Sunday, June 14, 2015
Many happy returns to lost items
Judging from reader reports, people have a knack for misplacing wallets and purses --and how they respond when finding such items left behind by others says a lot about their character.
B.C., a reader from New England, wrote that he regularly spends time with old high school friends when they're home for a holiday. At one get-together, a friend told the group about the time he and his wife found a wallet on the beach. They removed the cash and tossed the wallet, with the owner's license and credit cards, in a dumpster.
Two people in the group "went nuts" over the story, telling the friend how wrong he was to care so little about the wallet's owner, and hammering him for the cavalier way he told the story.
"The friend was shamed to the point that he got up, left the bar, and we haven't spoken to him since," B.C. noted.
Janet experienced a far different scenario. When she and family were visiting Gettysburg, Penn., several years ago, her 13-year-old daughter spotted a small purse lying beside a tree. There was $20 to $40 in the purse and no identification. The visitor's center was closed, so they couldn't leave the purse in the lost and found.
The daughter insisted that they wait for more than an hour to see if the owner returned. When she didn't, the daughter placed the purse in the tree, hoping it would be obvious to the owner if she returned.
Another reader, S.K., recalled being at an Olive Garden restaurant in Ohio when she saw a woman leave the restroom just as S.K. was entering. S.K. noticed that the woman had left a purse behind. The ID information inside the purse matched the woman who'd left the restroom, but otherwise the purse contained only a wadded-up tissue, two gum wrappers and an empty coin purse.
"I took $20 out of my wallet and put it in the clutch," S.K. wrote. She then returned the purse to the woman, who was sitting in the restaurant with three young children. "She opened the clutch, looked up at me and got tears in her eyes," S.K. wrote.
At a gas station in Santa Rosa, Calif., reader A.L. and her husband noticed a wallet on the floor of a phone booth. (Apparently, some gas stations in Santa Rosa still have phone booths!) The wallet contained what appeared to be a month's worth of paycheck cash. The owner was nowhere in sight, so A.L. checked the info in the wallet and called the owner.
"The man who came to our door was a salmon fisherman," writes A.L. "He wanted to give us some reward money. But, inspired by the movie 'Pay It Forward,' we told him to just pay it forward to someone else who might need some help."
There's no one right way to return what isn't yours, but failing to at least try is wrong. The right thing is to do what you can to set things right -- with the hope that your action leads others to do the same.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.