I got talking with a friend recently about honesty in the credit crunch – whether people are willing to help each other out and return cash that they’ve found etc. or if they’re more likely to be pilfering items from their work stationery cupboard. And after a couple of glasses of wine – surprise, surprise – he became slightly more open with me than usual and made a shocking confession.
A few months ago he was out in London one night and stumbled across an ATM machine in the City. To his surprise, he noticed about £50 in cash sticking out of it. Nobody was around, so he stood about waiting for whoever was missing the money to come back and claim it, but nobody did. After waiting about fifteen minutes in the cold, he decided to pocket the cash and go home.
It was night time so the bank was closed and he wasn’t able to take the money to the cashiers, assuming they would be willing or able to reunite the cash with its owner anyway. And he also pointed out that even if he’d chosen to walk away, leaving the cash in the ATM, somebody else would have come along and done exactly the same as him.
I have two questions for you – my first is, what would you do in this situation? For me it’s hard to decide. I’m no saint, but for me while the money would be tempting, I think taking it would weigh on my conscience a bit. After all, you’re not really taking some money-grasping bank’s cash but an individual’s, although ultimately it’s their fault for leaving it there in the first place. But I suppose it depends how badly you needed the money at the time. If you’d lost your job recently you might feel that stumbling across the money was the stroke of good fortune you’d been waiting for. And as my friend said, plenty of other people would have taken the money too. Even if you abdicate responsibility by walking away, you’re just leaving it there for someone else to take.
My second question is this – do you think that people’s attitudes to honesty have changed because of the credit crunch? Are people less inclined to help their neighbour and more inclined to help themselves? If you recall, a government letter was leaked late last year which expressed concern that crime levels would rise. It’s obvious stuff really, but of course it caused the government bigwigs a bit of embarrassment, despite the fact that their predictions have probably come true. Certainly, petty theft such as shoplifting from supermarkets and more serious crimes such as burglary and fraud are supposedly on the rise. I even read an article recently about how stealing from allotments has increased during the recession! How infuriating must that be if you’re a gardener.
What would you have done faced with my friend’s dilemma? Do you think people are more self-centred during a recession or have you experienced acts of kindness which would dispute this? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
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