Jon ‘Wolf’ Rentzsch posted a fun essay about his need to “iron out” mistakes that are made in his financial favor. I’m delighted by the analysis – especially the deduction that such corrections are ethical exercises: small quizzes that keep your everyday moral compass in shape for the inevitably bigger challenges that are bound to come.
I relate to the compulsion to do the right thing. In many ways I also actively refuse to let the world make errors in my favor. I used to be almost as corrective as he is. But I’ve cured myself of that disability, to some extent. The problem is, I’m a super-worrier to begin with. This means that at every minute of every day I’m probably compulsively analyzing the actions I may or may not take and how they will affect the world around me. With the weight of the world on my shoulders, the last thing I need to worry about it convincing the clerk that he did in fact give me an extra $1 in my change. Staying ethically aligned is harder than simply giving up the unearned benefit. As Wolf observes, the world doesn’t really give a damn about your dedication to correctness.
Wolf’s friend gave him a mantra “I’m not going to hell for 35 cents.” A real beauty of a one-liner. But my interpretation is more along the lines of “I’m not giving a damn for 35 cents.” Bigger errors are liable to invoke my correction response. I also admit to applying different standards to different entities. For instance, I’m much more likely to give the 35 cents back if I’m at a small boutique business than if I’m at a chain supermarket. Part of this is the classic “they can afford it” argument, but more significantly, I’ve been ripped off many times by the supermarket, and I know it. I figure the law of averages will eventually make the errors in my favor catch up to the ones in theirs.
For all the times they forgot to put something in my bag, even though I paid for it. Or charged the usual price for something clearly marked as on sale. For this, I keep the 35 cents.