While on vacation last week, I found a man’s wallet on a bench right near the beach. It was loaded with cash and credit cards and the owner’s driver’s license was in the front. A few onlookers saw me pick it up and suggested I take it to the lifeguard stand.
And so I did. The young man I handed it to said his boss would be there within 10 minutes and that they worked closely with the police department. Terrific.
When I shared the story with a few people, they couldn’t believe I didn’t hold on to the wallet and try to track down the owner myself. The resounding theme was, “He probably would have given you a reward.”
OK. Wow. Really?
That was my first reaction to these comments. But then I eased up a little in my mind. Because, truth be told, before September 11, 2001, I might have responded in similar fashion. This, I realize, is my most glaring lesson of that awful day nearly 11 years ago – do the right thing, be giving, not for reward but just because.
Living life tit for tat is no way to learn and grow. When we go that route, we’re too busy putting hash marks on a tote board to get sidetracked by things like selflessness, humility and expanding our heart. This has become much more rote for me, but I’d still like it to become more like a default way of being. I continue to work on it.
After a layoff from a television producing job in 2002 and still reeling from the way New York felt post-9/11 – kind of precarious and tender – I wound up in a financial rough patch. After some initial petulance, I began to see a clear message – simplify, be in the world more, give even when you think you don’t have anything to give.
In a literal sense, the latter was a mighty test. My ability to buy people gifts was drastically curtailed. I realized how much my identity was tied into that and I felt lost for a while. But as my hard work began to pay off and I reinvented myself, the new philosophy stayed with me. I realized I can cultivate relationships without buying things and expecting things in return.
Now when I give something it’s because I want to give something. I have a zillion cousins and I have long stopped acknowledging every graduation, confirmation, etc. because, one, I’d be broke if I did, and, two, I wouldn’t know most of them if I saw them walking down the street.
That said, the gifts I now give are more special but not necessarily more costly. I have this heady, inherent trust that I will find just the right thing when I want to acknowledge someone and it never lets me down.
My aunt turned 70 recently and while browsing in a little shop at the shore I found a beautiful hand-blown glass star made with some of the sand from the beach in that town. It came with a little note indicating that. I knew instantly my aunt would appreciate this, as we’d been vacationing at that beach for years and years and had wonderful memories of it. Perfect and unexpected.
Give to give.
This brings me back to thoughts of the wallet and the idea of reward. Have you ever been in a relationship or witnessed the dynamic of one where it’s all about what one person will get if they give? It’s one thing to divide household chores. It’s another to say I changed the dirty diaper eight times to your six. Really? Scorekeeping in this arena? It kind of creeps me out thinking about a guy I knew who used to do this with sex by keeping track of who had more or less ‘time’ in intimate situations. Ew.
Perhaps even more disturbing is when I hear ‘reward’ used in convoluted spiritual or religious contexts. I once had someone ask me, “Why live a good life if not for the reward of heaven?” Or people will point to karma, noting that they do the right thing so that someone will do right by them in the future.
I don’t have enough space here to explain what I find off kilter about that question or line of thinking. Is that really the primary reason to behave a certain way? How prevalent or demanding is your darker side, the one that wants to behave badly? Is it clamoring to be heard? What’s going on there? It’s worth examining.
One of the best things about building character is it’s never too late to do so. What a blessing to have learned this in my 40s and to keep paying heed to its importance for quality of life. A continuing challenge, for sure.
I trust a man and his wallet have been happily reunited.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.