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Honest folks, honest kids

Mid last year, my teenage son accompanied me to an ATM. He watched as I went through the usual steps, choosing the ‘withdraw 3,000 shillings’ option. To my astonishment, the ATM yielded double the amount I had chosen.

My son immediately suggested that I hand over the excess money to the security guard manning the area. I felt a surge of pride as I realised that my constant nagging about the need to be honest had, at some point, sank into his psyche.


As I puzzled over how to return the money, a middle aged, very distinguished-looking gentleman at the ATM next to mine let loose an undignified whoop, and immediately re-inserted his card into the machine, no doubt to capitalise on this unexpected windfall.

As he gleefully keyed in his code, he whipped out an expensive-looking cell phone and proceeded to invite several of his friends to come and share in the ATM’s largesse.

Later, I went to the bank’s head office to return the money. To say that the staff were surprised would be putting it too mildly.

It seems that honesty is no longer the best policy. Every day, some headline screams out titillating details of the latest scandal: students and teachers caught trying to cheat in their exams, CEOs embezzling funds, law enforcement turning on those they are sworn to protect.

The fact that so many people were surprised by what should be the average person’s reaction (returning something to its rightful owner) points to a mass parenting failure.

Are we no longer teaching our kids the values that will help them become good neighbours, citizens, parents or leaders?

Had I opted to pocket the money which emerged from the generous ATM, what message would I have transmitted to my impressionable son?

I have found that the best way to teach honesty is to be honest. The challenge now is to inculcate tact in the place of brutal honesty.

In the meantime, I hold on to Thomas Jefferson’s wise words: “Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.”