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Doing the Right Thing or What Would You Do?

A few years ago, when our grandson was still in high school, he worked at the local Dunkin’ Donuts in the center of Norwood. This work location was perfect because he could walk to work after school and he could walk to our Norwood home in the evening or on weekends if we weren’t around to give him a ride.

He was 16 when he got the job and one afternoon on one of his first trips home from work he found two twenty dollar bills folded up lying in the crosswalk. He picked the cash up but told us about it when he got home, asking what he should do with it.

My husband had had something similar happen a few months back when he found a twenty dollar bill on the floor right next to the milk coolers at the rear of Shaw’s.  He immediately brought it up to the service counter and announced that he didn’t want to take the money in case some elderly shopper or young parent had just lost his or her entire grocery money for the week. Shaw’s took the money to hold onto just in case someone came looking for it. The promised my husband that after a week or two, with no claim for the money lost that particular day, they would call and welcome him back to retrieve the twenty dollars.

In the end, no one came looking, Gerry got the call from the service desk and he was twenty dollars richer that day.

When we discussed the possible scenarios of how the money might have been lost – or who it belonged to – Colin understood that someone could have dropped the money on his or her way to shop. I called my favorite local police chief and it was decided that we would hold onto the money for one month, leaving time for someone to claim it.

No one came looking, and Colin was a richer teenager with forty dollars in his pocket after the thirty days.

Then one sunny summer afternoon in July of last year, as we exited our car near our Marion home in a busy Route 6 parking lot, Gerry found a one-hundred dollar bill, crisp and neatly folded in half on the ground. Knowing that it could have been lost by any customer visiting any number of small shops, we sat and discussed the question this posed. What was the right thing to do?

Of course, we had just taught our grandson the valuable lesson of giving the owner the option of reclaiming lost cash… Perhaps it was a careless tourist with money to burn who slipped a $100 bill in his or her pocket for a trip to the gourmet coffee shop. Or perhaps it was a local resident with a particular purchase to make who would discover the loss and report it to the police.

Here’s what Gerry did, after one of those “aww, do I have to?”  moments. Remembering his own advice, he knew he had to do the right thing. He brought it to the Marion police station where he was told it had to sit for one full year in the evidence room in case the owner came looking.

And it sat for one exact year until the detective in charge of evidence released it. No one had come looking, obviously, and Gerry was a richer man that day.

Public safety officers we’ve told this story to have told us that very, very few people bring money to the station and turn it in. Most of our friends, in fact, have laughed at the story and told us that they’d have pocketed it. And perhaps Gerry would have if he hadn’t just tried to teach a lesson in morality and ethics to our young grandson.

Juan Manuel Quiñones, or better known as John Quiñones, is an ABC news correspondent and host of What Would You Do?  This television series, originally known as Primetime: What Would You Do?, ran for about 8 seasons beginning in 2008 through 2015. Reruns can still be seen on other networks, evidence of the popularity of the ethical and moral questions that are proposed and the questions they raise.

In the reality show, actors portray scenes in public settings which are being recorded by hidden cameras. The What Would You Do moments happen when bystanders are either moved or not moved by the events happening within their eyesight or earshot. The scenarios usually involve a profound situation – teenagers bullying one another or a person of color or different ethnicity being treated unfairly in a public setting. The producers of the show are looking for people to do the right thing. And, happily, that is often the case.

Of course John Quiñones appears on the scene at just the right time. Bystanders are interviewed and witnesses questioned. Psychologists respond to the actions and reactions. I’m always intrigued by What Would You Do? when I come across it on television and, of course, I am always heartened to see that there are people all over the world who do the right thing.

In 2015 when the series ended, John Quiñones wrote the book What Would You Do? Doing the Right Thing Even When You Think No One’s Watching and it is full of both the real-life stories, and some made-up ones, that create discussion.  Quiñones wrote the book hoping to inspire others to speak up when they witness wrongdoing. (Quiñones’ first book written with Steven Williams, Heroes Among Us – Ordinary People, Extraordinary Choices, was published in 2008.)

Doing the right thing is not always the quick and easy answer. Gerry and I would like to believe that we helped teach our grandson to think beyond the free cash lying on the street. There might always be an owner who desperately needs it.

Our lives might be richer in the end, cash or not.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the August 10, 2017 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


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