Sunday, November 23, 2014
Share your own stories of good deeds -- and missed opportunities to do the right thing
A tragic story hit the news waves in Boston last week. A woman who'd apparently been texting on the subway platform while waiting for a train was struck and killed by the train. As some passengers rushed to see what had happened, the spotted her cell phone, clad in its orange case, on the platform.
Shortly after, local television newscasts began running video footage of a man placing his foot on top of the woman's phone. He pauses, looks around, then leans down to pick up the phone. A subway police officer interviewed in the video describes the man's behavior as "reprehensible."
A day after the footage ran, the man turned himself (and the phone) in and was charged with stealing the victim's cell phone. He was released on personal recognize after his lawyer insisted there was "no criminal intent" in his actions. As the woman's family mourns her death, the young man awaits trial.
While character may be what psychiatrist Robert Coles described in The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination (Houghton Mifflin, 1989) as, "how you behave when no one is looking," the incident on the subway platform suggests that the instances when no one is looking are growing fewer.
On the same day the offender appeared in court, The Metro Independent, an online newspaper in Collinsville, Ill., ran a storyspotlighting the Collinsville High School Character Education Students of the Month. One honoree was cited because he'd found a lost cell phone at his school and turned it in to the school office. The story singled out the young man because while "several students have discovered their phones were misplaced ... few have been returned to their owners."
The student was not alone in his honesty. A fellow CHS pupil was honored because after learning about a stolen cell phone, "he searched for, found, and returned" it after spotting the device in his classroom. Still another student found $2 in the school cafeteria. Rather than pocket what might have seemed a trivial amount, she turned the money in to a CHS staff member.
The actions of these three students stand in stark contrast to the alleged actions of the young man on the Boston subway platform.
Of course, not all examples of young people doing the right thing are limited to Collinsville, Ill. I'd like to hear your stories.
Was there a time in your past when you chose to do the right thing regardless of whether you got credit for your actions? Have there been moments when you could have done the right thing and still regret not doing so?
In the past, when I've asked readers to share their stories, the response has offered a wonderful window into the types of ethical decisions people face every day. Provide as much detail as possible, but please keep your submission to no more than 300 words. I will run some of these stories in an upcoming column. Include your name, address and telephone number, and submit your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to email@example.com.