I like to think that I’m an ethical and good person, right? I sure hope that I am. But sometimes I wonder whether I would be as moral as I hope if I were in a challenging situation. How can we know ahead of time if we would respond in a dharmic way when faced with a huge challenge?
I feel like it was easier for me to be selfless and generous when I was a kid. I had my parents’ care and money to fall back on, so I could afford to be generous. Not to brag, but I had some good moments of ethical behavior as a kid. I’m not sure if those moments really count, since I had nothing on the line. It doesn’t say that much about the state of my character. Anything I gave away was easily replaced. (I’m pretty sure I drove my mom nuts giving away my lunch money and clothes).
These days I hoard pennies to put in the Coinstar machine for grocery money (did you know they don’t take a cut if you use your coins to get giftcards?) We’re facing unemployment and debt. I’m literally counting coins and putting energy into couponing. I get gas money for the car by gathering gas points at the grocery store and then using those at the cheapest gas station in the area on Thursday when it’s five extra cents off a gallon. (To be honest, I’m not sure how much my frugality is based on a real threat or my own fears. I hate being in debt). It’s hard to look beyond the borders of our own family. And so I wonder if I’ve become a miser. Or if that generous spirit that I had as a child is still in there somewhere.
I believe, like John Sheridan, that we are morally good in the big moments because of building a foundation of being morally good in the tiny moments of life.
I had one of those tests recently.
Walking to my car in the parking lot, I came upon a folded pack of bills lying on the ground. I picked it up and found it to be $27. Which meant about a week’s worth of dinners to me.
There was no one around and I felt a tug in my soul to stick that money in my pocket and go home. I wouldn’t have to tell you all about it. I could just add it to my envelope of grocery money and never tell anyone.
But I didn’t.
I marched myself into the adjacent office (which is the rental office for all the properties on the street, including ours) and turned it in.
This moment gives me a lot of hope for myself. It seems my struggle to get money has not turned me completely greedy yet.
The reward was that a few days later the man we rent from told me that no one had claimed the money and he wanted me to have it. So, I have to thank Ma Lakshmi that she is bringing some money into our lives!
I could have just pocketed the money, but I would have felt so much guilt and be angry at myself for being so weak. Now I get the money and I can rest assured knowing that I have some decency still left in me. I think this is like in the Gita when we act out of dharma not because of what we hope to gain. I turned in the money knowing it was the right thing to do and with no promise that I would get any reward for it. Yes, there’s hope for me yet.
On the Premium Blog today we have the beginning of a book club discussing the introduction to How To Become a Hindu.