OPINION: They are not big stories; nor should they be. Neither are they so entirely routine that they should be taken for granted.
We're talking about the little filler stories that send out a shaft of light to indicate someone, somewhere hereabouts, has been caught being good and honest.
Queenstown has just had a brace of them. First to emerge was the one that starts like one of those regrettable jokes: A drunk Irishman stumbles away from an ATM ...
He'd left $800 behind. And his bankcard.
Not his best work then. Happily, the person who came upon the temptation posed by a substantial wodge of easily pocketed cash was Taylor Wyllie of Cromwell, a butcher's apprentice out celebrating his birthday. He, and a friend who was with him, proceeded to the police station to do the right thing. Mr Wyllie now has $800 worth of warm glowing satisfaction. Since his dad, a Dunedin police officer, is pretty happy with him he's arguably off the hook for Father's Day too.
Just three days later, Queenstown police happily took in another significant quantity of cash, found lying in a bundle in the CBD.
One particularly nice account was of a businessman who dropped a wallet bulging with $1200 in a Henderson car park, before packing for a Queen's Birthday retreat this year. The finder had to track him down via a boat club membership card.
Let's be a different sort of honest for a moment; hearts do not automatically surge in sympathy for someone who carries that much cash around with them and can afford boat club membership. As it happens, the wallet dropper was acting - none to well, it must be said - as the trusted family banker for 21 family members headed off on a long-planned jaunt. So a lot of people had cause for gratitude there.
Even more famously, we had the Christchurch painters who found $58,000 in coins - yes, coins - on the street, and determined not to have it weighing on their conscience, or anywhere else.
On the other hand, none of these cases remotely approached the newsworthiness of the less-than-inspirational story of Leo Gao and Kara Hurring, who did a bunk after $10 million mistakenly went into his bank account. Since they were later caught and convicted, we'll file that one under "cautionary tales".
That was a major story not because bad behaviour is more newsworthy than good behaviour, in and of itself, but because scale does eventually come into it.
In any case, we're happy to attest that honesty stories aren't all that rare. And unreported honesty is abundant. Typically it's only when the quantity of cash is significant that it makes the news.
That said, there's almost a tradition in the south for people who encounter those lovely examples of honesty in the most modest of circumstances to drop the Southland Times a public opinion letter thanking whoever it was who returned their wallet, purse or lost object.
Strictly speaking, the letters column is intended for public debate, rather than as a noticeboard. Whenever we have room, we slip those letters in regardless. And the ones where people who have had accidents want to thank those who came to help. Probably not very professional of us. But if it's an indulgence, it's a cheering one.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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