Simple Honesty

Continuing my month-long focus on positive stories, the following account is potent in its simplicity.

Few of us will meet the kinds of ethical decisions faced by tobacco insider Jeff Wigand or WorldCom Executive Cynthia Cooper. However, all of us will face choices that will test who we are and what we stand for. Michael Braunstein is a professional trainer who lives and works on the East coast. His story of “simple honesty” is an example of the kinds of decisions we’ll encounter and the character we can create.

“Back in 1988, I proposed to my wife and gave her a rather expensive diamond engagement ring. We were subsequently married and now have three children.

“One night, in late 1996 while my wife was changing the baby, she discovered to her horror that the stone from her ring had come out of the setting. When I arrived home, she was so upset that she couldn’t even get the words out to tell me what happened. Her emotions were so strong that I thought something terrible had happened to one of the kids. I was relieved when I finally learned that the issue involved the ring and not one of the children. With every light in the house turned off and with flashlight in hand, I covered every square inch of the floor, countertop, furniture, all to no avail.

“Fortunately, the ring was insured and, though there was much sentimental value lost, we were able to replace the diamond with a similar stone. The jeweler did a terrific job of putting the ring back together, and I did my best to give this new ring some sentimentality of its own by ‘re-proposing’ to my wife in another romantic setting. Though it wasn’t quite the same, it somehow seemed okay.

“About a year later, after putting the kids to bed one night, I headed up to my third floor office to do some work. As I got to the top of the stairs, there on the floor was the diamond, just sitting there and appearing at first to be just a small piece of glass. We now theorize that the stone fell out of the setting while my wife was moving some seasonal clothes from one closet to the other. I was amazed when I first saw it and, initially, was not sure what to do. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to tell my wife. Here was something valued at nearly $10,000 and nobody but me knew about it.

“Moments later, I realized that my wife would be thrilled and that I had to let her know. The next question was, what do we do now? Do we tell the insurance company? Do we return this stone? Do we hide it in the safe deposit box? Do we sell it? In telling the story to friends, I always joke about it. ‘The choice,’ I say, ‘is to do the right thing or burn in hell for eternity.’

“The decision turned out to be an easy one. We called the insurance company the next day and told them the good news. Though I expected them to be surprised at my honesty, they told me that they get many such calls, long after claims are settled. I’ve learned that I’m not any better than anyone else. The world does behave appropriately in many cases.

“The insurance company offered us two options. We could return either stone or purchase the found stone at what they termed ‘salvage value’ which is all they would get anyway. The deal was too good to pass up, and our finances were sufficient that we could take advantage of the latter deal. For less than a third of its retail value, we kept the stone. I had it set in a pendant, and, on the 10th anniversary of our engagement, I secretly arranged for my wife and me to be at the very location where we were first engaged and was able to surprise her with it.

“We now have two diamond engagement pieces, and some day, each of our two daughters will get one. We feel good about what we did, and what was once a very sad moment has become a most delightful story.”

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