Every so often we need a reminder that we’re not all going to Helena in a hand basket, or something like that.
So it’s lucky that, every so often, someone like Dan Kennedy makes the news.
He was driving to work a few days ago when he saw a large orange bag on an off-ramp from I-80 near Salt Lake International Airport. He stopped to move it so it wouldn’t become a traffic hazard when he discovered it came from an armored Brinks truck — just the kind of thing enterprising criminals have been known to spend hours plotting to steal.
It was 4 feet tall, 2 feet wide and weighed about 75 pounds, he said. Take the bills in your wallet right now and estimate how many of them it would take to equal 75 pounds. Then calculate the value if many of them were $50 and $100 notes.
This is anyone’s definition of a very good commute; a veritable cache of commuter cash; the modern
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equivalent of Jed Clampett shooting at some food and finding a bubblin’ crude. Mansions in Beverly Hills, complete with cement ponds in the back, are built on less.
Kennedy said the bag was filled with smaller “steak sized” bags, and that each one looked as if it held about $22,000. Not that Kennedy would know. He didn’t as much as disturb the seal on any of them.
They didn’t belong to him. Lucky pennies are one thing, but somewhere on the scale between a penny and millions of dollars, found money becomes a test of character. Kennedy took the bag to his office and called the Highway Patrol. "I didn’t really think about anything else,” he told the Deseret News; not even pretending a bag had broken open and a few bills had blown away.
As a result, the world is calling him. Everywhere from Telemundo to the New York Post, headlines tell the story of his extraordinary honesty. Brinks gave him a $5,000 reward.
Except that it probably wasn’t so extraordinary, just the size of the thing he found was. That’s the real good news of this tale. Plenty of evidence exists to show most people are honest.
I don’t say that to diminish Kennedy in any way. It is to elevate the rest of us.
Many of us tend to think the opposite, however. A Gallup poll published late last year found essentially what it has found yearly for a long time. Most Americans (63 percent in 2014) think the crime rate is higher than the year before, when in fact it has been diminishing steadily, with a few exceptions, since the early ‘90s.
Last summer, Honest Tea conducted another of its National Honesty Index experiments. It set up 60 tea stands spread across all 50 states. The stands offered bottles of tea for $1 each but left customers on the honor system, with no employee around to monitor them (but with hidden cameras watching).
In all, 95 percent of people who took a bottle left $1. In Honolulu, it was 100 percent.
Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman told USA Today the most astounding incident was in Minneapolis, where a homeless man approached but backed away for want of a dollar. A woman then stepped in and bought him one.
"Considering how divisive the national dialogue is, you'd think we were all a bunch of crooks," Goldman told USA Today. But even in Washington, D.C., the honesty rate was 96 percent.
The newspaper quoted a psychology professor who warned not to read too much into the survey. People might be honest with drinks, but dishonest elsewhere, he said. That may be true, but people who are honest with small things also may be trustworthy with large ones.
We think the world is falling apart because, as a Slate Magazine report said, “We never see a reporter saying to the camera, ‘Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out.’” We forget that dishonesty is newsworthy in part because it’s unusual.
Every now and then, however, honesty takes a ride on the publicity train, and we all feel a bit better about things. Thank you, Dan Kennedy.