You are dining at a restaurant and the waitress brings you the bill which shows a charge for an item that you did not order or receive. What did you do? Perhaps you pointed it out, maybe complained and ultimately had the bill adjusted.
Same scenario but this time the waitress brings you the bill and it does not show an item that you ordered and received. What did you do in this case?
Once upon a time for the latter scenario, I would have said nothing. I would have pocketed the gain and then rationalized it telling myself all’s fair; stick it to the man; they’d do it to me; pennies from heaven or <fill in the blank>. That was before a sermon I heard put this sort of thing in perspective: is the price of your integrity worth the price of a cup of coffee or slice of pie for which you were not charged at a restaurant? It was convicting.
Psalm 15 makes the point timelessly:
LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the LORD; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.
Well, since then I have changed my ways on this and now to a point where I actually relish the shock value of being honest in marketplace dealings. Imagine going all the way back to the store, pulling out a receipt or item and telling the store manager you were not charged appropriately, that is, you were not charged more than you should have been. Now it must happen a dozen times a day that a customer returns to complain that they’ve been overcharged —but how often does he hear from a customer who was undercharged? The reactions can vary from “Ah, honesty!” to “What sort of fool are you?”. Yes, expect to pay the price—all of it. Sometimes the mistake is actually theirs or they don’t care, but usually it does matter and books need to be balanced or a cashier needs to zero out at the end of the night. In any case, you are acting with integrity, honesty and nobility— a feeling more valuable than the one I had in my earlier days.
I perceive that at one point in our society, this sort of honest conduct was the norm—it was expected, it was taught and the alternative was unthinkable. The people we would have gypped were not some corporate behemoths or government bureaucracies but were part of our community, had a face, a name, a family, a reputation, and real needs. We might have known that the person serving our dinner was a single mom supporting a special needs kid or a man trying to keep his family together. Our hearts would have been moved, not to skim the bill, but to inflate it magnanimously.
I was able to receive this sort of shock value recently on a business trip–twice. I ordered an Ayinger Dopplebock at a restaurant and was undercharged. I called the waitress over who showed exasperation at what she thought was an imminent episode of “overcharged customer” outrage. Surprise! I ended up paying the lower price anyway since, these days, whatever the computer says trumps whatever is printed in a menu and she didn’t want to deal with it. Same thing happened on the next night when I ordered the same thing again—this time the barkeeper who thought he knew his menu and was a bit incredulous. I guess he did not know that this was my episode of Groundhog Day. Maybe I should have betted him…