Sunday, June 17, 2012

No thanks for money finder

Who doesn't like to feel appreciated for doing something good? Particularly when an act requires a little bit of extra effort, it seems natural to want to feel some gratitude.

As a reader from Southern California was walking to her car in a bank's parking lot near where its ATM was located, she found $200 scattered about.

"I am unemployed and $196 overdrawn in my checking account," she writes. Nevertheless, the next day she went to the bank and asked the manager if someone had reported the money missing. Luckily, the manager told her, they had indeed received a call from a customer who had lost her money in the bank's parking lot.

The manager asked her to leave her name and number with him. He told her that he would forward the information to the woman who had reported losing the money. The plan was for the manager to return the money if the woman could identify how much and where she lost it. He would also pass along the name of the person who had found and returned the lost cash.

Indeed, when the woman was called she identified the amount she had lost and where she had lost it. She retrieved her lost funds from the bank's manager who told her the name of the woman who had found her money.

"The woman never even called to say thank you," my reader says. "I didn't return the money expecting anything, but a thank you would have been nice."

She's angry that the woman did not call to thank her and she is "seriously regretting" her decision to give the money back, especial with her "financial dire straits."

"I am hopeful that there truly is karma, and that I made the right decision," she says.

In The Call of Stories: Teaching and the MoralImagination (Houghton Mifflin, 1990), Robert Coles writes that character "is how you behave when no one is looking."

My reader was certain no one was looking when she found the cash in the bank's parking lot. It would have been easy for her to simply scoop up the cash strewn about the parking lot and use it for her personal expenses. Clearly, she was in need of the funds. But she believed that the right thing to do was to make an effort to see if anyone had lost the cash. She showed great character.

Did she do the right thing? Yes, she did.

It also would have been the right thing for the person who lost the money to acknowledge the person who found it and returned it.

That she didn't may say something about her character, but it shouldn't change the reader's understanding that she acted with great character when she tried to get the cash to its rightful owner. After all, she didn't try to return it because she wanted a thank you, but because she believed it to be the responsible thing to do.

She can certainly regret that the money's owner didn't acknowledge her. But she can only control how she behaves, not how others do...even though the money loser might take a lesson in civil behavior from my reader.

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 

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(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Anonymous said...

The owner of the money is an idiot. Plain and simple.

Alan O greenfield, Ma.

Bill Jacobson said...

The fact that the person who lost the money failed to thank the person who found it is not a flaw in the finder's character... Doing the right thing is its own reward.

Bill Jacobson
Anaheim, CA

Anonymous said...

The finder showed good character and good manners by doing the right thing, and she is to be commended for those actions. She also has the satisfaction of doing the right thing.

The loser - the person who lost the money - is an ungrateful lout with no manners at all.

Anonymous said...

We do not do good deeds for the supposed thanks we will get, we do it because it is the right thing to do. About the only thing this story brings us is the chance to see that sometimes we do good things and don't get a reward. The reward is in knowing she did the right thing. We are not promised rewards if we do the right thing. Well, it did provide a good lesson and fodder for Jeffrey's column.

Charlie Seng