Think about this. You’re walking down the street on your way to Starbucks to buy a Unicorn Frappuccino when you spy a bag in the bushes. Terrifying thoughts cross your mind. Nowadays, whenever we spot a stray package, we fear the worst. On the other hand, maybe it’s only some school kid’s lunch or smelly gym clothes.
When you finally muster up the courage to look, you discover a few thousand dollars. This is your lucky day! You could play Powerball for a few centuries and not be so blessed. What should you do? Head for Mohegan Sun or the police station? In 21st century America, where right and wrong often get confused, the decision isn’t always simple.
My first thought would be “Where’s the hidden camera? Somebody’s trying to entrap me.” My second thought would be “OK, this cash belongs to the mob. It’s probably drug money so I better ditch it fast before they get my address, my cell phone number, my Facebook account, my Social Security…” Which they probably already have, along with the FBI, the Russians and the neighborhood kids, who’re trying to use my credit card to buy the latest Katy Perry album on iTunes.
After those insane thoughts, I’d probably come to my senses and conclude, “The honest thing is to give it to the authorities because it might belong to a little old lady who kept her life savings in a bag since her bank stopped paying interest.”
If the money belonged to Wells Fargo, would you give it back, considering what they did? Or if it belonged to Volkswagen or any company that did unethical things? With cash like that, you could pretend to be Robin Hood and share it with panhandlers in New York City, where two out of three need help paying rent on their West Side apartments.
If you’re someone who believes right and wrong are relative, you might say, “Damn the values, I’ll keep the cash!” Especially if the bag belonged to someone dishonest — which could be almost anybody.
According to a Gallup poll, professions thought to have the lowest standards of honesty and ethics include journalists, religious leaders, college teachers, lawyers and executives. Not to be outdone, Congress ranks dead last.
Unfortunately, young people are headed in the same direction. In another survey, 86% of students said they cheated in school and 54% said cheating was OK, even necessary. Quite simply, cheating and lying are socially acceptable so it’s unlikely the money would get returned to its rightful owner. You see, it’s difficult to do the right thing when doing the wrong thing is so easily justified … and fashionable. Plus, we often equate the right thing with political agendas, which can be a risky proposition.
The tragedy is that many people don’t even know what’s wrong anymore even though a sense of right and wrong is hardwired in our brains and was once known as our “conscience.” But as our consciences get short-circuited, doing wrong becomes easier.
And then someone comes along who bucks the trend because he marches to a different drummer. Not a journalist or congressman, but … a six-year-old boy.
Jasper Dopman, a student at Thompson Elementary School in Arlington, Mass., was walking down the street with his father, Erik, when they saw a bag on the ground. Jasper opened it and found $2,000 in cash … which could buy a lot of Power Rangers, a really neat Diamondback Mini Viper BMX bike, and some serious video games.
Instead, they turned the money over to the police, who determined it was lost by an employee of a family-owned chain of Mexican restaurants. Jasper and his father each received an Outstanding Citizen Award from the police and gifts from the company.
Do you remember Mr. Potter, the sniveling, greedy, sinister banker in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”? He found an envelope of someone else’s money, but he kept it. The irony is that he had more cash than everyone else in town, but he wanted even more because he suffered from a moral malady known as “greed.” We all know someone like that. They’re dishonest and unethical because they worship mammon. How unlike Jasper and his father, who by the world’s standards appear foolish.
Jasper taught us a lesson that money can’t buy, a lesson that should serve as a guiding principle: Doing the right thing may not make you rich, but doing the wrong thing will make you poor … in countless ways you may not realize until it’s too late.
You may contact Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org