Topic: Society

Unidentified Homeless Man

It’s a simple story.

A homeless man in Santa Ana, California found a wallet full of money in a garbage bin and made sure that it was returned to its rightful owner intact.

The wallet’s owner had tossed it into the trash by mistake, and the homeless man found it while searching for cans to recycle. He did not want to be identified. He just wanted to return the property.

This simple incident epitomizes ethical conduct. There were abundant rationalizations available that the man could have used to justify keeping the wallet’s $900 contents. For example:

  • The wallet was in the trash; he had a legal argument that it was abandoned property.
  • Though $900 is a lot of money, it is not so much money that someone’s life is likely to depend on it. Indeed, most people who have that much cash in a wallet can afford to lose it. (The actual owner was going to use the money for a vacation.) But for a homeless person, $100 is a fortune.
  • The homeless man could reasonably assume that he needed the money more desperately than an owner who was careless enough to discard it.
  • He could have taken the position that anyone so careless as to throw a full wallet in the trash deserved to lose the money.
  • Perhaps it was fate, or a stroke of good fortune straight from heaven; after all, “everything happens for a reason.”
  • Nobody would expect a homeless person to return $900 found in a trash bin, and no one would think worse of him for keeping it.
  • His peers and friends, indeed most people, might think he would be foolish if he returned money that could buy hot meals, shelter and clothing.

There were all these rationalizations and more, but the man who found the wallet also found them insufficient to overcome his sense of right and wrong. The wallet was obviously lost, and belonged to someone else. The right thing to do, and the only right thing to do, was to return it along with everything inside.

So that’s what he did.

Simple as that.

But it isn’t so simple at all. It takes courage, fortitude principle and character to behave ethically when there are so many attractive and seductive excuses to do something else. The Scoreboard’s Ethics Hero for April may be homeless and nameless, but should be a role model to us all.

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