On Thursday afternoon last week I went to take some money out of an ATM. I had to wait in a queue, but when it came to my turn I saw that the person ahead of me had forgotten to take the cash with him.
I took it, and turned looking for the guy, who had by then crossed the road. I shouted, but my voice was lost in the traffic. I made my transaction and raced after him on my bike. I couldn’t find him and after about 15 minutes I gave up and went home.
It wasn’t a small amount, so I contacted the bank via a twitter DM. Based on that discussion I went into a bank branch on Friday to hand in the money. I had to wait. No big deal, I simply read a book, until a very grumpy man began shouting at me (not kidding), I didn’t understand what his problem was but offered to move “Yes move” he shouted. I moved, other customers were as astonished as I was.
It was pretty busy, and the bank staff came to check on what everyone needed as a sort of triage to help people faster. I explained; “Please wait” I was told
My turn at the desk came, and it took a phone call and a bit of searching to figure out what to do, apparently this is not a usual situation. I gave them all the info I could, including my own transaction information so that they might be able to track down the poor guy who missed out on his cash.
The bank gave me a small thank you gift in appreciation – super kind of them and certainly not expected.
Now here’s the bit that really struck me. Everyone I encountered was surprised at what I was trying to do. The initial messages on twitter begin with “Wauw” (Dutch for “wow”), the clerk I spoke to reported that the previous customer had heard my statement and commented that “she’s still here having been yelled at trying to do the right thing – we need more people like her”, the clerk herself thanked me and when I said it was what my mother taught me added “we need more mothers like yours”.
Here’s the thing; the money wasn’t mine.
A million years ago I found a watch on a public path, my parents took me to the local police station to hand it in. Some months later the watch hadn’t been claimed and it was returned to the finder – ie; me. I don’t remember what happened to the watch after that, it was a large, man’s watch and not really my style. But the lesson was learnt, if it’s not yours you don’t just take it, you try to get it back to the owner.
So I tried to return the money, and apparently this is so unusual that people are surprised. It’s the honest thing to do. Indeed to me it was the only thing to do.
Does this mean that any of those other people would just have taken the money? Would you have taken it?
Do we really need my mother out there teaching people about being honest and not taking things that aren’t theirs? She’s up for the job I promise you.
When did honesty become so surprising?