Sunday, December 15, 2013
Doing right when no one is looking
Several weeks ago, I wrote about professional baseball player Shane Victorino leaving his wallet on a chartered plane when he was traveling with the Boston Red Sox. Someone in Paris found the wallet and returned it. Victorino was asked if he was surprised his wallet had been returned. "There's honest, trustworthy people in this world," he responded.
I asked readers to send me their stories of a particularly proud moment when they chose to do the right thing, even when it wasn't required.
In many cases, readers recounted how others were surprised or curious about why they would bother to make things right.
M.W. from Boston remembers the time in the seventh grade she found 35 cents on the school's floor, the exact amount that a school lunch cost in those days. She turned it in to the vice principal. "What I remember most," she wrote, was how with his tone and attitude he thought this was a "very funny thing for a student to do. He clearly thought I should've just kept the money."
K.L. from Lewis Center, Ohio, had a similar response from her college professor when she pointed out to him that he had given her credit for an answer on an exam that she realized she had gotten wrong. "You have just lost your B for a C, why?" he asked her. She told him that if he had marked something wrong that was correct she would have sought credit. His only comment, she recalls, was that she was "crazy."
Another reader was one of many who recalled finding themselves in situations where someone else needed a helping hand.
S.B., who was living in Michigan at the time, was on her way with her husband to vacation. After filling their car with gas, S.B. went in to pay the bill while her husband cleaned their car windows. Inside a clerk was berating a customer who was short of cash to pay his bill. When the clerk turned to her to take her credit card, she instructed him to put the cost of the other customer's gas on her card as well. She returned to her car and drove off.
And finally, there were many readers who made a choice that initially was painful but ultimately turned out well.
T.S. was at a London Monarch baseball game in Ontario with his 8-year-old son. A foul ball was hit into the crowd. It bounced and landed right in T.S.'s hands. His son was thrilled when T.S. handed him the ball, but they heard a little girl crying and realized that the ball had bounced off of her foot. His son asked his father to give the ball to the girl.
"I gave him a hug and told him that was a really nice thing to do," writes T.S.
Another fan told an usher what had happened. The usher retrieved another ball from the dugout and presented it to T.S.' son. "This helped enforce the theory of do the right thing and good things will happen."
As evidenced from the many stories sent in by readers, sometimes good things happen in return for doing the right thing and sometimes they don't. But the vast majority of readers concurred that regardless of the response they receive they would choose to do the right thing all over again if faced with a similar choice.
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