Last night, my wife and I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Near the end of the movie, Harry was having a conversation with Professor Dumbledore, who said, “we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” Of course, This conversation had more to do with life and death than what I plan on talking about (money), but this statement holds true to each of us.
Just before the Super Bowl I went to the store to pick up a keg of beer for my neighbor’s party. The cashier didn’t know how to ring it up, or where to find the price in the book. Since I also got roped into picking up the keg for the New Year’s party, I knew exactly where to find the information.
The beer I selected was Killian’s Irish Red, which, at $80 (including keg deposit), isn’t the cheapest beer out there. In the price book, there was a $60 keg listed next to the Killian’s. I noticed the guy in line behind me look at the prices, make eye contact with me, and give me a little nod and a wink. He knew the cashier didn’t have a clue which kind of beer I was buying, and I could make off like a bandit… which I would have been had I lied.
The easy choice would have been to make (steal) a quick $20, and no one would have ever known. Except I would have known. And the guy behind me as well, but I expect he would have bragged about it to his buddies, and the drunker he became that night, the story would have morphed into how he helped some guy walk out the door without paying for a keg of beer. The guy behind me actually shook his head as I paid full price.
Big deal, right? It’s not hard to pass up $20.
You’re right, it’s not. But how about $200? Several years ago I went to a clothing store to buy a suit. Again, the poor cashier didn’t have a clue what was going on. In the midst of scanning my items, she rang up a $22 tie twice, and skipped over the $220 suit pants. Surprisingly, I didn’t even notice. I paid my bill and was walking out the door when I remembered to check my receipt to get the alterations code. That is when I noticed the error. I know, it’s tough to miss a $200 error… but I was talking to a friend and not paying attention.
Here, the easy thing would have been to go over to the alterations, pay $15 to get my pants altered, and be on my way. But that would not have been the right thing to do. For most people, $200 is a considerable sum of money. I was in the military at the time and my paycheck was about $700 every two weeks. My total bill was roughly half a paycheck, so that much money meant a lot to me. But my integrity meant much more. Physically, it would have been extremely easy to walk out that door and get away without paying $200. But I would have had a hard time dealing with the knowledge that I stole something, let alone the fact that someone else could be held accountable for the loss.
When I returned to the cashier’s line, I’m not sure who was more embarrassed – me or the cashier. Either way, I felt good when the cashier swiped my debit card and I bought my suit. I still own it.
What is right and what is easy do not always align with each other. Sometimes the best option is to do what you know to be right, even when it is more difficult.