Things have been kind of tough lately for Shannon Baker and her little family.
They have each other — mom, dad and young daughter — and for that they are profoundly grateful. But she and her husband are both currently unemployed. And their car is in desperate need of repair. And then there is the matter of their second child, who is due soon.
As in, imminently.
As in, right now.
So yeah, things are a little tense for the Baker family these days.
Which is why, when they were walking through a store parking lot recently and Shannon picked up an envelope from the ground that contained $4,000 in cash, there were a number of different interpretations that could be considered. Was this an extraordinary stroke of good luck? Could it be a little cosmic feng shui, an attempt by the universe to balance everything that had been so neatly stacked up against the Bakers? Or was it simply a gift from God?
Shannon didn’t know about any of that. The only thing she knew was that the cash in that envelope belonged to someone — and that someone was not her.
Oh, and one other thing she knew: her young daughter was watching.
“My kid was standing right there when I found it,” Shannon told WLS-TV in Chicago. “So basically, I wanted to teach my daughter how to be honest. And for me that was enough.”
Never mind the bills that were piling up, or the car that needed to be fixed, or the baby that would soon need formula and diapers. And forget that when she turned the money over to the police she was told that there was actually “nothing illegal” if she just kept it.
The money wasn’t hers. She knew that. And she had been taught as a child, she told FOX 32 News, “to be honest about what you do.”
Even when you’re unemployed, pregnant and riding on bald tires.
The police were able to return the money to the person who lost it: an older woman who, it turns out, was carrying the cash for her employer when it somehow fell out of her pocket in the parking lot. One can only imagine the awkward position she was in, trying to explain to her boss how she had lost $4,000 in cash. And one can only imagine the joy and relief she felt when the police handed the lost envelope back to her — courtesy of one woman’s honesty.
“She came to my house and she was almost in tears, thanking me,” Shannon said. “She gave me a hug and an envelope with a small amount in it.”
But the amount, large or small, wasn’t important. What was important, she said, was the opportunity “to teach my daughter honesty, and morally showing what I was taught growing up.”
That, she added, and being able to sleep at night with a clear conscience.
I’ve been thinking about that ever since I heard about this story. What’s the price of a good night’s sleep these days? How much is my personal integrity worth to me? How much is your honor worth to you? Clearly, Shannon’s could not be purchased for $4,000. But what if there had been $40,000 in that envelope? Or $400,000? Would that have made a difference to Shannon? Would that have made a difference to me? Or to you?
I think most of us believe we’re honest. But are we honest in a pinch? Like Shannon, my parents taught me that integrity isn’t relative. That honor isn’t dependent upon circumstance. That honesty isn’t a behavioral option to be used on an “as needed” basis, or an adjustable tool in your ethical toolbox. Either you are honest, Dad used to say, or you are not. There really is no middle ground. And if you are honest, I’m sure he would agree, you don’t keep money that doesn’t belong to you.
No matter how tough things may have been.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.
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