by | May 21, 2006 | Honesty

While writing about the seven seven heavenly virtues, I was a little surprised the virtue of honesty is not on the “official list” passed down from the 6th century. You’ll see why I wanted to deal with this, as it certainly is a worthy virtue to consider.

I recently went through a little test about honesty. Not the kind you take in a magazine or on the Internet, but the real life kind.

Our youngest daughter, Doreen, had purchased an item which would be free after a rebate which she applied for on the Internet. This was last April. Nothing ever came, but the tracking device on the website said it was in process.

About two weeks ago, a rebate envelope came to our home (she lives two hours away at college). I opened it to see if I should send it on to her, and was shocked at the amount I saw revealed. It was a check for $200! I was excited and called her and she explained that she wasn’t too surprised because the website tracking device also told her the rebate was for $200. She figured it was a mistake and had waited to see what would come of it.

Each spring I struggle with her through the whole financial aid process for college, and then each fall when it’s time to pay the bill, I help her figure out exactly how much she needs for the year and how much she has coming from other sources (us, loans, scholarships, her own job). I knew how much she could use the money. The money seemed like a much-needed extra gift.

But when my husband got home and I told him about the check and asked him what he thought she should do with it – whether she needed to report the error or just cash it, his reply kind of set me back on my heels. “I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation,” he said. “Of course she should report it.”

I was ashamed it took him to prompt me. I always considered myself to be a scrupulously honest person, turning in anything more than a dollar bill if I found it on the floor of a store, etc. I mean, I write/preach about honesty and stuff, right? I once wrote to a family that we visited when I was a child confessing that I had broken the family’s bathroom scales and offered to pay for it. We once made this same daughter confess to a teacher she had forged our names on a permission form.

But now the nice little sum, which I knew Doreen could use so keenly, was dancing in my mind.

So, I told Doreen she should get in touch with the company. She e-mailed the address supplied by the website, and they gave her a number to call. I called the number for her, waited through numerous phone trees giving messages about dialing here, dialing that, getting put on hold, getting a busy signal, starting over, asking for a direct number, you know the routine.

Finally, I got a human and she checked with her manager. Soon she came back with a report: “He said, ‘The check is in her name. We made a mistake but she can keep it. She should cash it.'”

I was very happy for my daughter. I told the woman, “You are helping a poor college kid pay her bills.”

But you know what? The best part wasn’t the $200. It was the fact that it was conscience-free money. The question of whether we should have turned it in would never plague us or Doreen. We could go to bed at night knowing we had done the right thing. That feeling of being as squeaky clean honest as we can possibly be, is worth a whole lot more than $200.

Like most virtues, honesty has a pay off here on earth and not just in heaven.

Contributed by Melodie Davis: Melodie is the author of eight books and writes a syndicated newspaper column, Another Way