Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

There was an article in the news recently about a man who returned money he stole from a Sears store in Seattle in the 1940s.  The original theft was between $20 and $30, so the now elderly man returned $100.  The store manager believes the man’s conscience may have been bothering him for the past 60 years.  The store will put the money toward helping needy families.

So I was interested to learn what my listeners have owned up to – even years later – because of their conscience; why they felt it was important to right the wrong and how doing so changed their life.  Below are just three examples. 

I.
When I was a young, very poor child in the 1940′s nearly everything was ‘too expensive’  — even the little rubber balls on a rubber string that were only ten cents at the Five & Dime store.

One summer day I stole one of the little balls. It seemed to be such fun but sadly, my great aunt and grandmother had raised me with a conscience. The ‘fun’ even seemed to be stolen and not so much fun after all.

Years later, in my 20s we traveled back to my old home town. The first thing I did was go to the store and paid back ten fold for the little ball. The manager was open-mouthed at first and then smiled and thanked me.

It was a great feeling. Forgiven and restored. That was nearly 60 years ago but the satisfaction of handing a dollar to the store manager and wiping the slate clean is still with me. – P.

II.
When I was twenty-four, already living on my own, my mom had a hysterectomy. A week later it was her 50th birthday. I was supposed to go to her house, but I wanted to go out with my boyfriend instead. I told my brother over the phone it would be real boring because I’d have to sit around and just hold her hand. My mom was listening in on the extension and started to cry. My dad called me back, told me I was a slut, and he was ashamed of me. I went to my boyfriend’s house anyway.

Years later I told my mom there were things I did selfishly I had regretted ever since, and I mentioned the time of her 50th birthday. I realized how much it must have hurt her and I was appalled at my behavior. She said she forgave me, and was proud of the person I had become; I was a good mom and she admired my strength. I replied, “Every good thing I know I learned from you, Mom.” I think Mom was choked up and couldn’t accept the compliment, but I know my slate was wiped clean and it felt so good.

When she lay dying this past spring, I was sad and upset, but I never felt we had any unfinished business. In every way that matters, I know Mom loved me and knew I loved her. – L.

III.
In high school, there was a kid who was a real easy target for me.  We went to a small school; our class had 20 kids. I was a big kid, had a big mouth and silver tongue, and he was a little slow, didn’t have any friends, and torturing him was a quick way to get easy laughs and make myself look cool. It went beyond simple name calling and spit wads. You could say my friends and I were bordering on psychological abuse. I thought about it every now and then over the years, but just shrugged it off as teenage crap.

This July I went to my 20 year reunion. I was surprised to see him there, in the corner by himself, and, was shocked at the look on his face when he saw me. It was a look of fear and panic. I was made aware in that split second when our eyes met it was much more than ‘teenage crap’ to that guy. I wasn’t a distance memory he could barely recall. He was actually scared of me – 20 years later.

I felt awful. I spent the next hour or so away from my buddies, one-on-one with him, engaging in good conversation, about what he’s been doing and just general catch-up. Unfortunately, life hasn’t been much kinder to him than I was all those years ago.  Just before the dinner started, I leaned in close and said, “There’s something I’ve got to say to you. I owe you a huge apology for how I treated you, man.” He tried to dismiss it and I interrupted. “No, this is important. There was no excuse for the crap you had to endure back then. I have no excuse for the things I said and did, and I was an absolute bastard. I’d like to ask for your forgiveness.”

He studied me for a second, and then got a huge grin with glassy eyes as he put his hand out. We shook, he said he accepted, and appreciated it.

The rest of the evening was great, he had a good time, and his spirit seemed to lift. I’m not sure if that had more effect on me or him, but I’m angry at myself for not seeking him out sooner. All I can hope for is I’ve made it right, and that night was a turning point for him. – C.

I do believe no matter how many days, months, years or decade pass, it’s a good thing to right the wrong.  I’ve gotten so many calls from people having done something they want to apologize for, but it happened so long ago.  Absolutely, send a card, send an email; just don’t text — that’s the least sensitive way to apologize.  But make a connection and say you’re sorry – if you are.  Don’t excuse it, don’t even explain it.  The best way to apologize is to say, “I did _________.  It was wrong.  I regret it.  And I’m sorry for any pain I caused you.”