Temptation: why be honest?

Author: Chris Moran

Temptation: why be honest?

Moments of temptation can lead us to ask what drives our behaviour? Are we simply conditioned by punishment and reward?

Many years ago I was waiting to get money from a cash machine in central London.

The man in front of me was chatting intently to his friend as he put his card in and operated the machine.

When it returned his card, he turned and walked away.

I stood and looked in some disbelief at the stack of notes sitting there waiting to be taken.

I didn’t hesitate to shout after him. I took the notes and handed them to him.

But what surprised me then, and has stayed with me for over twenty odd years, was his indifference.

He barely acknowledged his mistake and didn’t trouble to thank me for my honesty.

I was left thinking how easily I could have taken the notes and strolled off in the opposite direction.

His reaction changed my feelings. I went from perfectly content about the event to feeling almost resentful.

But why? What did I expect? Gratitude? Approval?

Feelgood factor

Do I behave in an honest way to feel good about myself?

Or is it because I know what is right?

More recently, I had to send an invoice for some work I had done.

The company concerned has a “state-of-the-art” website to automate the processing of invoices.

Provided a purchase order has been issued and the goods or services have been receipted in the system, the payment will be processed automatically.

However, in this case the person who raised the purchase order had put an extra zero on the amount, so that what should have been a few hundred pounds became several thousands.

The mistake went unnoticed when the manager approved it and again when the purchase order was marked as received.

Of course, I noticed the mistake immediately. I submitted my invoice for the correct amount and sent an email to draw their attention to the error.

But once again the reaction I got was not what I expected.

Some weeks later the mistake hadn’t been rectified and I could see the money was still sitting there credited to me.

They didn’t seem to care that if I had raised another invoice it would have been paid automatically and nothing would have flagged it as an overpayment.

Encounters like this may encourage us to ask what drives our behaviour? Are we simply conditioned by punishment and reward?

Or have we allowed the Lord to write his law on our hearts?

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

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