NOTE: The Naked Theologian will be on hiatus for the month of August and will return after the Labor Day holiday.
You stop by the convenience store to pick up a gallon of milk. On your way out, you hand the cashier a $10 bill. After she gives you your change, you realize she confused your $10 for a $20. You now have more money than when you walked into the store. (Granted, this scenario is a stretch.) The cashier has started to ring up the next customer and you have to decide whether to give the money back.
Why would you do the right thing? (Ethicists call this “the metaethical question”—and now you can too).
From the list below, choose all the reasons you’d do the right thing.
1. fear of God’s punishment
2. you were in a good mood
3. it was the most expedient thing to do
5. c’mon, there was only $10 on the line!
6. because God rewards the virtuous
7. your better instincts took over
8. you knew you’d feel good about yourself for doing the right thing
9. hmmmmm…don’t know
10. it was the best decision given the circumstances
11. it was the right thing to do, period
12. the cashier was cute and you’re between partners
13. whim; you never really know what you’re going to do ahead of time
14. you knew others would think you rock when you’d tell them what you did
15. your happiness comes first—this choice made you happy
16. the happiness of others comes first—this choice made the cashier happy
17. you tried to imagine what kind of world you’d like to live in, and then decided
18. you wanted to set a good example for your kids
19. God calls, 24/7 for your response to the demand that you bring justice and
loving-kindness into the world
20. you expected the cashier would thank you profusely; you like being thanked
21. you tossed a coin; it landed in her favor
22. the cashier looked like she needed the bucks more than you did
23. you’re on a personal quest for moral perfection
24. her brother is 6’5”, 250 lbs.—he hurts people who take advantage of his sis
25. you were afraid you’d get caught and the police would get called in
26. you were afraid you’d get caught and be publicly humiliated
27. _____________________________________ (other)
From the list, select the 3 best reasons for doing the right thing in any moral situation?
Are the 3 best reasons different from the ones you chose with regard to the cashier?
If the 3 best reasons don’t always motivate you, why not?
Can you boil down the 3 best reasons to a single reason? This is your maxim—in other words, this is the overriding moral rule you would prefer to use when trying to decide what to do.
John W. Ratcliff said:
This one actually seems quite simple to me. The correct answer, and in fact the only answer as far as I am concerned, is #11. Though I might prefer it be worded ‘It is the honest thing to do, period.’
This isn’t even that hypothetical a situation. Stuff like this does happen in real life to everyone from time to time.
And, I generally do the right thing in this situation. Though I am surprised when the person I give back the money to doesn’t say thank you.
I once was in a fancy estate jewelry store and bought a little something and asked for a jewelry bag — you know one of those little velvet drawstring ones. the store didn’t have them but he gave me a used one. I looked into it and found a diamond pendant, a big one of about 3/4 of a carat, and gave it to him. He not only didn’t say thank you, but grabbed it out of my hand and rushed into the back of the store and never reappeared. I felt he was rude. I don’t do it for the thanks, but I kindof expect polite acknowledgment.
Coming in late on this one, but…
Mine were 5, 17, and 27 (other), which for me is a vague, pop-culture blend of random acts of kindness, karma and the butterfly effect. Most of the time, I’m relieved to say, my knee-jerk reaction is to do the right thing. My direct role model on this was my father, who always considered other people before himself, even if it meant going way out of his way and leaving him at a distinct disadvantage. Interestingly, my mother was the “look out for #1” type and my father’s altruism was a source of continual exasperation for her.
Returning the money gives me a chance to tell myself that I’m one of the good guys. I’m 50 years old, overweight and out of shape. I will never rescue an infant from a burning building or take bullet for the President. As a child, I wanted to be a hero, someone who “saved the day.” Returning the money won’t get me on the six o’clock news, and most likely won’t earn me anything at all other than perhaps snickering contempt from onlookers (or maybe a smattering of applause from other onlookers if it happens to be that kind of a day). But it will make me feel good about myself for a few moments, and enable me to say I took the high road.
Please note #5, however. There are days when walking away with an extra $10 will work via the same mechanism. The world has screwed me over today, I might think, and this is my way of bringing it back into balance. I might be able to right some wrong with that extra $10. I might even prevent the convenience store clerk from buying illicit drugs as a result of coming up short. Plenty of rationalizations and justifications. But I can, again, honestly hold up my head here and assert that such moments of slinking selfishness are very, very rare. In fact, I have to actually slow down, stop and think it over when I’m on the verge of doing such a thing. Making a righteous decision is generally accomplished in between heartbeats.
This is a great post!
Victor Rodriguez said:
I would have to say other. See, I would give it back because of my experience. I use to work as a cashier. This sort of think actually isn’t as far fetched as it seems. As a cashier, I would be the one having to pay back the store for my error. Therefore, I understand the situation I am putting them in.