Recently I was reminded of the well-known C.S. Lewis quote that, “integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Of all places, it came to me after having my wife’s car detailed!
I serve on a board at the Summa Health System in Akron, OH where the parking deck at the main hospital offers an auto detailing service. I had driven my wife’s car to a recent meeting, so I arranged to have it detailed while I was in town as a surprise for her.
From previous experience I knew the cost was very reasonable, the job would be thorough and to the extent that some of the cost supported the good work of the hospital system, I was happy to take advantage of the service.
My meetings ran long so I picked up the car after hours. I paid for the service leaving a tip for the attendant who had detailed the car (as he had already departed for the day) with the parking deck manager. The manager assured me that the attendant would be most appreciative when he received the gratuity in the morning.
I approached my car to find it spotless, inside and out with the attendant having done a very thorough job. Additionally, on the passenger’s seat the attendant had neatly placed several items found under the seats that he thought I might want or need.
These “hidden treasures” all belonged to one of my grandchildren who are constantly being chauffeured around in my wife’s car - an empty baby bottle, a small rubber duck and a children’s book. While none of these items were expensive or even that meaningful, it brought a smile to my face that the attendant, who had cleaned the vehicle, was thoughtful enough to realize that someone might be missing and/or looking for these items.
However, what I was entirely unprepared for was the $10 bill that the attendant had placed on the console. Apparently, he also found this in the car while cleaning it and did what he believed to be, “the right thing when no one was watching” by returning it.
As I’ve shared this story with folks the reactions have ranged from: “of course he would have returned it!” to; “WOW, I can’t believe he returned that to you…it was his to keep and no one would have known if he had kept it for himself!”
As I reflected on this experience, two thoughts have come to my mind.
First, based on all of my interactions with representatives of the Summa Health System (from its most senior leaders, to physicians, nurses, technicians, orderlies, housekeeping staff and now a parking attendant, the returning of a found $10 bill is entirely consistent with the culture of that organization.
Secondly, the two general reactions I described earlier are a bit self-revealing as to how others may have acted if they found themselves in a similar situation. What was your initial reaction to this story?