When decency breeds adulation
By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor
I like to be appreciated. Whether for doing well or doing good, it’s always nice to be acknowledged. Yet although I’m a firm believer in showing gratitude for acts of kindness, there is a difference between gratitude and adulation. There comes a point where my eyes cannot stop themselves from rolling. That point was crossed in the aftermath of an eight-year-old girl returning $4,000 to its rightful owner.
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s a little girl! Let her have her praise! It was very nice of her to return the money!” The applause Abbie Jacobson of Maine received on her first day of school was adorable. Perhaps the front-page article detailing Abbie’s good will and deep moral character was a bit over the top. The sold-out Justin Bieber concert tickets that were given to her by the Bank of Maine were definitely excessive.
First off, the money wasn’t hers, so she returned it to the rightful owner. This is not a novel concept. Why should people be rewarded for doing the decent thing? Granted, if I lost $4,000 and it was returned to me, I would learn to be more careful with my possessions—I might not be so lucky next time. Not everyone returns money that isn’t theirs, but it’s not so special that she did. There’s no moral dilemma here: you either do the honest thing, or you don’t. She did the honest thing. Let’s move on with our lives.
Not to say that kids are stupid, but they don’t necessarily think to do something wrong. It may not even occur to them to keep something that isn’t theirs. This isn’t the sign of an ethical spine of steel. If someone refrains from doing me wrong because they’re oblivious to other options, I don’t think of them as the most moral peas in the pod. Besides, she’s an eight-year-old kid: what’s she going to do with $4,000?
Now, a little side note on the Bank of Maine, which generously donated Justin Bieber tickets to Abbie and her family. John Everets, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the bank, after reading of Abbie’s Bieber-love in the Portland Press Herald, reportedly said that this was “a chance to do something nice for a beautiful little girl.” More like it was a chance to get some much-needed good press.
I’d be more impressed by Everets if he were focused on improving the lives of those he serves, namely his banking customers. It’s interesting that the Bank of Maine has chosen to do something nice for a little girl following a stint of bad press. They’ve been in trouble for “unsafe and unsound banking practices,” and faced criticism from Occupy Maine protesters on their foreclosing of people’s homes. Suddenly, their name is in the news for a reason other than unsafe banking practices—they’ve diverted attention to a superficial act of supposed kindness, and now everyone loves the Bank of Maine.
Trust me, I appreciate what Abbie Jacobson did, and I think it’s wonderful if she’s encouraged to be a good person. What I hate is this mind set whereby doing something decent gets you a massive, disproportionate reward. Abbie Jacobson’s story, while sweet, distracts from the truly relevant matters. Too often we ignore those bigger issues in society, preferring to focus on superficial stories. I’d rather ignore the little acts of decency that should be expected and focus on the important issues.