Money & Values

The Ethics Test Answers + Reflections on the Comments

This tree has roots in my neighborhood.

First off, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all those who participated in the Ethics Test exercise immediately preceding this post, including those who just read it.  It’s gratifying to see that people think about these things and care about them, as I do.  One day when I got dressed I put my cash in the same back pocket as my wallet, which I don’t do usually. When I went to lunch at the diner, I pulled out my wallet without looking in order to pay by credit card, and dropped two $20 bills on the floor.  The waitress picked up the bills after I left, but she had not actually seen me drop them so she added them to the cash register.

Because her till was over by that amount, she kept the bills for three days.  I was the only person she approached.  In the three days, she had decided I was probably the one who lost the money because she picked it up right after I left.  When I came to eat again, she zeroed in on me specifically.  I told her, “I don’t know” because it was the truth.  I had not used cash in that time.  She insisted she was sure it was me and put the bills in my hand.  I thanked her and offered one of the bills back to her, but she wouldn’t hear of it.  I gave her a 40% tip on the bill.

She made a joke, saying “I only did it because you’re nice, otherwise I woulda kept it.”  I could tell she wouldn’t have kept it, and would have tried to find the right owner indefinitely.  She’s a direct, plain-speaking person, and right’s right and wrong’s wrong.  I learned to recognize people like that when I was a boy in Iowa.  It wasn’t until I got home that I realized she had been correct, because I normally carry $40 or so for the week, and aside from those twenties I only had singles.

I don’t have much cash and I’m in debt at the moment, but my life is very, very rich.  I have good friends, an interesting, entertaining family and an exceptional wife who loves me.  I’m residing in a region of extraordinary natural beauty.  I also have friends and readers online, who have shared intimate and revealing stories with me.  I have a license to perform a profession that is both in-demand and of direct service to people.  Though I’m only working part-time right now, I have good prospects of full-time work to look forward to.  I’m a wealthy man, inside and out.  I have it so much better than so many.  Hard times make that clear every day.

When I was a child, I never saw homeless people on the streets.  Never.  I was born in St. Louis.  That’s not a small town.  I’ve had my eyes open all my life.  I would have seen them.  As I grew up in smaller towns in Iowa, I started seeing them during the late ‘60s.  There was this Federal law called the Community Mental Health Act (CMHA) of 1963.  It was supposed to facilitate the transition of patients with mental illnesses from hospitals into single-room occupancy affordable housing.

It didn’t work out.  The stingy side of America got hold of too many.  Affordable housing dried up and the patients ended up on the street.  On top of that, veterans from Vietnam began coming back with PTSD, and the VA system, in accordance with CMHA, began dumping them on the streets too.  Because it was a period with an upswing in drug use, the third source of homelessness, substance abusers, also added to the numbers.  This was when I became a telephone crisis counselor, my first experience of patient care.  Homelessness has increased steadily ever since.

Four times more people face life on the street each day in Los Angeles County than in the entire state of Washington, where I am now.  The weather’s milder, and they can survive outdoors.  I used to see them each day, especially when I worked as a “human search engine” downtown (see “Oddest Jobs Ever”/Feb 28th).  I know all the clichés like “the poor will always be with us”.  It’s no excuse for not trying to give people basic shelter from the elements.  This is a terrible moral crime in a nation as rich as ours.  It’s one of the reasons I don’t discuss politics in here.  I become too angry about the injustices visited upon everyone’s soul by this and other problems that stem completely from personal greed justified by governmental policies and underwritten by political rationalizations.

You pay a cost in your capacity for compassion every time you pass one of these people by while putting their situation at the back of your mind.  I know we are all trying hard to get by, but right’s right, and wrong’s wrong.  All is not lost when it comes to individual generosity, however.  Person after person wrote in response to my query that they would never consider keeping money that wasn’t theirs, and for the most part the amount involved was irrelevant.  I read something important in each person’s comment.

Shesboxingclever (http://shesboxingclever.wordpress.com/)  has been undergoing values-clarification for decades.  She is well-educated, but chooses to live rurally because it affords her a life more enriched by interpersonal and natural experiences.  She and her husband understand that our choice to live “modern urban” lifestyles has caused us to become separated from the Earth, and from each other.  She told a story right out of a Frank Capra movie about lost and found money, and how sometimes it brings out the best in people.

Lisa (http://ocdbloggergirl.wordpress.com/) struggles with ocd and anxiety problems.  She courageously writes about her journey in therapy and life, and isn’t afraid to express her irritation at the pettiness she must endure trying to get proper care.  Because Jennie Ketcham’s was the first blog I read with regularity and commented on, she came over here and gave us the gift of her understanding.  Lisa expertly revealed what many of us would not like to face honestly, that the amount of money CAN have an effect upon how we would respond.  Money has influence, and “free money” can give anyone pause.

