The Constancy of the Lord
yourLDSneighborhood News for Wednesday, 30 November, 2011
On the Receiving End of Honesty
by Jennifer Ricks
The only person I knew growing up who received anything for being honest was my little sister. She was the lucky one who ran into $40, cash, on the floor of K-Mart one day. Dutifully, she and Mom turned in the money, but when no one claimed it after 30 days, the store gave the goods back to my little sister. Boy, was she lucky. She put the money toward a brand-new bike. I learned my lesson and kept my eyes peeled for bills in every checkout aisle we ever went through after that, but I never found anything.
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My parents raised me to be honest. In my simple child’s brain, this meant not taking things that didn’t belong to you and telling the truth. It was a confusing concept, though, because in most cases honesty seemed so one-sided. If someone in front of you dropped something, you gave it back to them instead of running off with it. If the cashier counted your change incorrectly, you gave the extra money back. If you found something that didn’t belong to you, you turned it in to the lost and found. But each time, you made the effort, you did the work, and you went unrewarded.
I felt that honesty was especially one-sided one day in the grocery store when I lost my life savings. I think I was about six years old, and I had brought my savings in a white envelope to buy something. I don’t remember what I wanted to buy, and I’m sure that my savings totaled something less than six dollars, but to me it was everything I owned. Somewhere between the produce section and the cereal aisle, my envelope disappeared. It probably fell out of my pocket or my excited fingers, but even though we searched for nearly an hour when I discovered my loss, I never found my money again.
It was all so one-sided. I turned in every quarter I found on the ground, but no one cared to recover a six-year-old’s life savings. I gave to honesty, but I never received anything back. For a while, I wondered if I could just keep anything I found to make up for my loss, but Mom said that honesty just didn’t work that way.
The only person I knew growing up who received anything for being honest was my little sister. She was the lucky one who ran into $40, cash, on the floor of K-Mart one day. Dutifully, she and Mom turned in the money, but when no one claimed it after 30 days, the store gave the goods back to my little sister. Boy, was she lucky. She put the money toward a brand-new bike. I learned my lesson, and kept my eyes peeled for bills in every checkout aisle we ever went through after that, but I never found anything. Besides, if I had, I probably wouldn’t have had the luck of the owner forgetting about their loss.
Now I’m a grown-up myself, and sometimes I think about how I will teach my own children about honesty. I know that it’s a principle that’s completely ingrained in me; I could never tell a lie or take something that doesn’t belong to me without feeling a lot of guilt, but do a couple of quarters or a dropped sweatshirt really matter that much? What if we all just called it a free-game world—lose and take, and it all evens out in the end?
A few weeks ago I finally found myself on the receiving end of honesty. It had been a pretty hectic day at the grocery store trying to stretch my meager budget and entertain an infant at the same time. I made it to the checkout counter balancing milk jugs in the stroller and hastily locating all the coupons in my wallet just to save an almost-shamefully-small 85 cents.
There were two high-school-aged baggers in my checkout lane, but amongst all the flirtation between them and the stuffing-of-stroller-with-bags from me, they missed a bag. I didn’t realize that I was missing my bag of bananas and yogurt until over an hour later. I immediately crammed my napping baby into the car, mocking myself at how I had walked to the store earlier to save gas and here I was driving back again anyway.
“Excuse me,” I asked the flirting teenage bagger. “I was here earlier, and I left without a bag—of yogurt and bananas.”
He gestured to the checker.
“Oh, it got put in the lady-behind-you’s cart, but she brought it back, and we re-shelved it,” the checker said.
As I re-weighed my bananas and collected my missing yogurt, I wondered how many baggers it would take to get all my groceries home safely next time.
Then I started thinking about “the lady behind me.” She had been a young mother, like me. She had been buying quite a lot and was using a real cart instead of a stroller. I wondered how she even noticed that she had been given my yogurt and bananas among all her other groceries. I pictured her realizing the mistake in the parking lot, after spending 10 minutes packing her groceries and baby into her mini-van. Had she wondered if it was worth it to truck her napping baby back to the customer service desk for a few yogurts and bananas, or had she even questioned convenience in the face of elementary right and wrong?
I took my baby, my bananas, and my yogurt home feeling so grateful that she was honest—not just because it saved me an explanation to the store, but because I imagined her as the type of person who would do the same thing with someone else’s couple of thousand dollars as with my couple of dollars, and that makes the world seem like a very safe and loving place.
And so, last week when I noticed two twenties in the change machine at the self-checkout, I thought to turn in the neglected receipt with the lost change. “Maybe you can look them up by their membership number,” I told the manager, hoping that the store would be able to find the owner. I returned the money freely, willingly, not, as it used to be, to avoid guilt or to act the noble part, but because I want someone else to be the recipient of honesty—to feel, as I did, that when my yogurt and bananas are safe in someone else’s cart, then all the world is right and good.
Jennifer Ricks is a wife, mother, and freelance and creative writer. Her personal experience articles have appeared in all four LDS church magazines, and her blogs reflect her primary interests in living the gospel, strengthening marriages and families, and reading and writing. Visit Jennifer at aperfectbrightness.blogspot.com.