I was on an airplane over the weekend and just as we were landing, found somebody's forgotten Kindle Fire in the seat pocket in front of me. There wasn't much time for me to decide what to do: give the thing to the flight attendant and hope it gets returned to the rightful owner, or hang onto the reader and figure out who it belonged to and return it myself. At the last minute I took the latter course. At least if I took Jay's Kindle (the guy's name was Jay) I could maybe identify the owner and send it along.
I did indeed figure it out. The guy's email came up when I hit the ON button. I emailed him, he gave me his address, and I told him I'd Fed-x his Kindle out (which I did). What struck me was his response, which was this: "Thank you for being a good human." He also offered to pay for the shipping (I declined) and he also offered a "reward."
We live in such sad times. First, that I questioned the honesty of the flight crew, and second that doing the right thing -- returning an expensive piece of technology that didn't belong to me -- makes me a good human. Again, the Kindle didn't belong to me. Of course I'm not going to keep it. I'd like to think I'm among the many who would return someone else's property, but maybe not. Maybe somebody else would have said "Happy day! I've got a new Kindle Fire that I didn't have to pay for!!"
This isn't the first time the question of honesty has come up in my little world. A few years back I was driving with a couple of 20-somethings in the car. We stopped at Burger King and the drive-through girl gave me a dollar too much change. I counted, then returned the dollar to her. As we drove away the 20s both looked at me in amazement. "Wow, Kathy, you're honest!" they said. I looked at them and scowled. The dollar, I said, didn't belong to me. What the hell is wrong with you two??
Sometimes I think the question of honesty these days has to do with the worth of the luck. That is, if it's a dollar, it doesn't really matter if you give it back. After all, what's a buck? So keep it, or give it back. Whatever. And if it's a Kindle Fire worth a hundred dollars, well maybe you should return it because of the price tag, or maybe you should keep it, tough darts on the guy who lost it because he should have been more careful, and now yippie skippie, I have a new Kindle! What if it was five hundred dollars, or a million? In my head, it doesn't matter if the item or the money was worth ten cents. The fact is, this was a dime (or a C-note or a fortune) that came to me without effort. I didn't earn it. And in the end, the windfall, however small or large, just isn't mine to keep.
There's a movie called The Family Man starring Nicholas Cage and Don Cheadle. Nick is having some sort of other-worldly experience about learning the meaning of life and Don is a helpful angel. Don is working as a 7-11 cashier and intentionally gives a teenager the wrong change (to her benefit) to see how she'll react. She happily takes the money and slips out of the store. Don shakes his head sadly and says something like this to Nick: "She sold her soul for nine dollars."
I guess the spirit of Don's line of script is what bothers me...that people are willing to sell their souls for so little, or for that matter, that they're willing to sell their souls at all. Being honest isn't about getting rewards or getting accolades for being a good human. Being honest should be something we do naturally. It never even occurred to me to keep Jay's Kindle. My only concern was wondering how he would ever get it back if I handed his property over to the flight attendant, who for all I know would have done the same as I: looked up his email and sent it along. I want to believe people are basically honest. But are they?
In one of our correspondences Jay said thank you thank you, and that he would pay my honesty forward. I hope he does. I hope my $20 investment in shipping this man's Kindle Fire along triggers a string of good honest stuff. I want to believe my tiny act of doing the right thing makes others do the same. I want to believe that, in the end, we're all good humans.