While at a local park last week my three year old daughter learned the hard way why it’s best to leave her toys in the car. Not even 15 minutes into our time there she had her purse full of goodies (lip stuff, a wooden fan and some hair things) stolen. She had set it down while playing on the swings with her friend and it was gone when she looked for it again a little later on. I’m assuming that another chid took it out of curiosity or envy. That doesn’t bother me as much as the idea that her parent was willing to basically condone that behavior by allowing the child to keep the purse that didn’t belong to her. If my child had done that, you can bet that she would have returned that purse the moment I discovered what she had done. Along with an apology. I’m a good teacher when it comes to apologizing. Lots of practice. Just ask my kids. Or my mom.
A friend of mine, Adrienne, posted on Facebook last week that the cashier at the gas station accidentally put her $45 in the wrong pump. No big deal, except that the person who benefitted from that mistake gladly pumped the extra gas before taking off. $50 of gas for only $5! Merry Christmas, right? Thankfully, my friend kept her cool with the cashier (way to go!) and eventually got reimbursed, so at least her story has a happy ending. During the two and a half years that we’ve lived here in Washington my wife’s car (a small SUV) has been hit three times by hit-and-run drivers while her car was parked. And there was not even as much as a note left. Just the calling card of the hit-and-run artist. I could go on and on, as I’m sure all of you readers could as well, sharing stories of times that we’ve been wronged, victims of other people’s
inability unwillingness to do the right thing.
So, what’s the big deal? Why is it important to be honest and do the right thing? Does it really matter? I would argue that it does matter if we live lives of integrity and honesty. In general, as a society we depend of the decency of others in order to make it through our daily lives. Following traffic laws is a pretty easy example. Sure, I go 27 in a 25 zone (not in Fircrest, WA or Rosendale, WI, but that’s another story!) or slightly over the posted speed limit when I’m driving. But I stop at red lights and stop signs and such. You get the idea. And, for the most part, so does everyone else. And as a result, we can get around without too many problems. But I’d rather focus on the opportunities we have, as parents, to show our children how to live and how to do the right thing. After all, they’re always watching us, whether we like it or not.
One time a few years ago while out to eat, my son took his water cup up to the soda fountain to get more water but came back with a cup full of lemonade. Instead of looking the other way, he and I went to the cashier and he explained what had happened and paid for his drink. Once we got home he paid me from his own money for the drink. He no longer swipes drinks from the soda fountain unless it’s been paid for. Lesson learned. There have been numerous times over the years that I’ve been a Stay At Home Dad when I’ve received too much change back (on the rare occasions that I pay with cash) and I always give it back. Even if that means hauling the kids back into the store if I don’t catch it right away. There was one instance, back in 2003, when I was early in my SAHD gig that I bought two items on my way to the airport to go out of town for five days. Problem was, when I got to the airport, I looked at the receipt and realized that I had only been charged for one of the items. The day after I returned, I brought the items and the receipt (along with two young kids) and explained to the customer service rep what had happened and wanted to pay for the item. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that she didn’t know how to do that; that I should just keep the item for free for being so honest. I insisted that I rightfully should’ve paid for the item in the first place and didn’t want to contribute to price mark-ups to make up for stolen items. She shook her head and got her manager, who exclaimed that she had never seen anyone ever! return an item trying to pay for it. After several minutes of furious typing something into the computer at the checkout they finally took my money. I still think of that experience every time I wear that Packers hat or my kids toss that talking Packers football. While it did cost me a few bucks, doing the right thing wasn’t too painful or costly. But that’s not always the case.
A few months after moving here I took an out of town guest and some of our kids to play in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park. While leaving the mostly empty parking lot I managed to back into the rear quarter panel of an unoccupied car that was parked in the lot. It would’ve been easy to check it out and leave. But that thought never crossed my mind. Once I calmed my kids down I wrote a note with my contact information and left it on the person’s car. Later that evening I received an email from the car’s owner. She was very upset (understandable) and a little bit rude to me about my accident. I kindly responded that yes, I did hit her. But she should be thankful that I was raised well by loving parents who taught me good values. So, instead of leaving the scene I owned up to my mistake and did the right thing. I explained that we had been hit-and-run victims multiple times in the first four months of living in Washington, so karma clearly wasn’t working for us in that situation. While it was an expensive mistake to make, the fact that I was able to keep my composure, be honest and do the right thing in front of my children was a priceless lesson for my kids to learn.
Every day we’re faced with situations that are often unpleasant and sometimes even out of our control. I’d encourage you to try to be honest and do the right thing. Even if your kids are not there to watch you, chances are that someone else is. Besides, it feels good. So just do it. (Sorry, Nike.)