Opinion: When is public encouragement justified?


The now defunct Indianapolis Athletic Club had a policy of posting the names of members who were unwilling or unable to pay their bills in a timely fashion in a prominent place on the wall of the clubhouse. Deadbeats or not, it would convince the errant fellows to pay up. And, it would offer some prurient thrill to the collected mass that would routinely peruse the list with each new month. Some names would be surprising and might indicate an unusual financial problem for them or their companies. Others were familiar in the fraternity of slow-payers. Either they traveled so much that their mail (and their attentions) were lagging far behind the expectation of the accounting department; or as was more often the case, they were habitual over-spenders, gladly charging today what they could not pay for tomorrow.

It always struck me as a highly effective, if somewhat direct, way to keep receivables under control. There are many points on the sliding scale from failing to collect what we’re owed to outright public humiliation of those who convert the property of others without fair payment. Some organizations send slow accounts to a collection agency promptly and without fanfare. Others, attempt to consider circumstance. Why is the payment late? Can we rely on eventual remuneration?

But do we have a right to be indignant of folks who do not pay – at least not like we do? What right does the community at large have in keeping other people current? Should we be more compassionate or less? Can we judge the neighbor whose association dues are years behind yet still maintains a fleet of automotive toys? Can we criticize the unfulfilled pledge from the person in church with the Cadillac in the parking lot? When is a little public encouragement justified?