Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ethics

The other day, GameFaqs.com had a poll asking "If you found a wallet on the street with cash, credit cards, and ID in it, what would you do?

(Edit: Sorry the image is cut off. Click on it to see the whole picture.)


I don't know what the final count was, but with the number of votes that were tallied by the time I had gotten to it, I doubt it changed much by the end of the day. So about 35.5% of the participants said they'd give everything intact back to the owner. That was the option that I chose, and I can honestly say that that is what I would do. Why? Well, it might be cliché, but think about how you'd feel if you were the one who'd lost your wallet? Plus, it's the right thing to do.

Second place was "Keep the cash, mail the rest to the owner," at around 21.5% If I were one of the people who would do this (and I'm not), I would assume that the wallet's owner would be happy just to get the wallet back, much less the money. But that option still really sucks, because then they'd be out some sum of money.

At a close third was "Give it to a police officer, let them do the work." I find this one interesting, because this basically says that the person wants to do the right thing, but doesn't have the time or inclination to directly take care of it him/herself. And even then, I'm inclined to believe that the cop would probably just keep it in a lost and found box, waiting for a phone call. But then again, I'm not in law enforcement so maybe I shouldn't presume or assume.

The most interesting answer, though, was "Take the cash, throw away the rest," which was fourth place with almost 18% of the vote. Now, this was on the internet, where there essentially people don't know you and cannot go to your house and smack you with the morality stick. So of course, I'm inclined to believe that at least 18% of people will actually go this route. Is this cynicism? Sure, but I bet some of the people who voted for the other, more ethical choices, might actually fall into this one, but did not choose it because they're trying to tell themselves that they're better than they actually are.

That leads me to my next thought. This poll was done online. It is completely unscientific and the sample space is not really representative of the greater population. It was also done without the threat of being punished if the less moral options were chosen, making it easier for people to be honest without the public guilt. I wonder, if a test were done, say, on candid camera in a mall or other public place, what would the results be then?

Despite my growing cynicism about lots of things, I actually think that the percentage of "good samaritans" (people who return everything intact to the owner + people who give it to a cop to take care of) would still be in the 40-50% range. Not as high as this poll would suggest, but high enough. I'm sure some people would try to justify to themselves taking the cash and giving the rest back, but in my experience, morality and responsibility would prevail.

I would hope that if I lost my wallet, someone would give it back to me intact. Judging by the poll, I'd have about an 80% chance of getting it back, and if I get it back, a 71% chance of it still containing my money. Not the best situation, but not bad.

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