Back when the kids were still tads, we occasionally took them to a drive-in theater in the Town of Niagara. On one particular evening, I ordered my tickets from a young lady (there was a man standing behind her). After counting my change, I handed her back a $5 bill. “You gave me too much,” I said.
She gave me a flustered, “Thank you,” and I drove in and hooked up to our speakers, thinking that was the end of it. When I was buying popcorn between movies, however, the man came up to me and said, “Are you the gentleman who gave the cashier back the $5 when you bought your tickets?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Take these with our compliments,” he said, pressing into my hand what turned out to be a thick wad of complimentary admissions.
“This is not necessary,” I said, but he just smiled and walked away.
The family, of course, was thrilled, but I couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of sadness that my honesty stood out so much that someone felt it should be rewarded. It should be the norm, I thought. In fact, it should be expected. When Mark asked, “Why did he do that, Dad?” I saw a chance for a moral lesson.
“Because I could have just kept it,” I said, “and no one would have known but me.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because it wasn’t mine. I had done nothing to earn it. And, if I had kept it, at the end of the day when they counted the money, the $5 would have been missing and they would probably have taken it out of the cashier’s pay. Then she’d be out $5 she had earned and I’d be ahead $5 that I hadn’t. That wouldn’t have been right, would it?”
“No,” Mark admitted. Lesson learned.
Getting too much change has happened to me twice more since then. The first time, the young lady thanked me profusely. But the second time, which involved $10 as part of change from a $50 bill, the cashier just stared blankly at me, not uttering a word. Her lack of gratitude has nothing to do with it, I reminded myself. I did the right thing.
I’m not a goody two-shoes. I was just brought up that way, as I’m sure most of us were. There could probably be circumstances under which I may not stand up to the test.
For a stretch, say that my family was starving and someone left a pie on her windowsill to cool – a court somewhere recently ruled that under such circumstances, stealing food wasn’t a crime – but for the most part, I feel my honesty has been too ingrained for lapses.
There is a whole subculture of people nowadays whose existence is predicated on scamming their fellow citizens, constantly adapting their techniques to take advantage of changes in technology and communication. I know, because we were hit on one of our credit cards. Fortunately, it didn’t cost us anything, but what an unhappy dose of reality!
On the brighter side, there are still instances of honesty reported in the papers and on TV, but instead of feeling sad about the fact that they still stand out, I’m hoping such publicity will not only support, but add to the bastions of those who still believe in, doing the right thing.