A short time later I happened to run into Jane and her mother outside the local grocery store. What started out as a friendly exchange suddenly turned to feelings of shock and horror. That’s because I just happened to look at Jane’s hand as she brought it up to wipe her bangs out of her face.
On her finger was one of my rings!
A sickening feeling settled into my stomach as the reality sank in. The only way she could have gotten access to that ring was to go into my closet and then into my jewelry box. I felt violated and betrayed. I had trusted her not just with Alison but with everything in our house.
My heart felt like it was going to pound through my chest when I said, “That is MY ring you’re wearing. You stole that from my house.”
Now it was her mother’s turn to look horrified. She looked at her daughter, then at me and then back at Jane. “Is that true?” she asked Jane.
At first Jane denied it. But when I described where and when I’d purchased the ring, she admitted that she had taken it.
Her mother was mortified because she and I were good friends. She had eagerly volunteered Jane’s services when she’d learned we were looking for a babysitter. And of course, I assumed Jane could be trusted.
Clearly, I’d been wrong about that.
This was a very awkward moment for all of us. Jane removed the ring from her finger, and handed it to me. “I’m sorry,” she muttered.
I had to ask the question. “Did you take anything else?”
“No,” she said, looking down at the ground.
At that point I had no confidence in her answer, but I couldn’t be sure if anything else was missing until I returned home to check.
Meanwhile, we parted ways.
A few hours later, Jane and her father appeared at our front door. In her hands she carried another piece of jewelry and two other personal items. She could barely look at me, but she placed them in my hands and said, “I’m so sorry. These are yours, too.”
The three of us had a lengthy conversation, processing what she had done.
I explained that stealing is a criminal offense and I could call the police to report the theft. Although I assured them I was not going to do that, I did tell her there would be a significant consequence. She had violated the trust we’d put in her, and she would never be allowed in our home again. I wasn’t willing to risk her stealing or lying to me again.
Doing the right thing requires a lot of inner strength, especially when no one else is looking. It’s easy to act impulsively and not think through the potential consequences of our actions. We all face situations where we have to make moral and ethical choices. We’d do well to heed this wisdom from Thomas Jefferson: “Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching."
Because here’s the harsh reality. When you intentionally do something wrong, even when it looks like you got away with it, somebody gets hurt. Your relationship with those affected by your actions could be permanently destroyed if they find out. And even if no one else ever knows, you suffer negative consequences. You know what you did was not aligned with your values, so your conscience will bother you. The incident causes lasting damage to your self-image and your self-respect.
So whenever you’re faced with hard choices or conflicting alternatives, just be honest with yourself. In almost every case, you’ll know in your heart the right thing to do. And each time you do the right thing, you have no regrets, nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.
"The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it's very difficult to build and very easy to destroy." - Thomas J. Watson, Sr., American business leader (1874-1956)