In life, we are faced with many choices. Some matter, some are trivial, and some - depending on the choice - have the potential to positively propel us into the opportunity of a lifetime or shatter our future into a million pieces that no amount of patience and duct tape will fix.
And, many times, we face these choices alone as we are in situations where no one (or no one we know) would ever know if we made the right choice or the wrong choice.
For example, this past week I parked my car in a parking garage. It was during a local sporting event where the bars that stop cars from going in and out were both up. There was an attendant there, but, as I didn't have any cash, I still had to get a ticket from the machine. When I came back to my car, I drove to the exit and, sure enough, both bars were still up. For a brief second I had the thought, "Score! Free parking for Mike." I smiled...but found myself slowing my car down. Something deep in side - whether it was my "good angel," my gut instinct, or, heck, maybe it was just gas - made me stop. I knew it was the wrong thing to just drive through. So, I rolled my window down, payed for my parking (much to the chagrin of the other drivers in line behind me that had already paid cash and wanted to get on with their evening), and then went on my merry way.
Today, I was at the grocery store buying lunch meat. As I approached the deli counter, the woman in front of me pulled her ticket and, following suit, I did the same. I looked at my ticket and it said, "27." Glancing up I noticed they were now searing 24 according to the digital monitor on the wall. Shortly thereafter they called, "25." Then, you guessed it; next "26" was yelled from a different deli specialist. No one responded. "26," echoed in the air again. No one stirred. "26" was called one last time. Again: silence. I looked to my right and noticed the woman who had been in front of me in line - the woman who had pulled "26" - was standing at the counter seemingly oblivious to the deli specialist's calls for her number. I quickly said, "I think she was 26," as I indicated to the woman on my right. She smiled, "Did they really call my number? Oh my, I must be in another world!" I smiled and she placed her order.
The trick in the scenarios above is this: they were simple things that I could have easily taken the easy way out. Some would argue that it wouldn't hurt the city if I cheated them out of their 4 bucks. Similarly, some might say, "You snooze, you lose," to the woman who was thinking of other things as they called her number. I could have easily saved my 4 bucks and gotten my lunch-meat that much quicker if I wanted to.
But I didn't.
Why? First and foremost: because the right thing to do is the right thing to do. But also because of this: Doing the wrong thing, begets doing the wrong thing. In other words, a short cut often leads to something being cut short down the line. Meaning, every shortcut to an easy solution is also a shortcut to doing the wrong thing in another situation. And then another. Until finally, you make a poor choice that someone either sees and stigmatizes you with or you make a poor choice that leads to something worse - job loss, the end of a relationship, or some other loss of trust.
I had had the blessing to learn the above from my parents. And I also believe that instinctively we all know this. There is something hard-wired into our DNA that tells us - screams at us sometimes - to make the right choice. The challenge this week is to do this: Listen to that voice. The next time you have an easy solution or a tantalizing shortcut: One where you could get away with it and no one would ever know. Make the right choice, even if it seems harmless. Perhaps it's that moment where you realize that a cashier didn't charge you for an item or gives you back too much change. It could be anything. The important thing is that you do the right thing. Don't take the shortcut - you'll respect yourself more (most importantly), but others will too.