A few weeks ago, I bought about a dozen items from a store at the mall. Later that evening, before going to bed, I went through the usual routine of checking out my bag of goodies, inspecting and admiring every item, and finally, going over my receipt. I noticed that I had not been charged for one of the items in my haul. It just wasn’t indicated on the receipt. The cashier must have overlooked it and failed to scan the item. I looked at the price tag of the item in question — a little more than P300. Immediately, I felt bad for the cashier. I began thinking about how much trouble she would be in as a result of this mistake. The next day, I went back to the store and told them what happened and that I was there to pay for the item. The cashier, along with the other sales ladies there, looked so shocked. They clearly were not even aware that one item left their shop unaccounted for. They were extremely thankful that I did the right thing by going back and paying for it. They said, “Buti na lang, honest ka, Ma’am” (It’s a good thing that you’re honest, Ma’am). My response was, “Naku, hindi ako makakatulog knowing na may ine-enjoy akong gamit na hindi ko naman binayaran” (I won’t be able to sleep at night knowing that I’m enjoying something I didn’t pay for”). With that, the cashier handed me my receipt and some change, and I began to walk away while the ladies waved at me and cheerfully bade me goodbye.
In this example, a simple act of honesty such as this not only brings joy to the person to whom you’re showing honesty, but it also brings joy to you, because the action leaves you with a clear conscience and a sense of pride from knowing you did the right thing despite the temptation (to cheat or lie). So, in my view, in response to Billy Joel’s observation about honesty being such a lonely word, in this case, it appears that honesty isn’t such a lonely word after all (haha!).
However, as I think more about this event in my life, I’m now thinking that this wasn’t as much about honesty as it was about integrity. What do you think?
You see, I could have just opted not to do anything about the cashier’s mistake, but not because I wanted to take advantage of the situation. I could have easily just reasoned that I’m extremely busy and don’t have time to deal with it. In that case, if I was ever asked about it, then I could tell the truth about what happened. In other words, I would be honest about the details.
That alone, while being honest, is not what I’d call integrity.
In this case, integrity goes well beyond honesty. Integrity in this matter would be realizing the right thing to do in a tough situation, and doing it even if no one else is watching, or holding you accountable, even when no one knows about it. Honesty is about adherence to the facts; integrity is about conduct and choices. Honesty is about what you say; integrity is about what you do.
Now, to be clear, I confess to you, Dear Reader, that I have not always made the most integrity-filled decisions or choices. I have most definitely had my moments of weakness when either greed or selfishness got the better of me. Also, let’s be honest. In this case, the amount in question was only P300. Not much of a test, right? Suppose it has been P3,000, or perhaps P300,000 or even more? How much more challenging is the test then?
More importantly, integrity is an act of faith. Should this kind of thing happen to someone who’s “counting every penny”, so to speak, the decision to go back and pay for the merchandise would probably not come easy. It would have been very easy to get away with it since the store staff didn’t have my name or contact info. Okay, first and foremost, to think that you can “get away with it” is like an insult to God, because you know He sees everything you do. So for you to think that you can get away with it is like thinking God is either blind, clueless, or that He would choose to look away. Second, to think that you’re gonna have to resort to deception just to get what you need or want is to not have the confidence in God that He can and will provide all that you need. You’re thinking that God isn’t able to provide, so you steal instead, justifying the act by telling yourself you deserve it, or that what you did is what was necessary to survive, or you blame it all on the person who made the mistake by thinking, “It’s not my fault she wasn’t paying attention”. You might also even try to justify it as being a “blessing from God” since He must have known you needed the extra cash (yeah, right! At someone else’s expense, you mean?). You’re not fooling anyone by doing that — not yourself, and certainly, not God. Remember, God always looks at the heart. Even if it was an honest mistake (not your fault that you were given an extra hundred bucks in change, or you finding a wallet full of cash down the street), and even if it is physically and financially inconvenient to you to be the one to go back and straighten things out, just because of your desire to do what is right, God is pleased with you and He will surely bless you more than you think you’re giving up. You are motivated by the desire to please God through faith, and as the Bible says, “He rewards those who please Him”. It may not always be in terms of material or monetary rewards; it can also be in the form of another honest person doing right by you when it matters most.
“He who walks righteously, and speaks with sincerity… he who rejects unjust gain, and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe… he who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil; He will dwell on the heights; His refuge will be the impregnable rock. His bread will be given him. His water will be sure.” (Isaiah 33:15-16)
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Zig Ziglar
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