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August 16, 2008 / Amy Bradney-George

Thanks, but I don’t trust you

What's worth more to you?

Money or trust - what's worth more to you?

I was walking through the parking lot on my way home, laden with badly packed plastic bags that could have broken any minute, when I saw someone’s wallet sitting in the middle of a parking space. There were a few people around, mainly shoppers and a group of school-aged boys hanging outside a fish and chip shop right near me and the wallet. I couldn’t leave it sitting there out in the open because eventually someone might come along and figure they’d scored big. So I picked it up and took it to the fish and chip place, letting them know I’d found it and wasn’t sure what else to do with it. The guy thanked me and I went on my way.

Walking home I started thinking about the time I lost my own wallet a couple of years ago. It had fallen out of my pocket and I never saw it again. Luckily there’d only been $20 in it, so I didn’t lose much cash, but losing all my cards made me realise how important the things you keep with your money can be. I would have preferred to lose more money and keep my cards in the end because it was such a hassle to organise new ones. But I learnt my lesson and I’m constantly aware of where my wallet is these days, and if I see anything that looks like it’s been lost I make sure I do something about it.

The one I picked up was a lot thicker than mine has ever been. I don’t know what the person kept in there, I didn’t look because it felt invasive. Perhaps I should have looked anyway.

While I was in my reverie of wallet losses and life lessons that lead to good actions, a car pulled up in front of me. The driver wound down the passenger window and called out.

“Excuse me,” the man driving said looking directly at me, “did you pick up my wallet in the car park?”

“Yes, I did. I gave it to the fish and chip place because I didn’t want it to be outside. They should have it.”

He nodded impatiently, giving me the impression that he’d already gone and got it. “There was a lot of money in it before.”

“And it’s not in there now?” I asked, trying to figure out what he was really saying. I hoped he wasn’t accusing me. He just stared back at me, confirming my concern.

“Look, you can ask the boys down there if you want, but all I did was pick it up and take it to the nearest shop,” I told him, upset that he would think as much.

He muttered something under his breath, begrudgingly thanked me and drove off.

Normally I would be happy with a thanks for doing something nice, but this time the thanks was secondary to the lack of trust this guy had. Did I seriously look like someone who would steal money from a stray wallet? Why would I bother when there’d been so many people around who would have seen me doing it? And if I had decided I wanted the money, wouldn’t it have been easier to just take the whole package and leave?

I don’t know where his money went, but I was offended by the way he approached me. The car slowing down as I walked, then stopping a bit ahead of me was intimidating enough, but then his manner reeked of distrust too. The thanks wasn’t what it sounded like, it was a way of letting me know I was off the hook, that he didn’t think I’d taken the money after all, but still wasn’t happy with my actions.

If I did it over, I would still take the wallet into the shop. He could have lost his credit card, license and everything else if I hadn’t taken it somewhere more secure. But that didn’t seem to matter to this guy, it was the money he was concerned about and he was willing to accuse anyone of taking it. What really matters in life? A nice gesture, or money? Genuine concern for a stranger, or money? Helping a stranger, or money? Apparently this guy favoured the latter of all three. There wasn’t anything else I could have done, I have my own responsibilities to deal with and I wasn’t going to play guard dog for someone who might have taken hours to realise they’d lost their precious money.

In this instance, the thanks was like a slap in the face, telling me trust and good intentions can be overruled by the valued placed on money.

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