Of outliers and honesty.

There is a television program that asks what people would do in a particular situation. It’s one of several that have asked the same question over the past few decades (a tendency television has to return to the same theme over and over and over and….you get the picture). People will be put in a situation where their honesty, or their compassion to some other aspect of their character must come forward to show what type of person they really are. I recently ran into a situation like that in real life, and while I think my response was a good one, the response of some others was not so good. Let me explain….

I am an ‘old school’ sort of person, especially when it comes to reading my news. I love having access to sites like the BBC and NPR through my smart phone and online, but when I really want to read some local news, I will always gravitate towards an actual printed newspaper. Yesterday, I walked uptown to buy my Saturday copy of the local ‘big city’ newspaper (the Rockford Register-Star). As I was leaving the business, I saw some paper money lying on the sidewalk. I bent down to pick it up, opened it, and counted $11, a five and the rest on ones. There was nothing to identify who’d lost the money. No one had walked past recently, but there were a couple of young women next to the business I’d exited, so I asked them if they’d lost any money. This is where things got interesting.

One of them said she had, so I asked them where she thought he’d dropped it at. She gave a location that was about a block-and-a-half away, so I told her no, I’d found the money right where I was standing. Then she told me she could have lost it there, so I asked her how much money she’d lost. She gave me a figure that was nowhere close, and I informed her as such. She asked me how much money I’d found, and I gave her the figure, whereupon she told me that was how much she’d lost. So I asked what form the sum was in, in other words, was it in the form of all ones, a mix, and if a mix, what mix. She made another guess, again completely wrong. So I told her she’d obviously not lost the money and turned to walk away. As I did, her friend spoke up, telling me to give them the money or she’d call the police on me for ‘stealing’ the money from her friend. I told her to go ahead and walked away.

I think I did the right thing. I tried to find the owner of the money, and gave the only responder more than one chance to identify it. What bothered me was the willingness of a couple of people to not only lie to try to get the money, but their attempt to threaten someone else to get such a small sum. Neither of the young women was dressed poorly, they did not look like ‘street people’ or homeless folk, they were just ordinary people.

Have we come to the point where our people feel it’s okay to do anything to get a little extra money?

I hope not, and I hope their actions were an anomaly…but I look around me, and I wonder if that hope is not misplaced. We seem, as a society, to be moving towards an attitude that allows some of to think it’s okay to do anything as long as it gets us ‘ahead’.

That’s a dark place for a person to go to, but it’s an even darker place for a society to go. Societies have gone there in the past, usually on their path towards destruction. So I will hope, foolishly perhaps, that these two young women were outliers, exceptions to the general rule, and not the first of a wave that will bury the society I grew up in.

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