Kiwidutch (http://kiwidutch.wordpress.com/) hardly ever writes personal stories on her blog, because it’s so full of beautifully photographed travel articles, yummy recipes and crafts there isn’t room for them.  But here she came, to offer us all the panorama of possibilities revealed in the experiences of her family members, because different things happen in different situations to different people.  This is exactly why it’s important not to over-simplify when thinking about money & values.  A small amount to you might be all the money in the world to a kid.

Sarah Baram (http://sarahbaram.wordpress.com/) clarified the importance of honesty, and so she correctly intuited my action.  I didn’t know, so that’s what I told the waitress.  Sarah told stories about her days working at a movie theater, and illustrated that there’s a way to pass good fortune along by giving unclaimed funds to those in need.  Sarah lives in and around big cities.  I bet she gives money to homeless people.

TimeThief (http://thistimethisspace.com/) is yet another smart woman (I think my work must appeal to smart women – COOL) who spends a lot of time helping out newbies as a tipster for WordPress, though I prefer her blog about personal and spiritual growth.  She doesn’t waste time or space.  She’s thought out her ethical positions before.  Go back and read what I wrote about direct people.  Right’s right.  Wrong’s wrong.  I love it.

Cat Cameron (http://catthebeatnik.net/) is pretty darned incredible.  People at age 16 do not ordinarily exhibit this level of understanding of human nature.  She pointed out cogently that we don’t always do what we know we ought to.  Guts and brains.  The girl’s gonna be popular in college so long as she survives the all-encompassing vanilla-ness of high school.

Ramona Kent (http://ramonakent.wordpress.com/) is writing a sweeping online romance epic, and she contributed a fun story about outsmarting a boss who thought he was ahead of the employees and who under-estimated her.  I love getting new readers.  She does too.

Last and not least, Tracy Todd (http://tracytodd.wordpress.com/) flew in all the way from South Africa to ably represent the majority of you who read the article, but did not actually take the test.  She’s quite right.  Most of why this one was satisfying was because the commenters took over (as I intended) and opened their own hearts.  Tracy managed to turn having her neck broken into a personal rebirth.  She knows all about this process.

When you can manage to open yourself to everyone, you will find we aren’t so different or as separated as our lifestyles would make it seem.  That’s an illusion that is being dispelled for me with each new contact I make in this community.  When I began blogging in January, I had no idea what kind of tree I was planting.  It’s begun to blossom.

This tree has roots in the lowveld.

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12 Comments

Filed under Communications, debt, Emotions, Ethics and Morality, Metaphysics, Self-Esteem, symbolism

12 responses to “Money & Values

  1. Hi, Invisible Mikey,

    My name is Tom – full name: Arthur Thomas Ware, of Sydney, Australia.

    Ferreting around WordPress I came upon your piece about losing the forty dollars. Thought I’d relate a story which happened to me recently.

    One morning I strolled out of my apartment block to find a $50 bill lying on the footpath. I figured that a young guy who lives next door to me might have dropped it, because it was right near the door of his car. There was no one in the car and no one standing around.

    I took it to his house. No one home. Then my wife and I went out and bought a refrigerator, which we brought home in the back of our hatchback. We weren’t looking foward to lifting it out.

    On arriving home, I went to the house again. This time his parents were in. No, they didn’t know whether he’d lost any money (I didn’t tell them how much)

    Right at that moment the young feller came home. I asked him if he’d lost any money. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve dropped a $50 somewhere. I was paid three fifty dollar bills but when I got home had only two”. It was obviously his fifty.

    It is said that when we give we receive. So what was the payoff for me? I figure it was multifold. -How?

    Firstly, we established even warmer relations with our next door neighbours. Secondly, they obviously regard us as honest people – always a bonus. Thirdly, the young guy, who was big and strong, manhandled the refrigerator into place in our home for us (my wife and I are in our seventies) and probably, fourthly, we built up some good karma….not to mention the wonderful feelings that were generated at the time.

    It really is true: As we give, so shall we receive.

    Keep those blogs a rollin’ – and all the best to you.

  2. Michael the most important thing is that you actually bothered to plant the tree. Trees are usually quite hardy and often grow without too much care. But they seldom blossom and bear fruit if they are neglected. Your tree is blossoming and it will bring many years of fruit. You are an incredible man! You are rich in character and spirit and I look forward to growing my tree right alongside yours.

    Thank you!

    • Ek is lief vir u, vriend.

