Archive for the Morality Category

A Test of Morality

Posted in Morality, Social Causes with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

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As a quick note, this post is not to “pat myself on the shoulder” or anything related. I simply find all too often that atheists/agnostics/freethinkers get an unfounded bad reputation in the marketplace of ideas regarding morality. In my experience, this stems from the falsities spread by those who do not take the time to get to know and understand atheists. Many people who learn later on after meeting me that I am an atheist are very surprised by this fact. “But, you’ve always been so nice” and other comments are typical, as if I somehow should have been expected to have “666” tattooed on my forehead and drink the blood of infants.

What tested me yesterday was a simple and probably otherwise uneventful situation in just another day of life. However, most people (from the reactions I received by all parties involved) would apparently not do the same. Here was the situation:

Upon exiting a retail store with my girlfriend, we were heading back to our vehicle when I passed a white sedan. I noticed near the driver’s door laying on the ground were a set of keys. On this set was an obvious car key, remote keyless entry fob, and an apparent house key. The first thought that ran through my mind was “Oh, shit! Someone dropped their keys getting out of their vehicle. If these stay on the ground, someone could come by and steal this vehicle without incident.”

The thought that came to mind was NOT whether I should steal the car, or rifle through the vehicle to see if there was anything I could steal. I had tested the remote and it was in fact for that vehicle. The problem that most troubled me was how to ensure that the owner and NO ONE else got the keys after we left.

The best route that I supposed was to take the keys to Customer Service in the store that the person was obviously parked in front of. I did so, despite the fact that it was extremely hot outside and we were not parked very close to the entrance of the store. As I reached the counter to Customer Service, I explained to the employee that I had found the keys. She looked at me with a puzzled look and stated “If it had been me, I would have taken it for a joyride and brought it back.”

I left her with the keys, the make/model of the car, and the license plate number (of which I took a photo on my iPhone to ensure I got the plate number correct). I asked the woman if she could please announce the return of the keys on the PA system in the store so that if the owner heard the announcement all would be taken care of. It still irked me a bit though to leave without having confirmed that the owner’s keys would be safely returned. When I got back to the car I asked my girlfriend if she had a pen, which at the time she unfortunately did not.

I noticed a woman parking her cart and getting ready to enter her vehicle. I asked politely if she had a pen that I could borrow. As I would expect (upon being approached by any stranger) she seemed hesitant. I advised her of the situation with the keys and that I wanted to leave a note on the owner’s vehicle informing them that their keys were with Customer Service inside the store. The woman happily lent me her pen, and as I finished writing my note, she proclaimed that what I was doing was very nice, and would hope that if she was in a similar situation of losing her keys, someone would take the time to do the same for her.

Luckily this extra time to find the pen resulted in perfect timing for me to return to the owner’s vehicle to see a man digging around in his pockets while looking confused. I approached the man and asked if the vehicle was his. He nodded, albeit with a confused look on his face. I explained the situation and advised him of where he could find his keys. He seemed a bit flabbergasted, but managed to shoot me a smile and a quiet “thank you.” He then unlocked his car with a spare “valet” key and placed his bags inside before heading back to the store to regain his keys.

As I mentioned, this is all too trivial, but the reactions I received from the Customer Service rep, woman who lent me the pen, and the owner of the vehicle indicate that it was anything BUT ordinary. I find this to be unsettling. Is it not important to take 5 minutes out of one’s ‘busy’ life to help a stranger?

What helps me make moral decisions is placing myself in the situation. How would I feel if I was the owner of the vehicle and lost my keys? Would my stomach not churn in anguish as I realized I had no idea where my car keys were? How am I going to get home? It’s over 100 degrees outside and to lay on the asphalt looking for keys would burn my skin!

I hope that my actions are not as rare as they seemed to be based on the reactions of the people I met yesterday.

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