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Why is it so hard to do the right thing?

December 26, 2012 - Doing the right thing.

It's so simple and easy, yet why is it such a hard thing for so many folks to do?

Last week, I did it at the Sunoco gas station in the Village of Oxford.

I wanted $10 worth of gas. I gave the cashier a $20 bill and he gave me $10 in change. As I was filling up, I let my mind fill with thoughts of the afternoon deer hunt that laid ahead of me when all of the sudden, I noticed the pump's screen indicated I was rapidly approaching $20.

The cashier didn't realize that he had set the pump for double the amount I prepaid. Now, I could have easily got in my car and drove off with $10 worth of free gasoline. I could have cheated the gas station and spent my ill-gotten money on something more enjoyable, like a fine cigar.

But I didn't do that because my parents raised me to have a conscience and always do what's right. I walked back into the store, pointed out the cashier's mistake and paid him the difference. Nobody had to force me or cajole me into doing the right thing. I just did it and I'd do it again. To me, doing the right thing when nobody's watching says a lot about a person's character.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who need a little or a lot of arm-twisting when it comes to doing the right thing.

A perfect example is on Page 1 this week.

Jeff Collier, owner of Collier Lanes, paid thousands of dollars to AT&T over the years for an emergency line that had been disconnected about 12 years ago.

Originally, the phone company informed Collier that it had investigated the matter and it wouldn't be reimbursing him. No explanation. No money. No justice.

How's that for customer service and appreciation?

Then I got involved with a few phone calls and questions. Next thing you know, AT&T is taking another look at the situation, calling Collier and now, he's going to receive at least $11,500 from the phone company.

My question is why didn't that happen in the first place? Why did it take involving the media to get AT&T to do the right by Collier? Why didn't the company just admit its mistake and compensate the local business owner accordingly?

Make no mistake, I don't believe AT&T isn't paying Collier because it's the right thing to do or because it cares about dealing honestly with their customers or because it's suddenly grown a corporate-size conscience.

It's more likely that AT&T's paying him because they're hoping to avoid or at least lessen any negative publicity. It's sad but true that many large corporations seem to care more about their manufactured public image than acting in an ethical, decent manner.

While I'm certainly glad AT&T agreed to pay Collier, it saddens me that the company's actions have about the same level of sincerity as a naughty child being forced to apologize by an angry parent who keeps smacking them in the back of the head.

But unfortunately, that's the world we live in now.

It's only wrong if you get caught. If you can get away with it, do it. Feel free to take advantage of people if you believe they can't fight back or they don't have a voice. Admit nothing and deny everything. Only make good on a mistake when the media or a lawyer gets involved.

In the grand scheme of things, my $10 correction at Sunoco didn't change the world, but at least I didn't make it any worse. Maybe that's all any of us can really hope for.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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