If I only had a little humility, I'd be perfect.
In our staff meeting at school the other day, we were trying to come up with some writing prompts for an upcoming writing assessment. Basically we want to see how well the kids can write, spell, structure an essay, punctuate etc. These assessments usually revolve around a persuasive essay, so we try to come up with a couple of prompts (ideas to prompt the students to write) that the kids may actually be able to form an opinion about.
Because these are kids that are in detention, we were also trying to kick around some ideas that might introduce some ethics into the discussion. We kicked around some variations of the following ideas:
- How would they advise a younger sibling or friend that was considering experimenting with drugs?
- Should young people be compelled by law to go to school or should it be their choice?
- If you knew you could steal something and get away with it should you do it?
The kids here would definitely have opinions and mostly likely experience with each of those questions, and I do too. I don’t even have to think about the first one as I have come to have strong opinions about drug use. It wouldn’t take me long to make an argument either about kids, society and education. But that last one, if I’m being really honest with myself, does make me pause a little bit. It’s not that I believe that stealing should ever be condoned. It’s just that I know I’d have to think about it a little more…because recently I did.
A couple of months ago, for some reason I can’t recall now, I had some cash to deposit in my back account. I do remember that it was $180. I hardly ever deposit cash into my account, plus $180 is kind of a lot of money for me, so you’d think I’d remember where it was coming from, but I can’t. So at the bank drove around to the drive-thru, which was very busy with several cars in each line. After a few minutes wait, it was my turn and I put the deposit slip with my $180 in the “little-tubie-thing” and up it went. A few minutes later I heard the teller’s voice on the intercom asking if that would be all for today? Yep, that’s all - and back the tubie-thing came with my receipt. Except, that wasn’t all that was in the tubie-thing. Along with my receipt showing that a deposit was made into my account was the envelope that had held the $180 cash – with the cash still in it.
Now before you call the police or the bank authorities or whatever I should tell you that I sent the tube back up, called the teller and told him that it looked like he’d forgotten something. He was very relieved and thanked me profusely because that would have been some trouble for him at the end of the day. But I have to tell you I was still kind of bothered by the whole episode. I was bugged because even though I did the right thing, I had really considered not doing the right thing. When I saw that money still in the tube along with the receipt proving that according to the banks computer the money had gone into my account, I realized that there was nothing to stop me from just driving away with twice the money I had started out with. Wow, that would really come in handy. What would I be able to do with that extra cash? $180 wouldn’t mean anything to the bank, but it surely would to me and it’s not my fault that the teller was too dumb to keep the cash.
And then, just like any other self-respecting criminal element, I started considering the odds – how likely was it that I’d get caught? That teller would be short at the end of the day when he tried to balance – probably $180 short. He would then go back over his transactions for the day and that $180 deposit would probably stand out for him. There’re also a lot of cameras around the drive through. If he’s missing $180 they might decide to check back through the video of the day. Would they be able to see that I had pulled more than just a receipt out of the tube? And even if they couldn’t, be sure about what I pulled out of the tube, it’s not like they don’t know who I am, my name , address, phone number, account number – would they call me to ask? And what would I say?
All of these schemes and possibilities flew through my head in the space of about 15 seconds or so it’s not like I’m a candidate for the next Ocean’s Eleven heist. But I still considered it - and pretty seriously for a few seconds there anyway – which totally blows! I am a mother for heaven’s sake! I have raised children and given the honesty speech more times than I can count. I have sat through countless hours of religious training of one sort or another that has included A LOT of exhortations towards honesty. Come to think of it I have given countless hours of religious training myself with plenty of lessons for the kids about honesty. I have worked in public education for the past 12 years where the moral character of teachers and staff is pretty important. And I have had plenty of chit-chats with one kid or another about how important it is to be honest. But even after all of that I was still tempted by the dark side.
Sigmund Freud once said “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” So maybe that trip to the bank was the moral equivalent of a weekly spin class and 15 sets of crunches. I recognize that at the end of the day the really important thing is that I was honest. I guess my problem is there are so many thing that I struggle with, I suppose I thought that stealing was one that I could check off the list. Maybe though, much like my abs, the muscles get soft if you don’t use ‘em. All I know is that after the rush of decidedly unethical thoughts and feelings I had while sitting in my car at the bank drive-thru that day - I'm keeping it on the list.