      I got to thinking about the tree metaphor when I read Karen Shragg’s poem “Think Like a Tree”:

      Soak up the sun
      Affirm life’s magic
      Be graceful in the wind
      Stand tall after a storm
      Feel refreshed after it rains
      Grow strong without notice
      Be prepared for each season
      Provide shelter to strangers
      Hang tough through a cold spell
      Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
      Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
      Be still long enough to
      hear your own leaves rustling.

  3. Deborah

    Hi Mikey – this post is so interesting on so many levels. With regard to homeless people, I’ve never forgotten something I heard on the radio some years ago. An obviously well-off presenter related a story about how she and her young daughter were out and about and the young daughter asked why a man appeared to be sleeping in a shop doorway. The presenter explained that he was homeless and had nowhere else to go. Her daughter’s immediate reaction was to say: ‘Well, we have a spare bed, why can’t he come home with us and sleep there?’. The presenter explained that she had not been able to come up with a satisfactory answer then, or in the years she had since spent thinking about it. I can’t either.

    Similarly, and more recently, a man told his story on the radio of how he had taken home a young, homeless man, fed him and given him a bed for the night. When he woke up in the morning, the young man had stolen stuff and driven off in his car. Yet the man who had taken him in said that he would probably do the same thing again, despite the outcome of his actions.

    • Thanks for stopping in, Deborah. I know it’s a busy time for you (she’s going on tour).

      You’ve offered a good illustration of the truth that even though some people will treat us well and some badly, we ought to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do.

      I understand the fears involved very well. I’m still a materialist too, but I’m trying to change that as I grow.

  4. The best thing about these two posts, for me personally anyways, was that it they were never about you. They were about us. It gave me the opportunity to know some of my own friends on a level we hadn’t explored before, and opened the door to new friendships, which in time, will grow as strong as the old.
    As you know, I’m a firm believer in the unity of all things. And I love nothing more then seeing that belief reaffirmed. You also know how awed I am by the strength and the majesty of a tree. Whether the roots are fiercly splitting through rock or spreading elegantly across net regions, trees have the power to sustain us all. I feel very blessed to be a part of the Earth that nourishes your tree.

    • Indeed, we share these be-leafs. Dunno how often I can pull off this kind of hat trick, but Socrates originated the method. If you ask the right questions, the mirror gets passed around.
      I am pleased to hear from new voices too!

  5. Sarah Baram

    It was really insightful to read what others commented with. People have such a wide range of views and it is always great to see.

    P.S. You are right, I do give to homeless people. But not without a promise, and not always just money. My mother and I have made a habit of when we go in to the city, instead of just giving a few dollars to the homeless we see, bringing them a meal or something they may need (umbrella, clothes, toothbrush). We also talk with them, find out who they are, so we can label them as something other than homeless. It is not always money that someone needs, but just someone who would like to understand them.

  6. I enjoyed the variety too, and the fact that you and everyone else were willing to open up about your own experiences.

    I think your approach is inventive and highly beneficial, Sarah. You address the problem at more than a surface level, so you will learn more about the causes, which are complex. In creating a relationship with those who are marginalized, we reconnect with the best part of ourselves, which can also become marginalized by lack of use. I admire your principles and your behavior.

  7. Hi!
    I’ve been out and about today or I’d have left a comment much sooner. It’s so wonderful how you ended up giving everyone a great promo in the post. You didn’t even dislike that I dissected the whole ethics thing and decide how much time I would wait for various amounts of money (but of course, if someone came along saying they lost it after the time I waited, I’d be like, “Uh oh, after 2 months I figured no one would find it and I sorta spent it. Super sorry, can you come back the day I get paid?” Awkward!).
    I also think your view on the homeless is refreshing. So many people are cruel and pass judgement on these poor souls.
    I think on one end, it was a good idea to open up the mental hospitals because many people until then were left to rot in institutions when they weren’t dangerous to other people. What is nuts is that they didn’t make sure they had some sort of access to housing and mental health professionals (maybe there wouldn’t be so many winos and junkies if they didn’t have to self-medicate themselves).
    Anyway, I’ve now got off my soap box and want to say what a great post and thanks for introducing us all to each other.
    Thanks, thanks thanks!!!
    Lisa

    • I don’t believe in contests unless everyone wins, Lisa. That’s my sense of humor, since I never won any kind of contest in school – even though in life I’m winning most of the time! I think you were very astute in being able to analyze the fact that different amounts might well produce or encourage changes in specific behaviors. I know of studies that support your conclusion. On the other end of it, if the amount found is “small enough”, people are more statistically likely to pocket it by the rationalization of “who would come looking for $1, $5 etc.”

      ( I totally know what you mean about being busy. I’ve got TWO interviews for full-time work in the next 3 days. WOO-HOO!)

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