Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

The Good Samaritan (Oil on panel, 32 x 23 cm)Image via Wikipedia
Every once in a while there is an event that gives you a little clearer view of human nature. Sometimes you’ll see something you would like to see in others or yourself.  Sometimes that’s a pleasant surprise.  Often it’s something you wish weren’t there.  My family had an event on Friday that revealed some good, some bad and some ugly- all within a small event and a few short hours.  Unfortunately, I saw some of the bad and ugly in me.  More than I hoped was there.

It started when my 10 year old daughter took her wallet with a good chunk of her life’s savings shopping with her.  She’s a tight-wad (like her Dad) and never wants to spend any of her own money.  She was actually going to wait for the game she wanted to go “on sale”.  But, we convinced her to spend her birthday money.  She has accumulated from birthdays and allowance over a pretty long period of time.  So, it was a pretty good chunk of her life’s savings that she had in the house. I had told my wife for months that my daughter shouldn’t have so much money in the house.  But, I hadn’t taken the initiative to put the money into her bank account.  So, when my wife asked my daughter to get her money to go shopping, she stuffed her little red wallet into her pocket and headed out the door.

Once they got into the store, my wife asked my daughter where her money was.   My daughter realized the wallet wasn’t in her pocket and told my wife she had left it at home.  She said she had left it at home, even though, in the car, she had told my wife that she had it in her pocket.   My wife assumed she had left it at home.  So, they did their shopping and came home, looking for the wallet.

Quickly, we realized the wallet was not in the house.  After a couple of thorough inspections of the car, we realized the wallet was not in the car either.  My wife and I both began giving our young daughter the third degree.  Doing my best Detective Columbo, I deduced that the wallet must have been lost in the store parking lot. We barraged her with questions.  “Did you put the wallet in your pocket?” “Where were you when you put your coat on?”  “Did you zip your pocket?”  We were pretty sure it had left the house.  Our daughter said she remembered putting it in her pocket.   It wasn’t in the car.  And, she had lost it before they got into the store. My daughter, already distraught about losing the money was now getting a double-barreled lecture on responsibility. This is where things turned ugly.  My wife accused of her lying because while they were at the store, my daughter said she had left the wallet at home.  Then, my wife and I began arguing because I thought she was being too hard on my daughter.  Even while I was telling myself I should take the blame for so much money being lost, in the back of my mind, I was blaming my wife.  She’s the one who makes the bank deposits.  Why hadn’t she taken the money and put it in the bank?   She should have checked to make sure my daughter had the wallet secured stowed when she got out of the car.  She should have not allowed my daughter to take the entire amount to the store since she needed less than half of it to make the purchase. Of course, I knew better than to argue about that stuff.  So, I made up something trivial to argue about instead. The whole house was out of kilter for the entire afternoon all over the loss of an amount of money that was really insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  I was disappointed at how easily we turned on each other over the loss of a few dollars.  My wife was thinking my daughter lied about leaving the wallet at home.  I was disappointed she was not responsible enough to put the wallet in her pocket securely.  She even claimed she had zipped the pocket and the wallet must have fallen out anyway.  I was furious.  I told her to face the truth.  Don’t make things up. How could a wallet fall out of a zipped pocket?  (By the way, after things calmed down I realized the most likely scenario for how the wallet got lost is this...  My daughter had put the wallet into her pocket after she had put her gloves in the pocket.  I later learned that she had put her gloves on after she got to the store.  So, it’s likely that she did put the wallet into her pocket securely, as she had claimed and had even zipped her pocket closed. But, when she pulled her gloves out, they pulled the wallet out at the same time and it fell to the ground.)

If that were the end of the story, it would have been enough of a lesson for one day.  But, I suggested we call the store to see if anyone had turned the wallet in.  I had very little hope anyone would turn it in.  After all, it was a wallet full of cash lying in a store parking lot.  There was no identification in it.  It would be so easy to take the cash and toss the little cheap red wallet.  Of course, I’d never do that.  I’m a good Christian who always does the right thing.  But, other people don’t have such a highly developed sense of morals.  Surely, whoever found the wallet would pocket the cash.  But, on the slight chance that the one other person in the world who is as good as I am found the wallet, my wife called the store and asked if anyone had turned the wallet in. The answer, of course, was no.  But, for some reason, my wife decided to call back later and ask again.  A miracle! Some Good Samaritan had actually been the one to find the wallet.  He had taken it to the front desk of the store.  But, the wallet was not there!  The Good Samaritan had as much mistrust in human nature as we did.  He had not left the wallet at the desk.  Instead, he had reported that he found it and left his name and telephone number.  He said if someone calls about the lost wallet, give them my name and telephone number.  He did not trust the employees of the store to do the right thing, as he had done.  The store employee my wife spoke with mistrusted the man as much as he had mistrusted the store personnel.  She said “Ma’m, I wouldn’t meet this many anywhere.”  My wife, being as mistrusting as the next person, thought the man’s request to meet her was strange (as did I).  Instead of meeting him, she asked him to just mail it to us.   So, surrounding this act of kindness (reporting the missing wallet) was an enormous amount of mistrust.

I found out about my wife’s conversation with the man after the fact.  It did indeed seem strange.  Why wouldn’t he just leave the wallet?  Was it some sort of trap wanting to meet the owner of the wallet?  It was obvious it was a child’s wallet. What weird things were going through his head?  I called him to ask if we could arrange to meet.  Really, I was wondering if this guy was really going to stick the wallet in the mail or just decide it wasn’t worth the hassle.  I preferred to meet him and get the money back right away.  When I called, he was extremely pleasant on the phone explaining that it was obvious to him it was a child’s wallet and that if one of his children had lost it, he’d certainly hope that someone would return it.   I told him how grateful we were that he had been so honest.  But, still mistrusting him ever so slightly, I asked if I could meet him to pick up the wallet.  But, he told me he had already put it in the mail.  So, as of Sunday when I’m writing this, I’m waiting for Monday to roll around to see if we actually get the money back.

This could have been a pretty good Christmas miracle story. OK, not the most dramatic one ever.  But, it is really cool that the man who found the wallet thought enough about a little girl that he didn’t know to make the effort to return it. The guy even paid the postage to send it back.  I’d like to focus solely on this. But, I can’t ignore the bad and the ugly and only see the good in this.  Sure, a stranger turned in a tempting amount of cash he could have easily taken.  But, I saw how petty I am.  I saw how I cast blame on everyone but myself about the loss of the money.  I saw how even a man who obviously has a good amount of integrity himself didn’t trust the employees at the store to do the same thing. I saw how the store employees didn’t trust a man who was willing to give spend his time standing in line to talk to them, who said he had found money and who left his name and phone number.  Neither my wife nor I trusted the man either, even though we had been given no good reason not to trust him and a pretty good reason to trust him.

Human nature… It’s fascinating.  We are so good at seeing the good in ourselves, while we struggle so much to see it in others.  We fool ourselves into thinking we are the only good people in the world while those around us will take advantage of us at any opportunity. I’m grateful for days like Friday that help me see the things I need to improve in myself and, at the same time, make me realize I need to work harder at seeing the good in others.

p.s.- the wallet came back in the mail on Monday, completely in tact.

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