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No good deed goes unpunished
Jack Balshaw 4/3/02

I came across a quote that said, “Gratitude is the most fleeting of human emotions”.  And there’s something to that.  When we owe gratitude to someone, it’s usually because they did something for us they didn’t have to do.  Whether they gave us money, assistance or advice, it was something they didn’t have to do and so, we’re in their debt. 

If we aren’t in a position to reciprocate, we begin to feel guilt or at least an uneasiness about the debt.  The easiest way to get rid of this guilt is to either forget the debt or to rationalize that we were really owed that favor anyway and so it isn’t an obligation we’re required to return.  Either way, our solution to the problem causes our gratitude disappears.

When I first heard the quotation, I thought about a person picking up a cup of coffee for a coworker on the way to the office every morning.  If some morning that person decided not to pick up the coffee any more, I could easily imagine the recipient’s reaction would be anger rather than gratitude for all the previous coffees.  Think about that from your own experiences.

Two recent local occurrences made me think of this, the eviction of people in Santa Rosa from 149 rental houses and the residents of a local mobile home park.  In the Santa Rosa incident, the tenants were given only 30 days to vacate from homes that all agree were renting below market rates. Now, the 30-day timeframe wasn’t very nice or reasonable. However, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the tenants had been treated well by the property owner with low rents for many years.

But that wasn’t the case.  All gratitude for the years of below market rent was instantly forgotten and the landlord was no good.  Even when he finally extended the timeline to 90 days, he was still sued.  He ended up being treated no better than a greedy landlord would have been treated under the same circumstances. He might as well have charged higher rents from the beginning for all the gratitude his lower rents earned him.

In the case of our local mobile home park, now Sandalwood previously Candlewood, there is a similar situation. The original owners were very kind people, too kind from a business point of view.  They were very reluctant to raise ground rents to keep pace with market rates and so their tenants became accustomed to paying below market rate for their rent.

New owners, as businessmen looking to make a profit, are trying to raise rents to present market rates and are being ripped apart for their “greed and callousness”.  Little attention is being paid to the fact that rents at Sandalwood are extremely reasonable now only because the previous owner was a kind person.

All this doesn’t eliminate the condition that both the Santa Rosa renters and the Sandalwood residents may need these below market rents because of limited incomes.  The question of affordable housing is a deserving but separate issue from the topic of this piece.  No gratitude is being shown in either case for previous benefits.

Perhaps Petaluma should look at mobile home parks as a part of our affordable housing stock and financially intervene.  Perhaps our City Council could even create new, city or resident owned parks somewhere in our city.  (Strange isn’t it how mobile home parks have never been offered as affordable housing)

Perhaps these instances are why many communities, businesses, organizations and even individuals are reluctant to become involved in helping people directly.  The good feeling that comes from helping can quickly turn sour if only a few of those helped turn around and bite you because you didn’t do enough from their point of view.  And, unfortunately, there will always be some who will bite.  I might add the few in the Payran area who, after $34 million being spent to help them, still insistently demand more. This wasn’t enough, a perpetual guarantee is demanded.

How fleeting is gratitude.


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