What do we gain from being honest? When is it okay to be honest and when is it not? If you are honest once, do you have to be honest all the time? And what does that have to do with mayonnaise?
Here’s what got me thinking about this. I went through the drive-through at a fast food place the other night. My bill came to 22 dollars and some odd cents, so I pulled out a twenty and a five and handed them over to the drive-through window guy. Now, I’m not unfamiliar with drive-throughs. Cooking is really not my thing anymore and it shows on my waistline. Healthy food versus convenience. I’m afraid convenience has beaten down healthy foods with a pointy stick.
There are several reasons for this, the biggest being that my Significant Otter has a very limited diet. I fondly remember the days when I liked to cook. I remember the creativity that I used to use to expand recipes into near culinary masterpieces, or at least a perfectly edible meal. I remember the spices and aromatics wistfully. I remember the tomato products that simmered on the stove. I remember the dairy, the eggs, the mayonnaise, gone but not forgotten. I remember all of these, until the memories of a sick Otter rear their ugly heads. These days, a little mayo will KO him faster than a prize fighter.
So, I’ve retired my “Joy of Cooking” cookbook and will often schlepp to the fast food places that seem to bother his system less than my cooking does. Oh, the guilt! I can hear the judge now. “You’re on trial for assaulting your Significant Otter. How do you plead?” “I’m innocent, Your Honor. It wasn’t salt. It was cinnamon.”
Long story short (Oops. Too late for that.), I went through a drive-through the other night, handed the worker $25 for a $22 order and got $18 back in change. That was just wrong.
I’ve dealt with this cashier in the past and he’s very proficient at his job, despite the fact that I always check my order before I leave. That’s the line cook’s fault. What’s so hard to remember about no mayo? But that’s another rant. Anyways … I looked at the change in my hand and asked, “What did I hand you?”
I was pretty sure it was $25, but he replied, “$40.”
Shaking my head, I said, “No, I’m pretty sure it was a twenty and a five.”
He opened his drawer, picked up two bills from the tray, and lo and behold, under the top twenty was a five dollar bill. Of course, I gave him the change back, and he gave the correct change. That just felt right.
He handed out my order which consisted of one small bag, one large bag with three smaller bags in it, plus an additional small bag. It seemed like a lot at the time, but I didn’t think much of it.
As I usually do, I got my order and pulled into a parking stall to check to make sure that no dastardly mayo had snuck into my S.O.’s sandwich. Finding his sandwich meant looking through all five bags. As I peered into the fifth bag, I realized that it didn’t belong to us. It was someone else’s order. Hmmm….
I was already kind of tired from the change snafu. I was hungry. Late afternoon and early evening are my low energy times, so I just wanted to go home and eat. And I was tired of having to have this particular place remake my Otter’s sandwich more times than I can count. (My, what a sad commentary on how much we eat their food. But again, that’s a whole other rant.)
Really and truly, as I sat in the car, contemplating this extra bounty that had come our way, I just wanted to drive off. After all, they had messed up my change, and I had been honest about it, right? Didn’t they owe me this extra meal in some entitled kind of way? Obviously, they would never miss it, and ultimately, they would have to throw it out even if I did return it. Right? Right?? So I should just go home and split the extra goodies with my family. It sounded like a good plan to my tired self, until …
… Until I began to reflect on what had just transpired at the drive-through window. I asked myself a simple question. Did I really feel that I could pick and choose when to be honest and do the right thing? How could I justify being honest with my change one moment and then drive off with food that I hadn’t ordered in the next. And what did that say about me if I did?
For a lot of people, honesty might have flown out the window when they were handed $15 more change than they were entitled to. For others, they might have returned the change and driven off with the extra meals. And every one of them would have justified their actions with the “big corporation versus little people” mentality or the “I deserve this” mentality or the “If God didn’t want me have this, He wouldn’t have put it in my hands” mentality. Yeah, not me. Dummy. I even argued with myself that the food was going to be tossed in the trash anyway, so why let it go to waste? But I couldn’t get past the fact that I hadn’t paid for it. Nor could I forget that I had just been extremely honest not five minutes before with that extra money. Was I going to be honest only when it was convenient for me to be? Hmmm…
That would have been like giving my Significant Otter a sandwich without mayonnaise at one meal, and then giving him a sandwich with mayonnaise for the next meal. His entire system would have been thrown out of whack. He needs consistency in his diet, much like I need to be consistent in my honesty in order to keep my moral system from getting out of whack. The Mayo Effect.
I parked the car, grabbed the extra bag and marched into the restaurant. I handed the extra bag to the front counter cashier and explained that it wasn’t my order. Perhaps I could have been clearer with my explanation because she proceeded to ask me what it was that I had ordered. I had to explain three times that no, no, I have my completed order and it was good, but that this bag didn’t belong to me. I didn’t pay for it, therefore, I’m returning it to you. When it finally sunk in, her eyes widened and she looked at me like I had sprouted antlers and a big red nose. It’s true. Integrity changes a person.
Anyway, once she understood that I was returning food that wasn’t mine, she thanked me and beamed about what an honest person I was. I had restored her faith in the good of humanity. I smiled, ducked sideways through the door so as to not damage my antlers and brushed off my super-cape on the way to my car, content with my decisions. I could live with my conscience intact for a while longer.
Did I do the right thing? I think I did, but it certainly makes me think. Are we honest all the time, or do we tend to be honest only when it’s convenient? Or only when the possibility of being caught exists? I could have gotten away with $15 and a bag of free food, but knowing me, I would have guilt choked on the meal as I ate it. I’m not the world’s most honest person, but I try. Tonight, I think I ‘did good.’
And so did the fast food place: there was no mayo on my otter’s sandwich!