I found $20 in the post office today. It was sitting in the middle of the floor. A woman with a purse had just walked by. I picked it up and went up to her. “Is this yours?” I asked. She replied, “No. Sorry.”
Another woman had just entered the line. She had a purse, and also recently walked by. “I’m sorry, I think you dropped this,” I said to her. “No. I don’t think so. Thanks, though.”
I looked around, and no one appeared to be rummaging through their pockets, or looking on the ground for the money. So, I brought the money up to the counter, and said “I think someone lost this. If they come back looking for it, here it is.” The woman postal worker thanked me for being honest, but didn’t think anyone would come back. I shrugged and went on my way.
Oregon’s unemployment rate is 11.7% and climbing. $20 is a quarter-day’s wages for many people. It pays the garbage bill for the month. It pays for my family’s groceries today and tomorrow.
Yet, no one that I approached was dishonest. And, no one watching – there were about eight others observing the situation – made claim to the money. I would have given it, without question. Honesty intact. Morals strengthened. I was proud that they were not vultures.
Perhaps the people involved thought I was participating in a psychology study. (Perhaps I was unknowingly.) Still, there was a sense of prideful ethics; not the random chaos science fiction authors dream-up when job loss is high.
Are businesses different? When one company falters, do the others jump on the opportune market like vultures on a carcass? Sometimes it is portrayed this way. Maybe it’s perceived as different, since it’s business. When one business leaves $20million lying on the floor, do the others jump to pick it up – or look around and ask if they did this knowingly? Doubtful.
Is it the quantity of money that makes the difference? Is it the arena of battle? I don’t know.
Regardless, I thought it was strangely fulfilling to walk around asking people if the money was theirs, today. And, it made me think of the stark contrast between doing it in business: “I’m sorry, but this client is offering me money to do work. Was he yours?”