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Out of the Gray: Conflicts of Interest

Out of the Gray: Conflicts of Interest April 20, 2015
“Merry Christmas!” Bernard winked with exaggeration as he slid the envelope with my name on it across the counter. I thanked him and then proceeded to help him mail his package. Signed. Sealed. Almost delivered. I stacked the card along with the others, to be opened later.

Twenty years ago, I was a small-town postmaster serving an very rich community. At the time, it was the one of the most affluent zip codes in the United States. The people were generally kind and respectful of those who served them at the grocery store, gas station, and retail establishments. Christmastime was a season of bounty from the community, and I would bring home plates of cookies, fruit, and handfuls of cards.

That night, I opened the envelopes, reading and smiling at the kind words. A few of the cards had low-value coffee gift cards to fuel my caffeine level during long days. But the card from Bernard had a special insert—a $100 bill. As a public employee, I knew the rules. We were there to provide a service, and a gift like this could influence my professional dealings.

I knew he gave it with no ill intent; he was a man who could afford the gift. And in that economy, our young family could have used it. I showed the rare bill to my kids, and their eyes danced with possibility. But before they could mentally spend it, I told them my decision. I had to return it.

“Why, Dad?” my eldest son asked. “You work really hard.”

The other piped up, “If you don’t want to take it, I will!” His eyes pleaded with the deepest sincerity.

“I can’t … and you can’t.” I looked at them, still slightly amused. “It would be a conflict of interest.”

Read the rest of the story over at the High Calling

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