Dear Nick and Nora:
Three days ago I overheard a conversation — well, first I overheard and then I eavesdropped — during an hour-long equipment delay at the airport. If nothing else, listening to what these people were saying made the hour-long layover fly by.
It started with a strong and animated male voice, “The hell you will!”
Then a female voice, “Frank’s just trying to pull your chain, Ralph. He’s not going to take a commission for being ‘The Pot’ during this miserable trip.”
A second female voice chimed in, “Rita, Frank and I have been talking about it, and we think he really should be compensated for the time he spent taking care of the money. It was very stressful this time, and it made a bad trip even worse for him.”
That’s what I overheard. It would take a stronger person than I to resist the opportunity to listen to the rest of the conversation.
As you can probably gather, two couples — Frank and Francine, and Rita and Ralph — were at the end of a miserable three-week trip. They were at LAX waiting for the last leg of their flight home. Frank had been the holder of the joint trip money, and he was ready to distribute what was left of it. Instead of an equal split, though, he wanted to begin by paying himself 25 percent “off the top” as compensation for being The Pot. (Both the money in The Pot and the person holding it were collectively called The Pot.)
It was Frank’s announcement that he intended to keep 25 percent of the balance that elicited “The hell you will!” from Ralph. I’ll summarize the seven reasons Frank gave to justify his fee. I’ll restate each reason at the end. I’m interested in how you think Ralph and Rita will reply to each — and even more interested in your reactions.
Here are Frank’s reasons:
» 1. Frank served as The Pot on the last six trips. He never volunteered for or consented to do the job. It was “thrust upon him.’’
» 2. Protecting and keeping track of the money was stressful, and it detracted from his enjoyment of each vacation.
» 3. Frank acknowledged that he would be even more uncomfortable if one of the others served as The Pot. He’s the only one of the four who can add the same column of numbers and come up with the same answer twice. The others can more or less add, but if they worked on the same problem, they would come up with different answers — and then argue about who was right.
» 4. Frank says he’s making an observation and not a judgment, and then he went on to say, “There is a better than 50/50 chance that one or all of you will be half in the bag after any meal. As the only nondrinker, I get stuck being the All-Purpose-Designated-Responsible-Person. I’m tired of such a thankless job.”
» 5. Of the four, Frank is the only one who works for a living. When he does work (and being The Pot is work) that benefits others, he expects to get paid for his effort.
» 6. Unlike Rita and Ralph, Frank and Francine need the money. Rita and Ralph will never understand where Frank is coming from unless they put themselves in his place. Otherwise, they’ll never get what Frank’s saying because money’s not important to them.
» 7. The 25 percent commission is minimal compensation for the work done. He proposed to “take it off the top” of the unexpended funds and not from the total cost of the trip. Because it’s coming off the top, Frank argues that he’s paying half his own fee.
Here’s a brief summary of each point. What do you think?
» The job has always been imposed on Frank.
» The job is stressful for him and detracts from his enjoyment.
» He’s always the Designated Responsible Person, and he’s tired of that job, too.
» He’s the only one who can add the same column of numbers twice and get the same answer.
» He’s the only one who works for a living, and when a person works and confers a benefit to another, the person receiving the benefit should pay compensation for the effort.
» Frank and Francine need the money. Frank wants Ralph and Rita to imagine what it’s like to be in his position. Since money is not important to them, they can’t understand what he’s really saying unless they make an effort to put themselves in Frank’s position.
» He’s asking for a mere 25 percent “off the top of what’s left in The Pot and, because the money is coming off the top, I’m paying half my own fee.”
What answers do you have to these points? What insights do you gain from this exercise?
A clue to Ralph and Rita responses: They have a reasonable rebuttal to each of Frank’s arguments.