THE tale of the Boston man who found a backpack containing more than $40,000 in cash and traveller's cheques and immediately turned it in to police - and was later rewarded with $100,000 from well wishers - created a searing rush of conscience today.
As a 15-year-old, back in the seventies, I had a haircut in Eric Black's unisex salon in Johnstone, and on leaving the shop looked at the change Eric, (who did a very decent line in David Cassidy haircuts) had pushed into my hand. I realised he'd given me 10 bob (50p) too much. Ah, the dilemma. Everything about my upbringing told me to give it back. But I convinced myself this was his silly mistake. Or perhaps he didn't want to charge me full price for a haircut, because we'd always enjoyed good chats. And of course, this was enough money to treat me to a night at the Kelburne Cinema in Paisley. So I kept it.
And I've kept the remorse in my head ever since. But I wish I'd had the conscience of the Boston man, or indeed the homeless man from Missouri who found a diamond ring in his begging cup, and gave it back.
I wish I had the conscience of the Spanish man who found the winning lottery ticket worth millions and handed it in saying he couldn't have kept it because he wouldn't be able to live with himself. Or even something of the guts of Edward Snowden, who leaked to major newspapers how the National Security Agency was collecting Americans' phone data.
But can you grow a conscience? Are the company directors behind the likes of Starbucks and Amazon going to come to the conclusion that more tax should be paid? Have BBC bosses now woken up to the realisation it's not okay to pay chums obscene redundancy terms?
Now, you can't expect everyone to take the Reformation stance of Luther, who fought the notion it was right and fair to sell tickets to the kingdom of heaven. And perhaps lack of conscience is a predeterminant for business success.
Yet, hopefully the Boston man's story will inspire some, like me, who lost the plot along the way, someone like the Geneva asset manager who considered changing her career, not because she did anything wrong, but because she felt unethical by association of her profession, "an industry that has fallen into shame".
We don't know the power of our conscience until we are called upon to test it. But perhaps uplifting stories from Boston can help realign as. Maybe you can learn from a haircut experience.
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