Andy Vaughn

Honest Economy

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.”
Twenty Dollars
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?”

Posted by Andy Vaughn on May 24, 2010

5 Comments to “Honest Economy”

  1. If only…Strong Values should be the core of any business because when times get tough will the company do the right thing? Good post!

  2. Andy Vaughn says:

    Thanks, Matt. It meant something to me. Was a nice change from the frequent cutthroat mentality of business.

  3. Jim says:

    Andy – Thanks for sharing this. I do believe there is a lot of great things happening, and that ultimately human nature is more good than bad – despite what the media is selling. It is unfortunate though that so many people change when they are in business mode, that cut-throat mentality isn’t healthy for either side of the transaction.

    It is cool that in the Post Office everyone believed “Honesty is the best policy”.


  4. Thanks for sharing, Andy. This reminds me… years ago I worked at a grocery store stocking shelves. I found a $50 bill laying on the floor, but no one was around. So I brought it up to one of the managers, just in case the rightful owner came looking for it. Then, a few days later I received a personal letter (mailed to the store) sent from the woman who had lost the money.

    She was extremely grateful … and so was I for getting the chance to help her out.

    In your case, even if the person who lost the money you found never comes looking for it, your act of integrity will no doubt have a positive impact on those around you. Good stuff.

  5. Andy Vaughn says:

    Thanks, Jim and Jeff. While I’ll never know how much the money meant to the person, it felt good to give them the chance to not suffer a $20 loss, if they returned with a claim.

    I was reminded from this of how I found $20 outside my local bike shop when I was a kid. I turned it in to the owners and they said that if no one claimed it after three days, I could have it. No claims came in, and I got the $20. I felt like I found buried treasure! I learned to always give people the opportunity to pick up what they might have unknowingly left behind; sort of a fair-game rule. I try and extend this to business, as well.

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