Here in the North Country, we want to think of most people as trustworthy and honest. We like to think those in a situation that tests their ethics would do the right thing.
Sometimes, though, we are reminded that looking at life that way — even in a neighborly area like this — may be a little naive.
Gerianne Wright, a veteran journalist who has written for the Press-Republican for many years, related something that happened to her recently that shows that some people have learned, through experience, not to be so trusting.
Wright, who is assistant director for public relations and publications at SUNY Plattsburgh, was at Sam’s Club recently to do some shopping. When she got out to her car and unloaded her cart, she found, hidden under a sales flyer, a book that she hadn’t paid for when she went through the checkout line.
“I finished unloading the cart and returned to the store to pay for the book,” she related. “The door checker was puzzled when I showed her the book. She thought it was a return. I said, ‘No, it’s a never-been-purchased.’ I told her what had happened, and she seemed shocked — not that I hadn’t paid but that I had returned to the store.”
The Customer Service woman at Sam’s, in accepting the payment, had the same reaction. Apparently, they couldn’t fathom that someone who could have “gotten away with one,” even unintentionally, would return to pay up.
“My feeling was, why should doing the right thing be a shock?” Wright wondered. “Why wouldn’t someone come back in to pay for something that they had inadvertently not paid for? What does that say about society? About honesty and integrity? I was surprised by their surprise.”
Obviously, the employees there, as with many stores around here, have had plenty of experience with people who have no conscience. While it would never dawn on Wright not to pay for that book, many others wouldn’t have bothered to take the time to go back in to make amends.
There are out-and-out thieves, of course. We know of small specialty-clothing stores that have had people boldly walk out with armfuls of unpaid items. Local liquor store owners tell us they are sometimes invaded by crowds of “shoppers” who use the distraction to take far more than they pay for. Retail clerks at most stores get lessons in how to catch shoplifters.
But what about theft on a smaller scale? Taking items from your workplace, keeping money you find in a lost wallet, not bringing an incorrect price to the attention of a clerk if you would have to pay more.
Those transgressions are all about personal integrity, and it defines the kind of person we are. Being trustworthy and honest is something that can give us pride in ourselves, something we can — and must — teach our children.