Did you read about the money which was fluttering through the air recently on Interstate 270 in Maryland? Two plastic bags containing about $5,700 in bills and coins fell from an armored truck and seemed fair game for motorists. In fact, according to one witness, about 30 cars pulled over and began grabbing handfuls of cash. Police say that nearly all of the money was taken. Although Maryland State Police have urged people to return the money to their local headquarters, no one, at last report, had.
David Dishneau, in an AP article, asked various people what they would have done had they encountered this fluttering money. Tell me what you think of their responses:
- Chicago billing clerk Stephany Harris, 53, “Of course I would,” she said. “If the armored car had been in an accident of something, I’d make sure the drivers were OK and I’d call 911. But I’d put as much money in my pockets (as I could) and run.” But what if her kids were there? “I absolutely would not take any money,” she answered again without hesitation. “I wouldn’t want them to get the message that grabbing money that is not yours is the right thing to do.”
- Jeff Bora, 30, of Chicago said he would stop to make sure none of the money was stolen. “I’d start picking it up and I’d call police right away,” he said. As a former lawyer and prosecutor, he knows that it’s stealing and he could land in serious trouble. Even if he was alone and could get away undetected, he said he still wouldn’t do it: “It would be about how I would feel about myself later. Bad karma would get me in the end.”
- Another kind of karma occurred to Dennis Lowe, 30, of Providence, R.I. He said it’s simple human nature, especially if the money is from an armored truck. Lowe added that plenty of Americans are fed up with banks, insurance companies and other corporations that move cash in armored trucks. “The money is insured,” he said while waiting downtown for a bus. “They’ve been taking money from me, so it’s just karma.”
- India Spidell, 19, of Providence said it sounded a little too much like theft to her, but she would be tempted if it came from an armored truck and not someone’s purse or wallet. “Is that bad?” she asked. “I don’t know if it should make a difference, but it seems like it would.”
- Anthony Janni, 36, a bartender in Hagerstown, said he understands why people would stop for “money that seems to just fall into their hands,” but he probably wouldn’t have done so. “The highway’s not necessarily the place to do something like that,” Janni said. “It’s not something worth causing an accident over.”
- Brian Gates, 32, of Cincinnati said he would get out to pick up the cash, with a few conditions. If he had kids and they were in the car, he wouldn’t do it. He also wouldn’t risk his safety. “I’m not going to take a chance of endangering my life or others for money,” he said. If he was alone? “Oh yeah! If there is money out there. We can all use money.“
- Jeanetta Campbell, 40, is a part-time mail clerk for the U.S. Postal Service in Cincinnati. She said she certainly wouldn’t leave her kids in a car to chase money and she probably wouldn’t do it if she was alone. The denomination of the bills might make a difference. “If it was hundred-dollar bills, it would be worth it,” she said, laughing. “But if was just (single) dollars, no.”
There you go. Only one of those interviewed (Jeff Boro) would not have taken the money under any circumstances. Jeanetta Campbell might do it if it was hundred-dollar bills. Brian Gates and Anthony Janni would likely be deterred by the danger factor. Gates and Stephanie Harris would have refrained if their kids were watching. Dennis Lowe justified taking the money because it was his opportunity to get even and because it was insured, and India Spidell would be more prone to take the money simply because it came from an armored truck.
I am not all that surprised by these responses, but I am disappointed. Apparently, many people have slippery standards of right and wrong, basing their behavior on whether they might get caught or who is watching. I wonder: if we wouldn’t do something because we didn’t want our kids to watch, why would we do it when they are not watching? Would the people who rationalized taking this money:
- Take money from a billfold they found if they knew no one would ever know?
- Not report cash income if they knew the IRS would never know?
- Not report earnings while drawing unemployment compensation?
- Fake an injury from an automobile accident?
- Have an extra-marital affair if they were positive no one would find out?
- Take an extra hour for lunch when the boss is not around?
I have heard that true character can be defined as what a person does when no one else is around. Based on this fluttering money incident, true character is in short supply.
Readers: Am I overreacting? Do you see a character issue here? What would YOU have done?