So while I was on my recent sojourn to California, I was ordering some delicious clam chowder in a bread bowl – and boy oh boy, is that one of life’s simple pleasures or what? – and my total order came to $10 and some odd cents. I gave the cashier a $20 and she handed me back some loose change, a $5 bill and 5 singles. I told her she had given me $1 too much in change and handed her back the $1 bill and she seemed shocked. But it wasn’t my money to keep and, having been raised by good parents and taught by good nuns in a Catholic school, I know the difference between right and wrong. And yes, it’s only $1 but still, it wasn’t my $1.
And it got me thinking about how it seems that doing the right thing has become the exception and not the rule, and how did we get to this point in time and, more importantly, how do we get back to old-fashioned values of honesty and integrity and character being the norm?
It reminded me of a trip to Target a few years ago, during the height of The Osbournes television show and buying my great kid a DVD of their first season on TV. We checked out all of our items (because, as I know you can all relate to, we went in there to buy just one thing and ended up spending $100; Sephora has the same effect on me too) and, while unloading the bags from the shopping cart into my late, great, much missed PT Cruiser, I noticed that the DVD was still in the cart and, unbeknownst to me, had not been scanned by the cashier, nor had we paid for it.
So my great kid and I hightailed it back into Tar-jay and headed straight for Customer Service so we could pay for the DVD. And they looked at me oddly, as if this never occurs, which made me feel odd, like some kind of retail lab-specimen that one doesn’t see that often. We paid the $20 or so for the DVD and turned to leave when a manager came over. “Uh oh – here we go”, I thought. He thinks we shoplifted it and I’m going to get a lecture or worse.
But ’twas not to be. The managed presented me with a $5 coupon towards anything in the store as a way of saying “thanks” for being so honest.
Seriously, they have to reward people for not stealing from them? To use one of the internet’s most entertaining acronyms – WTF?
It seems to me that, more and more often, more and more of us seem to feel a sense of entitlement that we really shouldn’t. I think – or at least I hope – that we were all brought up by either the good rule, or the Ten Commandments, or some kind of social mores that instilled in us that you don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, you don’t cheat (on a test, or playing games, or on another person), you stand up and hold yourself accountable for your actions, and you – for lack of a better term, although the one I’m going to use won’t apply to half the world’s population – you man up.
But think how often that doesn’t happen. We see Lindsay Lohan weeping in court (while the words “F*ck you” are written on her nails) because a judge has finally said “Enough is enough” and held her responsible for her irresponsible actions. We see celebrities serving minutes sometimes, or maybe days, in California jails – instead of their prescribed jail times – because the jails are overcrowded and it’s easier to cut people loose than make them suffer a little (damn! – double people up in jail cells already – it’s not supposed to be comfortable for you if you’re in jail).
A few years ago, my car (again, my wonderful PT Cruiser – oh, how I miss you) was rear-ended by a car full of teenage boys who had been tailgating me for a while. Fortunately for me – not so fortunately for them – the accident happened right outside a synagogue where Bingo was about to start, so there was a lovely police officer directing traffic in and out of the synagogue’s parking lot who saw the whole thing.
As soon as the accident happened, the doors of the car that hit me flung open and, like a clown car at the circus, teenage boys kept pouring from the car and running off in every direction. The only one who stayed behind was the boy who had been actually driving. The very nice police officer told me that, when he’d run the license of the boy driver, it showed that he was driving – at the age of 17!! – under a suspended license, which means he shouldn’t have been on the road at all. His parents showed up even quicker than the ambulance did and proceeded to shut the kid down from saying anything or, worse yet, admitting anything.
I did manage to get in a question to the parents about how they could allow their underage boy driver to use his car with a suspended driver’s license. Not surprisingly, no answer. But smart ones, these people were, or at least they thought they were. They hired a lawyer, lickety-split for their kid, who had been given 4 tickets by the cop. A hearing was scheduled and – lo and behold – I was invited to attend in case I had any objections to the penalties for the tickets being reduced for this kid.
I am a big fan of the legal profession for I know they do much good in this world, defending innocent people and making sure the time fits the crime and I’m not a vindictive person. But it gnawed at me that, instead of teaching their son to take his medicine and be responsible for his actions, including getting his license revoked, if that’s what it took, they showed him that money and power might possibly buy his way out of his mess. And it’s always bothered me that teaching a kid that “lesson” at 17 is going to make him or her think all his or her life that you can knowingly do something wrong and yet – if you’ve got the money or the connections or the wherewithal to intervene – you can skate through life without ever being responsible. And irresponsible teens grow up into irresponsible adults who raise irresponsible kids.
So thanks to my parents and my teachers and my friends and everyone else who has led a good life and showed me by example that doing the right thing – even when no one is looking – especially when no one is looking – is honorable and noble and, most of all, right. And my life will have been a success if my great kid tells me one day that I have lived a good life that he wants to model his after. Because success won’t be measured in how good a job he gets, or the name of the school on his college diploma, or how much money he makes but instead by the kindness in his heart, and the compassion in his soul, and knowing that right is right and wrong is wrong and a good person with a true heart will never confuse the two.