Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Small Things Matter - A Story of Integrity

My wife and I had an interesting conversation with some friends as we were leaving one of the national parks. We were approaching the exit when Don, who was driving, said, "Okay, what's the best way to get back to town?"

"This park pamphlet has great maps," said Patty, his wife. "I got it free at the gift shop."

Then my wife said, "You got it free? I paid a dollar for mine."

"Yours must be different. Mine was free."

"No, they're the same. See on the cover? One dollar."

There was silence in the back seat, and then we all laughed.

"Well now, what should I do? Should we go back and pay for it?"

"You want to go all the way back just for a dollar?" my wife asked.

Don chimed in. "I remember one time I was was leaving a grocery store and I found a ten dollar bill just inside the entrance. I was sure a customer dropped it, probably when he pulled out his car keys. I wondered if I should consider it found money and keep it, or give the money to the clerk in case the customer returned for it."

"It seems to me that wouldn't work," I said. "Chances are the customer wouldn't return. Or the clerk would just figure it's his lucky day and keep it for himself. You wouldn't achieve what you were trying to do."   

"Right," said Don. "What I did instead was to drop it into the Salvation Army bucket located just outside the store. It wasn't my money and I had no way of returning it, but at least I could use it to do some good. Karma."

"So I should donate the dollar to charity?" asked Patty. "Why don't I just give the dollar to a cashier at the next park gift shop?"

"Are we headed that way?" asked my wife.

"No, but look over there. See that little wooden box at the pull-off? I think it's for donations to help keep the park beautiful."

We pulled over, found a dollar among us and put it into the box.

I felt the need to add my two cents. "These are interesting situations. It's only a dollar, or ten dollars, but you feel the need to make it right. Even though probably no one cares about it but you. I bet these pamphlets are taken by mistake all the time. The park probably makes a profit on them anyway. But I think it's important to balance the scales. I think integrity is a two-way street. We do the right thing so we don't hurt other people. We also do it for ourselves. We want to feel that we're the kind of people who do what's right. The truth is, if you cheat someone, even for only a dollar, your brain remembers that you did it. The information you're carrying around subconsciously is that you cheat. This affects how you think about yourself. Your self-esteem. It can be a burden. It's not worth a dollar. Or ten dollars. Or any amount of money."

"Right," said Don.

I had another point to make. "To me the scary part is the behavior pattern. If you do it once, it's easier next time. And if you do it again, you're building a pattern, a way of being."

More silence. Maybe I got too heavy. We were supposed to be having fun.

"It's nice to be in the company of such exemplary people," I said in a loud, joking voice. Everyone laughed. But of course I wasn't joking, and they knew it.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (2010 photo by Kathleen Scott, used with permission.)


Sean said...

Another way of looking at it this: just where do you need to be in life in order to feel it's necessary to steal a dollar?

Most people are beyond that. Returning the dollar gives a feeling a relief, knowing that your life is not so desperate that you need to steal a dollar from someone else.

Boomergirl said...

User fees pay for Ontario Parks in Canada ( A lot of folks don't realize it but it's true.
Perhaps once the printing costs have been paid on the maps you describe in your post, the rest of the proceeds go for the upkeep of your parks. Good of you to drop that buck in the bucket. We're so fortunate to have these wonders of nature to visit.

Frank Lehane said...

What makes us care? I submit this burden is supplanted in each of our souls. I submit that each soul yearns for justice, mercy, love and forgiveness by the One who made us. This "weight" of being out-of-integrity is what divides us from other creatures in that we do what we can, if we listen to our hearts, to find those things for which we most yearn.

Ann said...

Excellent points, especially at the end. Sometimes we really can't go "all the way back" to do the right thing, but we still can do something right. And if we don't, it can put us on the slippery slope to let more and more slide without caring.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when I was at a restaurant with my sister. She had coffee with her meal and used 4 or 5 creamers and a packette of sweetener. I teased her about it asking her if she had a little coffee with her creamer. We both chuckled and had a nice lunch. When we were getting ready to leave, she non-challantly took a stack of sweetner packettes and put them in her purse. I asked her why she was stealing that and she said that it wasn't stealing and that these things were free. We continued the conversation in the car as I explained that the restaurant puts them there for their customer's convenience and if everyone took a stack, the restaurant would probably have to go to issuing packets individually. This was stealing as much as taking silverware or anything else. We ended up having to agree to disagree but I know that she was trying to justify her theft. From that time forward, she refrained from helping herself to "extas" when we had lunch, but it reflects my trust toward her to this day.

Marco Malacarne said...

That's a very nice way to learn. A story I hope will happens to me, in order to tell this to my two little children. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

It is always good to make a deposit in the karma bank.
We never know when it will be helpfull to make a withdrawal.