Let’s play a hypothetical game. You’re getting off the bus after finishing your part time shift at McDonald’s, praying each month you get enough hours just to make rent. While walking down the sidewalk you see a wallet. Out of pure curiosity – I believe we all have a bit of Curious George in us – you decide to pick up the wallet and see what’s inside.
The first thing you notice are a stack of bills – $500 to be precise. The rest of the contents are pretty mundane, some credit cards, membership IDs, a few receipts, let’s say a social security card, and of course the owner’s license.
So I ask the obvious question, what would you do?
Slow down Goody Two-Shoes, I want you to really think before you answer. As vilified as the US is – stay focused, politics aren’t the point – most children are taught that the right thing to do is to take the wallet, money and all, and give it back to the owner while refusing any sort of reward in the process. It’s ingrained in us to spit back that answer automatically, but I don’t think it’s that simple.
Does that instantly make me a pessimist in your eyes? It’s not that I don’t believe in the inherent good of humanity and it has nothing to do with the deep seeded trust issues I admittedly have. I believe the situation is a bit more complex than what you see on the surface and that we live in a world of grey, not black and white.
I’m a realist and an opportunist. I can say for certain I would pocket the money and return the wallet. If the owner asked after his $500 I would feign ignorance and tell him there was no money in the wallet when I found it.
Does that make me a bad person? Let’s review the facts.
First of all, who walks around with $50 to $100 dollars in cash nowadays, let alone $500, in a wallet? Sure, you don’t know the individual’s circumstance, but you can safely assume from a probability standpoint that the owner is probably someone who can afford to lose the money while you’re barely making ends meet. With $500 now in your own wallet, you’re constantly checking it so much that passers-by are giving you a wide berth and odd looks – in my scenario I’m a guy who keeps his wallet in his back pocket, just roll with it. There’s no way you’re dropping that wallet, yet the situation would say the original owner didn’t share the same desperate sense of paranoia.
How many of you forgot about all the other stuff in the wallet? The license, credit cards, membership IDs and the social security card – yes, it’s unadvisable, but I know plenty of people who carry it around anyway. Those items aren’t exactly worthless to the owner. I’m still taking it back, relieving the owner of having to cancel all his credit cards, get new ones, get a new license, fret over possible identity theft, etc etc. Does that hold no moral value just because I took the money, which is arguably one of the least valuable items?
A friend of mine put it best while we were talking about whether or not we would cheat on our significant others. When posed the question I said I wouldn’t and he responded, “That’s situational shit.” It means you don’t really know how you would react until you’re actually in the situation.
Most people give the good answer automatically when a moral question is hypothesized but we all know saying and doing are two very different things.
Just look at apocalyptic depictions in fiction. (Try saying that five times fast!) In nearly every case – barring those where literally everyone has been extinguished – the setting is marred with looters and people breaking a moral code that readers and viewers today find shocking. But deep down, no matter how grotesque the actions get, most of us find it believable. We sit and think that we would be the protagonist, part of the last remnants of civilized society that clung to the moral code of the past, but the truth is we don’t really know how we’d react and behave when our lives were truly on the line.
While I agree with my friend that there are many issues that fall under the “situational shit” category, I think people who are brutally honest with themselves can truthfully examine a situation and understand how they’d react.
For example, I know I wouldn’t cheat on a significant other. Not because I’m some inherently noble person – I think we’ve already established I’m not – but because I’ve experienced cases of infidelity – no, to my knowledge I’ve never been cheated on – that have made the thought a sickening ideal. I know I wouldn’t cheat, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t call up my significant other and break things off before indulging in the moment.
How well do you know yourself? Would you take the money and run? Return it all? Consider the comments section a judgement-free zone.