It was early evening and I, in a good mood, on the way to my appointment. In front of me, about 100 meters away, a man was walking.
As he pulled his hand out of his pants pocket, something slowly slid to the ground. The man quickened his pace towards the bus stop. While I meanwhile became slower and slower.
Arriving at the place where the Something had fallen to the ground, I realized that it was a 20-euro bill. I picked it up.
Within fractions of a second, my various brain areas had grasped the situation and made me act.
My limbic system, which is developmentally older than the cerebral cortex and is known to be faster, produced messenger substances at breakneck speed that gave me the feeling of “wanting to have”. Reason is a foreign word here. After a brief reflex to run after the man, the thought arose, “20 euros I can really use right now…”
Our frontal lobe, part of the cerebral cortex, is known to be more reasonable. It sent me the objection: “What I have here in my hands is clearly not my property…!?!”
Pocketing the bill felt uncomfortable. After all, morality and reason were knocking by now.
And yet, I did it. I let the man go. Let him get on the bus and drive away.
The bus was gone and I put the ticket in my jacket’s pocket. It didn’t feel right.
The whole rest of the evening didn’t feel right. I kept thinking about the man.
I was annoyed that I had not followed my first reflex.
Returning the 20-euro bill to the man would have been the right thing to do….
Before I fell asleep, I thought about donating the 20 euros. This way I could “make up” for something.
The next day I transferred the money to an animal welfare organization.
Two weeks later, the story with the 20-euro bill had faded into the background and I went shopping at the farmers’ market.
After I had done my shopping, I noticed on the way to the car, that I had forgotten my leather gloves at a stand. I had taken them off to pay and put them on a vegetable crate.
Quickly, I ran back. Not 10 minutes had passed since I had shopped there.
The gloves were no longer there. When I asked, the vendor, he replied that he hadn’t noticed anything and probably someone took them .
The leather gloves were new, I had bought them a week earlier in the leather goods store.
They had cost 20 euros.
Although the story happened 25 years ago and I have no doubt that today I would run after the man, it keeps popping into my mind.
In terms of asking myself if what I’m doing is making a positive contribution to the greater good. Or whether it only serves me.
When it comes to judging and condemning people’s actions.
And when it comes to listening to my intuition, my inner voice. Because if it doesn’t feel right, then I should let it go.
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