A quick update on Found Money.
I thought it was interesting how about half of the folks who commented felt the money should be given away — to themselves (in jest) or to charity. (Total: 4 people)
Three people said I should try to make some effort to give it back.
Halves are counted in all of those, as some said I should try to give it back and if it comes back to me it's still not mine, it's charity's.
What's interesting about those options presented was the "how to spend the money" was not my ethical dilemma. It was whether I should — and how much effort should be made to — give it back, or attempt to give it back. Scott came the closest to what my heart was saying:
My $0.02 is that the refund includes an expectation that the item has
been or will be returned. Since the item wasn't returned, there's an
ethical requirement to attempt to return the refund. However, the real
question lies in what amount of effort is required of you in attempting
this return since there was an error on their part. If a good-faith
effort to contact the seller and get the refund back to them fails due
to inadequacies on their side, (not Paypal's since they're not the
seller) then you've done your part and the refund is yours.
That's pretty much how I see it. In reading that thought I decided that there's a karmic thing attached to all of this, and whether or not you believe that the universe rights that which is wrong … eventually … I tend to hold on to that belief.
I cite the story I've mentioned once or twice before. I went to sell some old CDs at a local used-record shop in the Village a bunch of years ago. I was given a slip for $25 in cash; I brought it to the register, they gave me $75. I kind of recognized that I'd been handed more than $25 right away, but kept silent and left for dinner with a friend a few doors down. Once there, we realized just how much of an account error there had been. And I thought that above and beyond even karma, I didn't want some poor schmuck to get fired because I was greedy. I took the money back after dinner, handing it over to the evening manager Greta — half thinking she'd say "oh, you're such an honest person, keep it."
This is not to point to what a great ethical person I am. But I do believe that we have to behave in ways — small and large — that allow us to look at ourselves and be happy with our behavior. There's a lyric from a song which, in part, I particularly like, which goes: "When you look in the mirror at the end of a hard day/
And you know in your heart you have not lied" — and I think of that from time to time. That's not a judgment call, it's just how I think. My own self-esteem is worth more than $50; it's worth more than the rebate I just got sent.
That said, I was kind of pissed not to get some kind of pat on the back for doing the right thing, even if I did feel good about doing it.
Over the next several weeks, and months, and even years I would occasionally take more CDs in for sale. I wasn't making much money doing temp work, and this was often a way to skate into the black rather than the red for the week. But this store didn't just take any CDs; they carefully looked over what you brought and sent you home with the dross if they didn't want it. So I hadn't had much success there yet.
Yet so long as Greta was doing CD sales — which, so long as I came in during the early evening she was — after the money return I always had every one of my CDs paid for. I think in the long run, I ended up with far more cash than the $75 I would have taken home in the short run.
Yeah, that sounds like a goofy parable, but it's completely true. Greta eventually left, and I stopped taking CDs in because I was finally making okay money and … well, there was Amazon by then. But the lesson has stuck with me.
So, I emailed back the people who sent me the refund today and asked if there had been an account error. I told them I hadn't applied for the refund.
I'll let you know how fast they decide they want their money back.
And thanks to everyone who chimed in to the discussion. It made things very interesting!