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Standing on principle takes time

Published March 06. 2010 09:00AM

Sometimes, time is more precious than money.

And other times principle is what matters most.

I spent an hour this morning doing what I call "standing on principle."

You be the judge of whether it was time well spent.

Here's what happened. A package arrived in my mailbox right before Christmas. I thought it might be the book I ordered for my granddaughter.

But when I opened it, I discovered it was a cookbook I never ordered. I had ordered a cookbook from that company last year but didn't think it was worthwhile so I never wanted another one.

I wrote "refused" on the package and took it to the post office where I was told I would have to pay $7.40 in postage. Had I never opened it, the clerk said, I could return it without paying. But if I never opened it, I would have no idea what was in it, I countered.

Of course I was told I had to deal with the company, which I did. Today.

It took just about an hour to go through the maze of automated choices to connect to a "real person."

I first asked if it was the company's policy to send annual cookbooks to someone who didn't order it. Imagine my surprise when she said yes.

The procedure, she said, is that once you order an annual cookbook from them, you continue to get another one every year, complete with a bill for $24.98.

If you don't want to continue receiving the books, you have to notify the company in writing.

She offered me a "deal."

If I paid the $24.98 now over due, the company would strike my name off the mailing list and I would not receive the next annual they planned to send.

No deal, I said. I am not paying for anything I didn't order.

She told me I could have sent it back at any time. Sure, but I didn't think I should have to pay the postage.

I stood on principle, restating my case and telling her very nicely but firmly that I wanted a prepaid merchandise return label because I never ordered the book.

Finally, she reversed course, telling me she would send a prepaid return label, eliminate the outstanding bill, and take my name off the list of future mailings.

While I begrudge taking an hour out of my day to do that, I consider it an hour well spent.

My friend, Michael, who is a businessman through and through, disagrees. While he understands it is often important to "stand on principle," he said one also has to take into consideration what it costs to do it.

The way he figures it, I lost an hour of my time, 60 minutes out of my life. He said he would have paid the postage to send it back and would have forgotten about it.

My sister was another person who thought her time was more important than money. She would have written a check for $24.98 and would have given the cookbook away.

I just don't like being taken advantage of and I tend to try for a fair outcome.

Once, when we flew to San Juan for a four-day package vacation, the plane was late in landing and the hotel transportation didn't arrive for another two hours. Our vacation package called for great Friday night activities but we didn't get to our hotel until midnight. Slowly, people were checked into their rooms. But not us. We were told we had to wait in the lobby until the room was ready.

At 2 in the morning, when I was dead tired from exhaustion and the motion sickness pill I had taken, I decided enough was enough. I told the clerk I wanted our room. Now.

That's when he finally told me the truth. The previous guests decided to stay another night. Since the hotel was filled to capacity, we were told we had to sit in the lobby until a room opened up. At best, he said, we might get a room by noontime.

When I couldn't get anywhere with him, I asked to speak to a manager. He said there were no regular rooms vacant, but to show good faith he would put us up in a penthouse suite.

The suite was beautifully luxurious and it came with free 24-hour food service. So I should have been happy, right?

I still felt gypped because we didn't get in the room until 6 in the morning and that meant we were up for more than 26 hours straight. When the rest of our tour left at 8 for the scheduled excursion, we had to get some sleep.

Back I went to complain to the manager that the delayed van and check-in meant we missed one day of our short 4 day stay in Puerto Rico.

He saw the logic of what I was saying and gave us a certificate for a free stay at the hotel at another time. We never went back to San Juan for me to use it, but at least I didn't feel I sat back and let someone take advantage of us.

But I know my friend Michael is right. Sometimes we have to decide whether it's worth it or not when we insist on fairness or stand on principle.

He's right when he says sometimes time is more precious than money.

And sometimes, the principle of the thing is worth drawing a line in the sand.

It's always a balance act to decide which is more important - money, time or adhering to a sense of fair play.

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