Doing the Right Thing isn’t Always a No-Brainer

Doing the Right Thing isn’t Always a No-Brainer

Recently, I did the right thing, sort of, by returning, a large sum of cash to its rightful owner. In this case, the rightful owner is my bank. I’ll explain.

Last Friday evening, I made an account deposit via my bank’s drive-up teller window. It’s a scene familiar to all: profusely polite teller repeatedly thanking me for my business, and impatient, time-compromised customers making angry faces in-between glances at their cell phones. All was normal until what happened next.

I heard the pneumatic tube sound and immediately figured I’d soon be getting ready for my next appointment. All I had to do was retrieve my deposit confirmation receipt and be on my way. I had a meeting with someone in 60 minutes. It was an important, late-in-the-day get-together with someone helping me explore job search options. A tough economic landscape and job competition, with perhaps a bit of age-bias has me out of work and looking (in my field of marketing and communications). So, almost needless to say, I was anxious to be on my way, but was running late.

The bank tube arrived, my deposit was acknowledged with a receipt, but next to the receipt was a monumental cash “prize” of $2,000 to boot.  How can this be, as the receipt was proof that all I did was make a small deposit?

Through the obligatory, garbled bank speaker, I made out a robotic voice telling me to have a nice day. As if it were still early morning. In the car behind me was an insane-looking, but kid-tortured woman who wasn’t having a nice day. I determined this by her frenetic gesturing for me to move on. She wanted me out of the way as her transaction apparently was more important than mine. The decision to return the cash was a no-brainer, but I decided to go inside instead of using the outside teller tube.

I drove to the front of the bank to the parking lot. You know its type… a small-spaced, limited-safety, typical bank parking lot with people backing up without care, or true focus into their rearview. One such customer forced me into a defensive maneuver to avoid getting broad-sided. I found myself at the back of the drive-up teller lane.

What to do?  Get in the long teller lane line again, or drive back around to the parking lot for another try?  My appointment loomed and I did not want to be late, especially for a casual acquaintance who was now on weekend time.

I decided to do the right thing. For me. I drove into the city to make my appointment. I figured, what’s the harm? I didn’t steal the money, it was given to me in error, and I was going to return it before the bank closed at 9:00 PM. As with most bad decisions, however, it didn’t turn out the way I just explained it.

I returned to the bank as soon as I was able at 8:15 PM, only to find it very, very closed! It closed at 6 PM and not 9 PM as I thought. A simple, playing with time to accommodate my needs suddenly wasn’t so simple. A situation that was supposed to be just a blip on my radar screen and soon forgotten, now had implications.  The bank must surely know the money is missing. Again, I had no intention whatsoever of holding the money overnight, but unfortunately, it was “mine” for now.

It was a long night and morning couldn’t come soon enough. I was in the bank’s parking lot at 8:45 AM for a 9:00 AM opening. I walked into the bank and told a representative what happened. She immediately mentioned that an audit was taking place for one of the tellers and their manager regarding missing money. Uh oh! She then excused herself. I expected the “audit police” to return with her to place handcuffs on my wrists, while employees and customers alike sneered, booed, and pointed at me.  Instead, she returned with the manager, who, with tears in her eyes thanked me for returning the money and saving her job. She said they couldn’t figure out why or how the money was missing, and she was in deep trouble. Next, a young teller came over, admitted his slip-up and thanked me for saving his job. As I was leaving, the manager thanked me for this great gift to her. It was over. Or, was it?

After seeing in person what I put those employees through, I didn’t feel it was over just yet. My crime wasn’t theft but an omission of sensitivity and compromising others’ livelihood. When the manager thanked me for the “gift,” I realized I was the one who received a gift. I learned that doing the right thing doesn’t include doing it on your own terms to fit your schedule. Job search meeting, notwithstanding.

I also realized that we’re never too old to learn new lessons, at any age.  And, there’s no bias there.

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