled.
None of this is to say that you're not stuck with your legal obligations. I'm not suggesting that you cheat or steal or even engage in sharp practices or take advantage. But don't imagine that you have a moral obligation to a business. Your moral obligations are to people.
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