Friday, June 27, 2008

Righting Wrongs Reveals True Nature

There are some sounds you never want to hear. The grating pitch made by the metal sunshade your son is dragging down the side of someone’s car is one example. Sure, it would have been easy to just ignore the damage and walk away. No one was around to witness the incident, right?

Wrong. There were witnesses. Three, to be exact: me, my daughter, and the aforementioned, spatially-challenged son. Could I, as a responsible parent, allow this to go unreported? Not if I ever wanted to hold the high ground in future ethical discussions. And with a 13-year-old, you KNOW there are going to be a few of those in our future. So, we left a note. The bottom line: it was the right thing to do.

This is just one of the moments that life gives us to teach by example. These lessons are rarely taught in the controlled environment of the classroom. Usually, it takes the messiness of reality to bring them home. Oddly, it seems my wife, Beverly, and I have had a number of these opportunities lately.

When the friendly, neighborhood traffic cop pulled Beverly over, she was sure she could slide out of it. She was on her way to church, after all. But she WAS speeding. And those same witnesses were sitting right next to her just waiting to sop up this latest “do as I say, not as I do” moment. So instead, she accepted the admonishment of the officer – along with a $100 speeding ticket – and went on her way.

But teaching moments don’t always end with the event. What we discovered was that follow-up is just as important as the incident.

A few days after the car-marring episode, we spoke to the owner. He got a couple of estimates for the repair and we were floored. Who knew that auto body repairs are following the same meteoric rise as the price of crude? (Oil-based paints, I guess.) My knee-jerk reaction was, “No way! We’re not going to pay that. Let ‘em sue us!” We even considered that perhaps the “victim” was looking for a way to cash in. But a little reflection convinced us that we did, indeed, need to make it right, whatever the cost. Doing the right thing ain’t always cheap.

Likewise, Beverly could have contested that speeding ticket, taking up the court’s time and hoping the officer wouldn’t show. But what kind of lesson would we be teaching then? “Take your lumps… unless it really hurts. Then it’s okay to try and weasel out of it.”

When all is said and done, honesty won’t always save you any money, and may even cost a bit more. But your conscience will be clean and your integrity intact. When you take the chance of being honest, you open yourself up to unexpected downsides. “No good deed goes unpunished,” is the old adage. But in the end, it boils down to karma. Live your life in a responsible, ethical manner, and your integrity will – more times than not ­­­– attract positive situations. If, on the other hand, you’re always looking for the angle, don’t be surprised if you find that folks around you are trying to pull a fast one on you, too.

Every situation is just bursting with teachable moments. Even when something less than pleasant crosses your path, look for an opportunity to set an example for those who look up to you. Congratulations! You’re a teacher! Or, are you the student?

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