Last week, I went to the ATM machine at my local bank in the shopping center. There was cash sitting right there in the dispense tray. I picked it up and counted $60. Wow! I immediately walked into the bank and explained to the woman at the desk that the person before me had forgotten to take their money.
No big deal, I thought. I am not hard up for money (although I could use more and yes, couldn't we all?). At this point in my life, I can afford to be scrupulous about honesty and integrity. This was not always the case, I'm afraid.
When I was a single mother of two, and living on a very meager amount of money, my ethics were not nearly as sterling. In fact, I would have taken the money from the ATM and figured "this is my lucky day!". I'm not proud of that, but I'm being honest here. If I found a $20 dollar bill on the street, my reaction was not "who on earth dropped this?", but "Hooray!Finders Keepers!"
If I received too much change at the grocery store, I didn't go back and return the money. It wasn't because I was a thief, it's because I was broke. I would never have taken what wasn't mine, but if a mistake was made in my favor, I let it slide.
I told myself that wasn't stealing, but of course it was. Oh I justified it with telling myself, "they overcharge me half the time anyway" but deep down inside, I knew that I was doing something wrong. Still, poverty makes us do things we wouldn't otherwise.
I did have a job but it was a low paying one. (File clerks were not highly compensated in the old days.) We managed, but just barely. If push came to shove, I would have stolen, whored, or just about anything I had to do to feed my kids. Lucky for us, it never came to that.
Still, I do have such strong ethics at this point of my life that sometimes I have to slap myself down and say, "Yeah, you are honest and ethical now... but that sure as hell was not the case years ago."