How cold is too cold to do the right thing?

How cold is too cold to do the right thing?

I ventured out to the grocery store today to pick up a prescription and a few other small items. I say “venture” because it’s cold out. Not as cold as the arctic sub zero temperatures earlier this week, but it’s still only about 20 degrees out, and though the sun was shining the slight wind swept away any warmth.


After two months battling bronchitis, laryngitis and asthma, I’ve been trying to stay inside and away from humans and germs as much as possible. One lungful of cold air or cigarette smoke and I’d trigger an asthma attack and be coughing like crazy again. So today’s short trip was, indeed, venturing out into the wilds.


Anyway, I did my shopping and then pushed my cart to my car, parked halfway to the end of the parking lot. As I loaded in the few bags, I noticed a small item that has been under my purse.

It wasn’t anything big, just a small bottle of saline nasal spray. Total cost: $1.69. At first I thought it had just fallen out of the bag, but I checked the receipt and realized that I hadn’t paid for it.

The thought really didn’t occur to me to just put the item in my grocery bag and forget about it. But as I trudged back to the store in the freezing cold, trying again to cover my face so I didn’t breathe in the cold air and trigger an asthma attack, I wondered what other people do in the same situation. It was a small item; my failure to pay for it wasn’t intentional. It was cold, I wasn’t feeling well; would anyone fault me if I had just put it in my bag and gone home? Would it have been considered stealing?

I normally don’t think about these things. I’ve been in this situation before and done the same thing – gone back and paid for the item. But lately I’ve been paying more attention to how my actions affect other people, as part of my attempt to be nicer in 2014.

So let me ask: What would you have done in the same situation? Put the item in your bag and forget about it or trudge back to the store in the freezing cold and pay for it? Would your answer be different if it was warmer outside, or if you were in a hurry, or if some other circumstance made going back easier or more difficult?

(I should probably add that when I got back to the store, I realized that I had a $2 winning scratch lottery ticket in my purse that I’d forgotten about. I used the winnings to pay for the spray and put the change in my “coffee and donut” envelope. It felt like a little reward for doing the right thing …)

You can read more about my Be Nice Project on my website.

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