It makes my heart hurt when people stare at me, completely baffled, when I say I want to return something I didn’t pay for (like when the warehouse people had accidentally filled my order twice, but only charged me once when I made an online order this summer) or they undercharged me, so I’d like to pay the rest of what I owe for what I purchased (like the tea I bought last week.)
Today, I went to the mall, purchases and sales receipt in hand, and walked up to the cashier in Barnes and Noble. I explained that I’d bought some books and tins of tea there last week, and, when I looked over my receipt, I’d found that they’d undercharged me for the tea. So, I was hoping to pay the remainder of what I owed.
He stared at me. Then, finally, he asked, “Why would you want to do that? You could use that money to buy yourself something else now.” I replied with something like, “Well, I fully intend to make other purchases, but I cannot keep something I did not fully pay for. I need to pay what I owe. I don’t steal things.”
He looked at me, aghast, again, then thought for a minute before he admitted, “I don’t even know how to handle this.” I just shrugged and said I just believe in honesty. He asked, “Why can’t you be selfish and greedy like the rest of the world?” Then he paged for a manager. His summary of the situation? “This person’s honesty astounds me.”
Or, several years ago, the seller in the gift shop in Washington, D.C. rang me up for some souvenirs, but she thought the puzzle sitting with my things was a box of chocolates, so she typed in the incorrect price. Now, chocolates and puzzles are of different enough prices that I noticed as soon as she said the total. I thought she’d completely missed an item, so I held them up one at a time for her, asking, “Did you get this?” And when she saw the puzzle, she was like, “Oh! I thought that was a box of chocolates!” And adjusted the amount accordingly. And then proceeded to thank me for my honesty at least three times. Then she insisted on giving me a small souvenir for free. Wouldn’t let me say no. And she thanked me again for my honesty several more times when I was leaving.
Those scenarios stick out in my mind, but I know there are other stories out there. And not all involving me, of course.
Is honesty really such a rare quality these days?
I mean, I know I’m not perfect. Not by a long shot. I may do my best to be honest, but I’m willing to admit I’ve lied.
I lied disconcertingly regularly on my job over the summer. I got lots of questions like, “Are you out here alone?” and “Wow, you work weekends? So, what day do you get off, then?” And there was no way I was going to admit I was, indeed, working alone–always assured them I had coworkers, just in a different section, and we’d meet up later. Which, if you look at it broadly enough, might be considered true–I did have coworkers working…but they were a good 45-60 minute drive away, and the only time I’d be meeting up with them would be at the office at the end of the day…So, it was essentially a lie. And I usually declined to say what my days off were. As someone who enforces the rules, you never say when you’re off-duty. Just encourages certain people to think about when they can break the rules and get away with it. The people I was talking to? Probably not. But, you never know who they might unwittingly tell…
So…yeah. I think it’s sad that honesty takes people so completely by surprise. I believe in honesty, integrity, and morality. (Yes, I know, those words can mean different things to different people.) I was raised by my parents to not lie and always pay what you owe. I guess my parents just set good examples for me.
I just wish that honesty was more the norm than it seems.