A Lesson In Conscientiousness

According to Dictionary.com, there are two definitions for the word, conscientious:

1. Governed by conscience; controlled by or done according to one’s inner sense of what is right; principled.

2. Careful and painstaking; particular, meticulous; scrupulous.

Now, I’m not some starry-eyed believer in any utopian vision, but I do believe that society, and humanity in general, would be a great deal better off if people just learned to be more conscientious in their daily lives. And though morality is important, it’s the second definition I wish to stress. To be “careful and painstaking” as people go through life. To think outside of themselves for the betterment of all.

The following incident will illustrate my meaning:

Once upon a time, I was a security guard in a casino in downtown Reno. While on patrol one evening, I observed a large blue duffle bag sitting in an open area between the sports lounge and a nearby bar. It looked abandoned, so I walked over with the intent of taking it to Lost & Found.

As soon as I reached the bag, a patron at the bar began yelling—because the bag was nowhere near him—that the bag was his. I, for safety as well as peace of mind, asked the gentleman if he’d move the bag closer to the bar. Well, of course, this was a major affront to his pride, and he got an attitude with me. After several exchanges, I erupted:

“Do I really have to explain why you can’t leave your bag there?”

Luckily, a female friend of the patron’s intervened; otherwise, I might’ve escorted him off the premises. (I found out later that he was part of the show being held in the theater, which I suppose is why he acted so entitled.) The bag was moved—under protest, naturally—and I resumed my patrol, shaking my head at the utter stupidity I’d just encountered.

Now, to anyone who’s ever worked in security, the reasons why I asked the patron to move his bag should be obvious. But for the benefit of everyone who’s not had the pleasure of security work—and for my fellow security guards who perhaps never gleaned the inherent lessons of the job; namely, that we’re supposed to be proactive instead of reactive—allow me to explain.

Per Murphy’s Law, if I’d allowed that bag to sit there, one of three things would’ve probably happened:

1. Someone would’ve grabbed the bag while the patron wasn’t looking.

Seriously, it only takes a matter of seconds to pick something up and walk away with it. And in a casino, it’s easy to duck behind machines, find a convenient bathroom or exit, or otherwise disappear. If you were, oh, I don’t know, say, sitting at a bar with your theater buddies, drinking, with your back to your property, it’s a highly plausible scenario that you’d turn around and find your bag gone. And then what would’ve happened? Well, Marlon Brando would’ve called security, of course! I would’ve had to go over there, listen to him rant and rave about how his bag was missing, and deflect his demand that we “check the cameras!”

Here’s a couple tips for everyone. First of all, real life isn’t like the movies. I can’t speak for every property in this world, but most places I’ve worked—including multiple casinos, and a major trauma hospital—have L-O-U-S-Y camera systems. This is mostly due to good camera systems being highly expensive. So any footage captured will usually be grainy and fairly useless. Also, more specific to casinos, the footage that regular security has access to is extremely limited compared to the Surveillance department. And let me tell ya, getting access to Surveillance footage is often tantamount to passing a bill in Congress.

Now, let’s suppose that we did have perfect footage of the person who took the bag. What, exactly, could we do about it? Not much, except write up our own internal report—which is confidential, by the way. Yeah, sorry. If you want access to a report filed on private property, you’ll have to contact local police and get a case number, and we’ll be more than happy to share our findings with our brothers-and-sisters-in-blue.

In short, YOU are responsible for YOUR property!

2. Someone would’ve saw the bag sitting there by itself, and freaked out.

Seriously. We live in a post-9/11 world, where people are taught: “If you see something, say something.” And they do. They tell security. So, in this scenario, by ignoring the bag, I still would’ve found myself dealing with the same exact situation:

“Sir, can I get you to move your property?”

3. Someone would’ve tripped and fallen over the bag.

Boy, oh, boy. For anyone who’s never had to write an injury report, I’ll briefly take you through the process. First of all, you determine if the subject (person who fell) is injured or not. If not, and if the subject declines to write a statement, you can usually consider the situation resolved. At the particular property where I dealt with Brando and his bag, however, we wrote reports for everything, regardless. So I still would’ve had to take pictures of the subject, the bag, the surrounding area, and interview the subject so that I could write a brief, though thorough narrative of the incident.

Now, if you have an injury—either a guest or employee—or just a dramatic person who wants to make a big deal of it, then your life gets very complicated. Pictures, interview, statement. Sometimes just getting a coherent statement is quite a hassle, especially if there’s a language barrier or the subject is unable to write in English. If 911 is needed, then multiple guards have to coordinate, securing the scene, keeping the subject safe, and escorting the medical personnel through the property. If the subject is an employee, then odds are the subject’s supervisor will have to get involved (read: more paperwork), and the subject might have to take a urinalysis to remain employed (read: more paperwork).

It’s a huge mess, and later, you’ll get to sit down and write everything out in chronological order, using your notes and your memory. With all the forms, paperwork, and typing, it’ll take at least ninety minutes to complete properly. And if you haven’t documented everything correctly, well, the company you work for could be vulnerable to a lawsuit.

All because some guy carelessly left his bag sitting in a walkway.

And there you have it. The seemingly simple and harmless act of not paying attention to your property in a public setting has the potential to be both incredibly complicated, and harmful. I’ve no doubt that the entire theater group saw me as an authoritarian asshole who gets his kicks ordering people around, which wasn’t the case at all. I’m equally sure that none of them had ever worked security—at least not in a casino, anyway—and had no idea what could’ve resulted. Or maybe they just didn’t care. After all, in the last two Murphy’s Law scenarios, none of them would’ve been the slightest bit inconvenienced; it just would’ve been my problem.

All of which brings me back to perhaps my favorite word in the English language:


Being “careful and painstaking.”

Stopping to consider that the things you do—or don’t do, for that matter—can adversely affect others, and that if more people stopped to consider potential consequences, society would be a lot safer, and a lot more pleasant. Furthermore, being conscientious means understanding that most rules, policies, and procedures are in place for a reason, and the people whose jobs it is to enforce them, aren’t just authoritarian assholes to be dismissed.

Obviously, conscientiousness applies to infinitely more than just the situation I described above, and the object of this essay is to get you thinking about that. But if, for some reason, you find the word conscientiousness off-putting, then just think of it as good, old-fashioned, common sense.

Which, unfortunately, as the old saying goes, “ain’t that common.”


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3 thoughts on “A Lesson In Conscientiousness

  1. Good one, Jesse. My push back is this- being ‘painstaking’ and ‘scrupulous,’ particularly when dealing with other people, can lead to freezing. For example- If you had been more conscientious of the person leaving the bag there, perhaps you would have then been left balancing the amount of work involved in writing up case #1, #2, or #3 versus the realization that, for Mr. “I’m King Of The World”, his reason for leaving it precisely in that spot made the most sense for him at that time!

    Now, knowing you I realize that is a ridiculous example. But I would actually argue for the first definition. It isn’t just about the paperwork being a pain in the ass. It is the fact that, in the long run, moving the bag actually is the principled thing to do- that by complying with a request that doesn’t impede your right to life (nobody was going to die), liberty (nobody being tied down and thrown into a cargo container bound for Malaysia), and the *pursuit* of happiness (not to be confused with the *entitlement* to always be happy…) the person moving the bag is performing the principled action.

    Now, maybe their sense of inner right/wrong is such that they disagree. But, you know how to blacken a tooth, so you can always win in the end!


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