Saturday, May 07, 2005

Thy neighbour is a good man

At Carnegie Mellon, there is what is known as the Reasonable Person Principle (RPP). Put simply, it says, "Expect people to act reasonably." Hence students are not burdened with zillions of rules, and in return are expected not to find technical loopholes that violate the clear intent of these guidelines.

So, instead of saying something like:
"The student together with the delegates, officers, agents, servants, and employees of the Department and the Administrative Bureau, shall be, and hereby are, enjoined, during the pendency of this complaint (including any appeals and/or remands) and until entry of final judgment..."
a lot of handbooks (such as the one for the computing facilities) call upon this principle, or often simply say,
"Follow common sense and RPP."
Mostly the RPP is not even explicitly invoked. A sign on a coffee-maker in the Computer Science lounge reads, "Making coffee is not free. Please drop 20 cents in the bowl for every cup you make."

Even outside CMU, a lot of things assume the law-abiding nature and reasonableness of people.
  • At the public library in Mountain View (in California, where I stayed before coming to Pittsburgh), people check out ("issue" in Indian terminology) books they want themselves. There is no librarian with a specific duty to issue books and no security guard at the exit to inspect them. Similarly books are not "returned" to a librarian, but simply put into a box. Furthermore, if fine accrues on a book out of late return, members are not barred from borrowing till they pay the dues -- fines are paid voluntarily.

  • In the case of wrongly parked cars, the police simply place a ticket on windshield beneath the wiper. The owner is expected to go to a court on a specified day and pay up the fine.

  • But this really takes the cake, merely because the involved parties were all Indians: I visited the Pittsburgh Venkateswara temple this week with friends and we bought tokens for 2 prasadam packets which we had to exchange at a counter. There was no one at the counter (on which all packets were neatly stacked). When we called out, a person from within a room answered, "Please put the tokens in the box and take the prasadam." We dutifully dropped in the tokens; and two packets were all we took!
Another true incident to conclude. A classmate lost her purse, containing college ID and debit cards. Someone had picked it up and tried using the cards (she learnt this later from the bank). On being unable to use it, he put the cards and ID in a cover and placed it on a post-box. It was returned to her by a postman a couple of days later.


Girish said...


Sunil said...


First time here, will visit again!

Srikanth said...

Hi Sunil, Welcome! I am a Wodehouse fan too!