Sunday, July 30, 2006


All readers who responded agreed that, if they received an erroneous $10 in change at their local coffee shop, they would return it promptly.

"The right thing would be to immediately return it," writes Nancy Pike of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, "no matter how personally inconvenient it would be."

Lori Flores of Riverside, Calif., notes that, if the mistake is left uncorrected, it's likely that the cashier will have to pay back the money out of her own pocket.

"To keep this money is theft," writes Kitty Chisholm of Windsor, Ontario.

Helen Standley of Charlotte, N.C., like Debi Grand of Stanton, Calif., and Carole Longman of Delaware, Ohio, would call the store manager about the mistake.

"Much angst can be avoided by a telephone call the instant the receiver discovers the mistake," Longman writes.

Sarah Moss, a 14-year-old from Orange County, Calif., has had personal experience with the issue: She recalls shopping with her mother and younger sister at a clothing store and, after leaving the shop, discovering that the cashier hadn't charged them for one pair of shorts."My conscience didn't have to beat me up for me to choose to tell my mom that we just stole a pair of shorts," Moss writes. "We marched back into the store and did our good deed of the day by paying for the shorts and simultaneously making my mom proud."

Check out other opinions at or post your own by clicking on "comments" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin,

We are currently restoring/renovating a large Victorian home, and the large home improvement warehouse near us is like a second home right now. Recently, we wheeled out into the parking lot with two flat carts full of a bathroom. I examined the receipt and realized we had not been charged for a sink, about $150.00. My husband and I did not hesitate. We wheeled back into the store. The woman at the service desk gave me such a look, you'd have thought my hair was ablaze. She called a manager up, who insisted on taking twenty percent off of the sink, and thanked us profusely. I couldn't believe this was the first time this had occurred, but they said it had never happened. Not that anyone had never been charged incorrectly, but that no one had ever come back. I thought it was common sense, common decency, or whatever you wish to call it. My husband and I have taught our three children to always behave morally and ethically, and to give what they can. Our youngest, our nine- year-old son, was with us, and I knew we were okay when we got out and he asked why they acted so strangely, because we were just doing what was right. I'm not ready yet for him to know too much about not doing the right thing. Thank you for your column. It is so refreshing. I just wanted to share our experience.

Best Regards,

Ginger George
Hamilton, Ohio