What are you teaching your children?

My daughter came home the other day with an ethics assignment. She was supposed to comment on a story about a man who went to an ATM and instead of receiving £100 as he requested, he received £10,000.

And the receipt still said £100.

When he got home and checked his account online he discovered that his account had only been debited by £100. He put the £10,000 in a safe place and waited, fully expecting the bank to ask for it back. But months passed and nobody did.

Ethics question: Should he have returned the money to the bank? After all he hadn’t stolen it. The money was a drop in the ocean for the bank. And wouldn’t they be insured for such an eventuality?Or is it always wrong to take money that is not yours?

When my daughter brought up the question, both my husband and I snorted and said he should definitely keep the money. Damn banks! Look what they’ve done to the country. Look at what they’ve done to the tax payers. Of course he should take the money and run!

Our daughter blinked, surprised at our reaction. Here were her parents, two normally rather reticent, law-abiding adults, seething with resentment and bile. Of course, it didn’t help that I had just watched Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, a paean to banking greed and incompetency.

And after she left with a last look askance at her still jabbering parents, I felt like I had been caught with my pants down. My normal Do what is right, Take care of your neighbour, Do as you would have done to you parenting stance had been completely shredded.

This financial crisis has not only hurt our pockets but has tainted our moral teachings. Do we continue to teach our children to play by the rules even when some obviously don’t, profit enormously, and get away with it?



photo by wait.ti (flickr)


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5 responses to “What are you teaching your children?

  1. Wow! My brain aches with this conundrum but I’d have to go with keeping the dosh – high street banks offer the worst service imaginable to the consumer. As a (private) banking friend of mine said, if they made money cleverly, intelligently and with real creativity, he would have some respect for them. But they don’t and then fail with providing proper service – I am still waiting for a bank statement since May having been in 3 times. And when I was abroad all access to my funds was cancelled because they failed to put my payment cheques into my account.
    So go for it, enjoy the 10 grand!

  2. I want my children to play by the rules . . . but I also want to warn them that others may not so that they can be prepared to challenge those people and change the rules that are unfair and unjust . . . in other words, do as I say, and not as I do . . .

    Life isn’t fair is an even tougher lesson than You don’t have to like it, but you do have to be polite – I’m not too good at that last one, either.

  3. Easy. Return the money. The moral high ground ALWAYS feels better. Note, I didn’t say “doing the right thing always feels better,” though I pretty much believe that too.

  4. Madi

    I think one must ask “where is the value?” In the money? In the decision to reject it? Would there be more value if the money was given to charity? Resentment and bile (fab words) have impact, but little value. Poor dear. I’ve discovered that I have plenty of resentment and bile not strictly reserved for banks and capitalism. Gotta topic?

  5. ninakillham

    Thank you for your excellent comments. I suppose the moral high ground is the root to follow. Otherwise you have to decide where is the cut off line. £100, £10,000, one trillion pounds? It’s been bugging me that I wasn’t firmer on this one. But then who said parenting would be easy….

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