to katie: about doing the right thing

I’m a big fan of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because you are afraid you are going to get caught doing the wrong thing.

Here’s my favorite story about doing the right thing. I heard it when I was about your age, and I think about it a lot.

Once upon a time, a company was interviewing people to be their new CEO (Chief Executive Officer, who is everyone’s boss – the top dog). The company flew in this guy for an all-day interview because the guy had great experience, great references, and a history of helping companies make a lot of money. Let’s call him Bob, the CEO candidate. And let’s say that the committee to make the decision was headed up by Ann, who got to show Bob around all day. Bob was their first choice for CEO, and all morning long, he impressed everyone.

Then at lunch, they went to the company’s cafeteria, and Ann was behind Bob in line, and she saw him take a butter packet out of the bowl marked “Butter 6 cents” and carefully slip the butter under the lip of his plate, so it would be hard for the cashier to see it, then hold the tray so his hand was covering the place where the butter could be seen. Ann and Bob were talking at the time, so Ann was pretty sure that Bob thought she had not seen it.

Sure enough, when they were checking out, the cashier said out loud everything that she was ringing up, and the butter was not included. Bob did not correct the mistake.

After lunch, Ann told the rest of the committee what she had seen, and they canceled the rest of the interviews and sent Bob home without the job. They all agreed that if Bob could not be trusted with a 6-cent slab of butter, he could not be trusted with their company.

What makes me sad for Bob in this story is not that he got caught (I’m glad he got caught – maybe it will help him think about he’s doing from now on), but what makes me sad is that Bob was a “get away with it if you can” kind of a person instead of a “do the right thing” kind of a person.

I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, but I know that I have worked at many companies where that 6-cent slab of butter would have cost a candidate the job. For sure. Someone who steals something little probably also are willing to steal something big, or to lie about something to make themselves look better.

Some people do the right thing because they are afraid of being caught doing the wrong thing. Maybe they are afraid of their boss, or their roommate, or their girlfriend, or Santa Claus, or maybe they are even afraid of God watching them. I think that is sad, someone making decisions their whole life because of fear.

I prefer to do the right thing because I try to ask myself, “Who do I want to be? What kind of person do I want to be?” Of course, it would be lovely if people notice and tell me I’m great. But mostly, what is important to me is to know that I have been the kind of person I want to be. And I want to be a person who does the right thing even when nobody is looking.

For one thing, practicing doing the right thing makes it easier to do the right thing when people are looking. By then, it’s habit.

Also, if you do the right thing regularly, then stuff won’t pile up for your future self to do. For example, the other day was trash day, and while we were getting in the car, I remembered that we had some cans in the back of the car to recycle. I could have chosen to ignore it and leave the cans for another day, but instead I stopped and emptied the cans out right then. Because (a) it was the right thing to do (b) it made that rattling sound stop while we drove, which was nice and (c) eventually either your Uncle Kevin or I would need to get those cans out of the car – some day – so either Today Me or Future Me was going to have to do it. And I love Future Me – she deserves good things. She does not deserve to have to pick up after Today Me.

In fact, kindness towards Future Me is a big motivator for doing the right thing. Keeping dishes from piling up, doing laundry… well, really, chores of any kind. Usually if you wait, it just means that much more work for Future Me. Some day you will have to do it. And Today Me is just as capable of getting it done as Future Me will be, so I might as well do it today, so that Future Me can relax and enjoy her day without as many chores piling up.

Future Me deserves to be well-rested. Future Me deserves to wake up to a clean kitchen. Future Me deserves to have clean clothes to wear. Future Me deserves to breathe cleaner air, so Today Me should change the air filters (confession: Uncle Kevin actually does that, but you get the idea). Future Me deserves to live without fear or guilt of being caught having done the wrong thing, so Today Me should just do the right thing.

Yes, Kevin and I really talk about Today Me and Future Me. I understand that makes us dorks, but hey, it works for us.

Tons of love,

Aunt Angie

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