What Your Convictions Tell You

“Do what your convictions tell you,” is what my now-former roommate said to me in our last real conversation. I almost did. My convictions told me that he was neither entitled to—nor did he deserve—a single cent of the $50 he was trying to get me to pay him. But, despite what my gut told me right then, I wrote out a check on-the-spot for $25—only subtracting half of what he’d demanded because that was how much it would cost to change the locks. (He had given keys out to at least four different people, and has still not returned any of them except his own.)

My outgoing roommate—who I’ll just call Bob for the purposes of this rant—moved here in January. The two previous roommates had decided to move out in the middle of the school year, putting me in a position of desperately needing somebody to come in for the spring semester and perhaps a while longer.

At about the same time, an acquaintance of Melissa’s and mine was looking to hire a few people to do some basic computer work. We got him in touch with Bob—it was the right opportunities at the right time: a decent job with good pay and a decent apartment with low rent (for this area).

He got hired, he moved in, and he never so much as said “thank you” to either of us.

I told Bob at the beginning that it was my hope to have this apartment to myself after graduating in May, but that it would depend on whether I had a job, what his situation was, and so forth. Melissa and I told him that whenever it came time for him to leave, we would help him find somewhere else to live that was in his price range. I wasn’t going to be a jerk about it or anything, and I expected him not to be one either. His date for leaving the apartment was supposed to depend on both of our financial and employment situations.

Things went reasonably well for most of the time he was here—not perfect, mind you, but reasonably well. The only argument we ever really had was about the phone. You see, even though I was paying half of the phone bill—including caller ID—and provided an answering machine for a line I virtually never used, he felt I should be his personal answering service whenever he happened to be indisposed. You can imagine what I said to that. But, despite that and a couple other minor annoyances, Bob was a perfectly acceptable roommate right up ’til the end.

About three weeks ago, Bob told me he was quitting the job we got him and moving out at the end of the month. He knew darn-well that I hadn’t yet found a job, and he should have known darn-well that basic common courtesy demands a 1-month warning at the absolute least when vacating a shared apartment (he played dumb on the point when I mentioned it). But, as angry as it made me, I remained perfectly civil.

He has told me and others that leaving on such short notice was okay because I was going to kick him out anyway—and I suspect that, somehow, he almost believes that. How my goal to have the apartment to myself at some point (after getting a job and finding Bob another place to live) equates to wanting to “kick him out” is something that I will likely never understand.

Later that evening we discussed how to settle accounts between us. Bob had paid $200 into the deposit on the apartment, it would cost $100 change the lease and take him off it, and he usually paid about $75 into the phone/internet/cable bills. He figured that, once we evened everything out, I would either owe him $75 (assuming I’d pay half of the $100 fee) or $25 (assuming I’d pay nothing toward that fee). I commented that we could also consider splitting the difference, in which case I would owe him $50.

He said that he would work something out with the exact numbers and let me know over the next couple of days what it came out to, and then we could make a decision. I said that was fine. I never agreed to any particular number, although I do admit that $50 was the last figure in the conversation (and this was before I knew it would cost $25 to change the locks). He never came back to me to discuss the numbers.

It was two weeks later when Bob brought this all back up again, confronting me at the door to my room and informing me that I owed him $50. I told him that I had never agreed to that amount (Melissa, who was within earshot during the original conversation, confirms this independently). But, even though he had lied about what I had said, I offered him exactly what he wanted—minus the $25 cost of changing the locks. Through clenched teeth, with palpable anger, he told me to do what my convictions told me to. I did something nicer: I gave him the money.

I was far more kind with Bob than I needed—or even really wanted—to be. Speaking from a purely-legal standpoint, I didn’t even have to let him out of the lease. I could have refused to put my name on the release form, and good ol’ Bob would still be contractually obligated to pay his $490/month portion of the rent on this apartment. Further, I didn’t have to return any portion of the deposit to him; he had to sign the release form just like I did, and part of that said that he was releasing the deposit to me. In fact, he still would’ve had to cover the bills for this past month—I could have made him pay me!

But I didn’t do any such thing. I released Bob from the lease and took on the full brunt of $1040/month even in the face of continued unemployment. When he demanded “his $50,” I gave it to him (minus the fee to change the locks, and it’s not exactly my fault he passed out copies of the apartment key to all his buddies). I did these things because I felt they were the right things to do.

And after all this discourteous, selfish behavior, Bob had the audacity to keep the job that Melissa and I got him. They offered to let him go back to the town he came from and work remotely. The opportunity that he would have never had without us, the one he never so much as thanked us for, is still his to keep.

Even more incredible, if you can believe that anybody would be this petty, Bob has been telling his friends and coworkers that I swindled him. He accuses me of being dishonest, and, all the while, defends his actions by alluding to a comment that I never even made and an action I wasn’t planning to take. This is how my relative generosity is repaid.

You may ask why I tell you these things. Why is it worth my breath? Why waste the entire right-column of the front page of my website on Bob? I tell this story for a couple of reasons. First, it makes me feel better to be able to tell what actually happened (Bob’s version of this story is certainly a bit creative). But, more importantly, it is an allegory on how character and integrity are not always present in the people we most expect to have them. It is an example of how people who live their lives selfishly and at the detriment of others are often the ones who complain loudest about how badly they think they’ve been mistreated.

I followed my convictions through every step in this process. I signed Bob out of this lease and did not obligate him to the $490/month I could have easily forced him to pay. I let him have his precious deposit back (less fees and bills). I put my financial security—and, indeed, my ability to keep this apartment for much longer—on the line to accommodate Bob’s desire to leave, no matter how short-sighted his decision may have been or how rudely he went through with it. I did so because I would have felt dirty forcing him to do things he didn’t want to in order to make my life easier.

When I found out that Bob was spending his time assailing my character, lying about things I said, and trying to gain pity-points among his friends and coworkers, I was understandably livid. But I have decided not to let it bother me much. The people who know me are well-aware that I have always tried to live my life with honor and integrity, and the people who know me are likewise well-aware that this particular situation is no different. I paid Bob everything that I owed him . . . more than I owed him, really. I have to worry about whether I will find work and how I will pay the bills and how I will keep this apartment, but at least my conscience can rest clearly tonight.

How about you, Bob?

Scott Bradford has been putting his opinions on his website since 1995—before most people knew what a website was. He has been a professional web developer in the public- and private-sector for over twenty years. He is an independent constitutional conservative who believes in human rights and limited government, and a Catholic Christian whose beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. He loves Pink Floyd and can play the bass guitar . . . sort-of. He’s a husband, pet lover, amateur radio operator, and classic AMC/Jeep enthusiast.