Returning the Postage Stamp

Just over fifteen years have passed since my mother graduated and went to Angel Land. She was a wonderful person with amazing integrity. I could write many things about what a remarkable character she was, but let me mention just one episode that shows how focused she was on doing the right thing.

It had to do with a humble, low-denomination postage stamp. Mum told me how when buying a stamp from a machine outside the main post office, she had received two stamps instead of one. She went inside the post office and stood in a queue to return the second stamp. I pointed out to her that, rather taking to time to wait in line, she might have torn the extra stamp in half. Her response was that it still cost the post office print it, so it was worth saving the stamp.

I did not agree with my mother while, at the same time, on a deeper level, thoroughly agreeing with her. I disagreed with her decision to return the stamp instead of destroying it. The cost of printing one stamp is negligible, and, besides, the returned stamp was unlikely at that point to have been resold to another customer. But on another level, on the level of motivation, she was acting with integrity. Most people, one would presume, would simply take the extra stamp for themselves, thinking that it was not their fault the machine malfunctioned. To my mum, this would have involved appropriating something that did not belong to her, and to do that would have been wrong. She was guided by by her conscience.

The world would be a better place if there were more people like my mother. Doing what is right, even if it means queuing up to return a small stamp, shows that she was a woman of principle.

Recently I encountered a similar mechanical misfunction. I was at the car dealership waiting for a brake replacement to be completed. I made a rather poor nutritional decision to buy a small pack of M&M’s from the vending machine. The machine gave me two packs instead of one. I would like to think that if the vending machine people were nearby, I, like my mother, would have walked over to return the extra candy.

What was to be done? Fortunately, sitting across from me, there was an elderly gentleman (someone roughly my own age, that is) also waiting for his car. He was there at the right time, just when he was needed.

“Sir, this machine gave me an extra pack of M&M’s by mistake. Would you like one?”

He was happy to accept it. The problem was solved. I wonder, though, if Mum would have fully approved.

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