Doing what’s right

Somewhere out West while driving on the Interstate, a Utah man found a bag filled with thousands of dollars in cash. Instead of hightailing it to Vegas and staking a claim at the blackjack table, he did a curious thing and turned the money over to the authorities. No fun in that.

You’re probably thinking, “He could’ve done a lot of good if he kept that dough and given it to the poor … or me.”

From time to time, we read stories about people who do the honest thing, and they strike us as odd, amusing or downright pathetic. After all, who wants to be honest in a society where everyone is out to rob and cheat you, especially the people at the top of the food chain? It’s every man, woman, child and politician for himself. Forget the Seventh Commandment.

No one is safe. Robbers, embezzlers, scam artists and thieves prowl city streets, suburban neighborhoods and corporate offices, not to mention cyberspace, charities, brokerage firms, churches, Congress, state legislatures … did I forget anything? Everyone, not just the IRS, wants to pick your pocket.

A recent analysis showed that some of the largest Fortune 500 companies avoid paying about $110 billion in taxes a year by funneling overseas profits through tax havens. Even more astounding, 15 major corporations, including CBS, GE, Time Warner, Xerox, Mattel, Prudential and Ryder System paid virtually no federal income tax by taking advantage of corporate tax loopholes.

Then there’s Dan Kennedy, a simple man with values in a corrupt society. He was cruising along on I-80, when a large orange bag tumbled off a truck, so he pulled over to move it off the road.

When he opened the 4-foot-by-2-foot, 75-pound bag, he found smaller bags that each contained about $22,000. Since he couldn’t catch up with the Brink’s armored car, he called the highway patrol, according to an Associated Press story.

Kennedy said it never occurred to him “to do anything other than turn in the money.” In America, we’re not accustomed to that sort of disarming honesty. If this happened in Florida, I’d think, “He was suffering heat stroke.” If it happened in Colorado, I’d think, “The guy was high on pot.”

But Kennedy’s good deed wasn’t predicated on getting something back. He just wanted to do the right thing in a society increasingly inclined to do the wrong thing.

Would he have done the same thing — should he have done the same thing — if, say, it was Bernie Madoff’s IRA? Or Jamie Dimon’s bonus, which would have required several 4-by-2-foot bags? Kennedy could have helped solve the income inequity problem by giving the money to fast-food restaurant workers or the Little Sisters of the Poor, who care for impoverished old people. Or how about the Social Security Administration, which is going broke?

I would have given the money back out of fear of getting caught because I’m sure some young trouble-maker would have whipped out his iPhone and videotaped me stuffing $100 bills in my pockets and put it on YouTube. I’d never be able to criticize people for unethical behavior again. Let he, or she, who is without sin cast the first stone.

On the other hand, if the bag fell off Miley Cyrus’ pickup truck, I admit publicly I’d have donated it to a rehab center for disturbed celebrities.

If Brink’s lost that bag in the nation’s capital, they would have never seen it again. A survey by none other than Honest Tea concluded Washington D.C. is the least honest place in the nation — Connecticut ranked close to the bottom, too — based on the number of customers who skipped out instead of paying for their beverages at an unmanned booth.

And if Brink’s lost the bag near the Capitol, they could have kissed it good-bye because the cash would have gone toward someone’s reelection campaign. Gallup’s honesty survey places Congress almost dead last out of 22 occupations, only slightly better than car salesmen.

In the end, Kennedy got a $5,000 reward from Brink’s and national attention for his good deed. He told a reporter, “I was just jazzed all day long.” Let that be a lesson to the rest of us. Honesty pays off. You feel good about yourself. And you give your conscience an opportunity to flex its moral muscle. After all, doing the right thing is still the right thing to do.

Contact Joe Pisani at joefpisani [at] yahoo.com.

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