Walking in downtown Salt Lake City last week, I was panhandled by a young street gal with a puppy. She got all of my annoying spare change. I was happy to be rid of it. She was way happier to have it.
Here's the thing: The spare change was my money and my call on how to dispose of it. What if it wasn't my money?
Thursday night, I took TRAX downtown. When I bought my ticket, the machine kicked out a dollar in change from the previous transaction.
I found the rightful owner on the train. She was surprised and appreciative when I returned the money to her. This proves what a great guy I am, right?
No. It's easy to be generous and honest when it's spare change, when the amount in question doesn't really have the capacity to seriously change your life. But what if it did? Would I have the same good-character qualities?
Thursday night, I attended the 33rd annual gala of the Salt Lake City Police Department, where officers and civilians received awards for exemplary service. Among the honorees were Hank Stewart and Landon Carlson.
While hiking a Wasatch trail in August 2011, Hank and Landon found a backpack containing $25,000 in cash. Unless you're Donald Trump, we're not talking spare change anymore.
Because no one else was around, Hank's and Landon's find could have amounted to $12,500 for each of them or $25,000 for whichever of them was willing to hit the other in the head with a large rock. Friends have killed each other over less.
Instead, Hank and Landon called the police and gave the money to them. It turned out to be loot taken in a bank robbery. Local cops passed it along to the FBI, who in turn sent it back to the U.S. Treasury, which in my book is the same thing as letting a goat eat it.
Whether Hank and Landon did the sensible thing with the money depends on your point of view, and that says a lot about what you're willing to let money do to you.
What if their decision wasn't entirely altruistic? What if Hank and Landon simply didn't want to bother with the worry of a drug cartel looking for them to get their money back? Forget honesty. How much is your peace of mind worth?
Would I have kept the money? I don't know. I like to think I would have called the police, but $25,000 in a mysterious backpack isn't a dollar in a coin return. I could do a lot of good (or bad) with 25 large.
As of Friday, the pot for Saturday's Powerball lottery had reached $600 million. Most of us would like to believe winning or finding that kind of money wouldn't change us. We would be fooling ourselves.
Money isn't a benign thing. It's real power. It not only enables us to live, it also dictates how well we live. That can do bizarre things to your life and the lives of those around you.
Would I spend my lottery winnings on building orphanages and cancer treatment centers or would I blow it all celebrating my next birthday on the Russian space station?
How much would it cost to get Creedence Clearwater Revival back together again? Yeah, I know one of them is dead. Would that cost more than $600 million?
I think I'd rather be the guy who doesn't mind giving away his spare change. I don't want to know what kind of character I'd have if I suddenly came into millions of dollars worth of doing whatever I wanted.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.