Friday, August 3, 2012
What If No One Knew?
I wrote yesterday about going to Target to buy a ton of school supplies for our Rotary "Pack to School" project. Not surprisingly, while I was there, I picked up a few small items that I needed for myself as well. Among those was a package of Uniball pens. Last night, as I was looking over the receipt, I noticed that it didn't appear I had been charged for the pens. I suppose this could easily happen because I actually purchased 47 separate barcoded items. In her haste, the cashier must have accidentally neglected to scan the pens. The incident created a decision point, as well as some interesting observations.
I decided that the "right" thing would be to go back to Target today, show them the package and the receipt, and then pay for them as I would have yesterday absent the cashier's error. Of course, had I not done so, no one would have been any wiser. Target would never figure out what happened, my friends and family wouldn't know, the schoolchildren certainly wouldn't know -- in fact, only I would know. The man working the customer service area at Target thanked me for paying for the item, but more importantly, of course, I felt better.
While we all like to think of ourselves as impeccably honest, it seems to me that the issue is far more complicated than that. For example, where are the boundaries around when most of us would return the item? What if it was only a $.15 item? What if I had to drive 30 miles to return it? Should I incur additional expense (the cost of gas would certainly exceed $.15) simply because they made an error? What if I didn't notice the error until 3 months from now? The answers aren't as simple and obvious as we'd like to think. And I certainly don't claim to have the answers. Interesting to ponder . . .
It also got me thinking about why I felt better going back to pay for the pens. It seems to me that we all probably have an internal gyroscope that points us in the direction of what we believe is the "right" thing to do. While our gyroscopes may not all be identical, and their ethical settings are likely heavily influenced by our upbringings, our religious beliefs, and our social mores, I think we all feel better when we act in a way that is consistent with our belief system. I suppose that's one definition of integrity - acting in a way that's consistent with our beliefs. When we don't act in this way, something inside of us usually feels "off." I could probably go on for at least several pages more on this thought alone, but I'll leave it as an opening for your own thoughts and an invitation to join me in the conversation.