Does it pay to be honest where money is concerned? If it does pay, does it pay more than it would not to be honest? If you choose to be honest, are you being stupid? Silly? If you told your friends about your honest reaction in a situation where money was concerned, would they judge you as crazy? How would you react in situations which give you the option to be or not to be honest with money? What would you do in a situation like the one described here?
One day I was depositing cash into an ATM. There was nobody around far and wide when I approached the ATM. I put my cash in a depositing envelope, sealed the envelope, and held it in my hand ready for depositing. Then I inserted my card and waited for the prompt for a PIN. The prompt did not happen and the ATM returned my card. An instant flash through my mind told me that something was strange, because the screen didn’t inform me that the ATM was out of service. The next question was why was the ATM not working. When inserting my card, as one usually doesn’t, I didn’t look down past the card slot, because I needed to look at the slot in order to insert the card. But at the point when I had this flash through my mind I did look down – and there was the answer to why the ATM didn’t work. The cash dispensing slot was flashing green and then I noticed that it was open and had cash lying in it. I grabbed the cash and counted CAD$100 in 5 20-dollar bills. I folded the money twice and held it in my hand. As soon as I took the money from the cash dispensing slot, the ATM returned to its correct state of operation and accepted my card whereby I could proceed with my deposit.
During the depositing transaction, while still holding these 100 dollars in my hand, my mind was working overtime over what to do with the cash. Take it and rub my hands together with happiness? But that wouldn’t be right – and what if someone would see and challenge me? Give it to the bank clerk who worked at the pavilion to which the ATM was adjacent and tell him the cash had been lying in the dispensing slot? He’d most probably just thank me with a smile and put it in his pocket as soon as I’d get out of sight. Either way, this cash would never get to whoever forgot it there. Or what else? Was there another option?
All this was going through my mind while I was depositing my money. When I finished depositing, I slowly turned around to leave. A woman who by now stood behind me then immediately proceeded to the ATM and started doing her banking. I observed her for a while, but it became clear that she wouldn’t be the one who had forgotten the money in the ATM slot. So I stood there and looked around for another while secretly wishing something would happen…
…and at that moment another woman appeared from an unknown direction and asked me: “Hi, I know this is a silly question, but have you seen some cash here?” I immediately checked her appearance out. Se didn’t look dodgy, nor like a street mugger. She looked like an average honest citizen who was slightly distressed, yet had 80% given up on the idea of seeing these 100 dollars again. At this point I had 2 options: to tell her I had it or to tell her I hadn’t seen it. My intuition told me to be honest and I said: “How much was it?” She told me the correct sum and I said “Yes! I have it in my hand!” And I opened my palm and showed her the money. Her face lit up and she exclaimed: “YOU are the MOST HONEST person in the world!” I just stood there and thought ‘well, thanks for the compliment, but let’s see whether you are the most honest person in the world!’. I asked her whether she wouldn’t mind going to the bank clerk at the pavilion to help me confirm that she was the owner of this money. She of course agreed, the clerk confirmed her ownership of the money, and I gave her the money with a smile. She immediately took one of the 20-dollar bills and offered it to me. I was so shocked that my best immediate reaction was: “Are you kidding me?” to which she replied: “Come on! I asked you and you told me! I really appreciate it! Of course I’m not kidding. Take it!”.
This woman seemed to be so happy that the 20 bucks really wouldn’t have bothered her in the slightest at that moment. So I took it, thanked her very much, and she was on the move, shouting from an escalator taking her up into the supermarket ‘You’re very welcome, honestly!”.
Quite a moving experience. And it still gives me a warm glow now. The intriguing question is what would others do in this situation. If counted, would more people take the cash and dash? Would the ratio differ greatly by culture? By social status? What would be the reasons for the honest to give the money back to that woman? What would you do?
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