Imagine someone renovating their home finds a stash of cash hidden under the floor. Some people would keep the money; clearly it was forgotten -- or, if not forgotten, the original owner clearly doesn't remember where he hid it.

Plus, once you own the home, what's inside is now yours. Isn't possession nine-tenths of the law?

While the analogy isn't perfect, Jennifer Kimes just proved she definitely disagrees. 

Jennifer works for Plato's Closet, the retail clothing chain that buys and sells used clothing and accessories. When she performed a routine inspection on a coat a man dropped off earlier that day, she discovered $7,000 in $100 bills zipped inside a pocket.

No one was watching; Plato's Closet employees inspect clothes all day long. And clearly the man who dropped off the coat didn't remember where he had hidden the money.

Some people would have seized the "opportunity." But not Jennifer.

"Everybody wants to hold a wad of cash," she said, "but it wasn't mine. So I didn't get too excited about it."

Instead, she safely stored the money until it could be returned to its rightful owner -- who admitted he had forgotten where he had hidden it.

"It's just about integrity," she said. "You just have to make sure that you're honest, and that you do the right thing." 

Reputation is Easy. Character is Hard

Doing the right thing when others are watching? That's easy. Stepping up, stepping in, displaying public integrity or resolve or sincerity often results in recognition and praise.

Doing the right thing when no one is watching? That's harder. No admiration. No applause. No external validation. 

Doing the right thing is also hard since it often runs against our basic personalities. We all have wants. We all have needs. We all have desires. Doing the right thing can run counter to what might seem like our best interests.

As no less an authority as Adam Grant says, "Being true to your values sometimes requires being false to your personality. Your personality is the set of traits you have. Your values are the principles you choose (my italics)."

Maybe selflessness is a core personality trait of Jennifer's. Maybe it's not.

Doesn't matter: What she did -- what she chose -- was to do the right thing.

Sure, Plato's Closet has rules about returning personal items found in the clothing customers have dropped off. (Even after ownership of that clothing has transferred to the store.)

But personal satisfaction comes largely from autonomy and independence. We care a lot when we feel trusted to do what we've told to do... but we care a lot more when we feel trusted to do what we know is right. 

"It makes you feel good inside to do the right thing," Jennifer said, "and there's really nothing as special as feeling good inside."

Because character reflects the actions you take not just because of the person you are... but of the person you choose to be.

Published on: Nov 2, 2019
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