Noel Finds a Gun
Brains or balls? Choose your weapons
By Walter Jowers
MARCH 8, 1999: My friend Noel does home inspections in Atlanta. Noel is stubborn, opinionated, and does things his own way. For instance, most home inspectors write their reports on prefab checklists that they buy by the gross. Noel developed his very own report, on his very own computer. Noel's reports--unlike their generic counterparts--are chock-full of detailed illustrations, and quotations from various building codes. When builders try to argue construction and codes with Noel, they lose.
Noel has been known to fire customers. Sooner or later, every home inspector runs across a customer who'll ask him to exaggerate a house's flaws, hoping to convince the owners to sell cheap. Noel won't play. If somebody asks him to fudge, he just gets back in his truck and goes home.
Biz partner Rick and I host an Internet discussion group for home inspectors. We have contributors from all over the U.S. and Canada. Through our discussions, we've learned that some home inspectors underplay problems they find with houses because they're afraid of being branded as "alarmists" by the local realtors. Noel has a problem with this. Whenever he catches the scent of a guy who might betray a customer, he dishes out a fearful electronic whipping.
Over the years, I've figured out that Noel and I share a common ailment: We both have an overactive sense of responsibility. I'm not sure how Noel got his, but I can trace mine back to a day when I was 13, and I told my father I'd lock his sorry ass out of the house the next time he came home drunk. That night, he came home drunk, and I locked his sorry ass out. Ever since then, I've felt compelled to stomp the life out of any trouble I see before it can get up and running.
A while back, Noel told me a story about the first time he took his kids on a plane. He told them they'd have to flap their arms to get the plane off the ground. So they flapped. Other kids on the plane heard Noel talking, so they flapped, too. By the time the wheels got off the ground, everybody on the plane was flapping.
Now this is a cute story, but here's what it tells me: Somewhere in Noel's mind, there's a voice telling him that the best way for a plane to get off the ground is for him to take some personal responsibility for it. When his family's on the plane, Noel is not going to sit back and rely on the jets and the wings. He's going to show God and gravity that he has shown up, and he is doing his part.
I know this kind of overamped responsibility is a sickness. But I like it in a person, and I look for it in my friends and associates.
A few weeks back, Noel told all of us in the Internet discussion group that while he was doing an inspection, he came across a gun in a basement. The gun was within easy reach, on top of a low wall. Judging from the toys in the house, Noel figured that there were children living in the house, and that they played in the basement.
In the home inspection business, we mostly just look at things. We don't touch the homeowners' personal stuff. But Noel decided to make an exception. He took the gun down off the basement wall, and found that it was half-cocked. That means the hammer was pulled halfway back, and the safety was not engaged. The gun could've been fired with the slightest pull of the trigger. Noel engaged the safety, released the ammunition magazine, and ejected the round that was in the chamber.
"I kept the magazine with the ammo, and left the gun on the kitchen table with a plastic tie-wrap running through the barrel and the chamber," Noel said. "I left my card, and a note. I also told the realtor."
When Noel shared these details with our little discussion group, a few people jumped on him. Who was he to mess with the homeowner's gun? How dare he walk out of the house with the magazine and ammo?
I said I would've left the gun in place, and asked the owner and realtor to sign a note saying I'd told them that there's a gun within easy reach in the basement. A few people agreed that would have been the smart thing to do.
Noel countered, "I've got a brain, but that doesn't make my balls fall off." He continued: "That gun was ready to fire and pure deadly. If you found gas escaping in the basement, and the shutoff was right there, wouldn't you shut it off? If the wiring started crackling, wouldn't you shut off the power?"
Of course I would. In fact, I've done both of those things. But when it came to the gun dilemma, my first thought was how to cover my own ass. I should have left my ass out of it, and kept my internal dialog to a brains versus balls debate. Next time something like this comes up, I believe I'll stop for second and think, "What would Noel do?" Or maybe, "What would I have done when I was thirteen?"
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