This has happened to most of us at least once. You are at a store and you pay for your items with cash. The cashier gives you back your change and you notice that although they owed you $10 and change, they gave you back a twenty and change. What do you do?
We all know that the right thing, the ethical thing, to do is to make the cashier aware of the mistake and give the twenty back. We would certainly point out the discrepancy if it was reversed.
I had the pleasure of hearing Mayor Holt speak at the OK Ethics Luncheon last week. I had the additional privilege of sitting with him during lunch and talking with him both before and after his presentation. He used the above example in his talk as an analogy that I thought was worth repeating and reusing.
Remember that Mayor Holt, acting in his official capacity, is only responsible for the City of Oklahoma City. So, it was in this role that he identified some things that troubled him. I don’t recall the exact numbers and percentages, but in general, the demographics of the people in city government do not reflect the demographics of the city at large. In fact, many of the people in city government are white males from the northwest side. It isn’t just a little off. It is way off.
So often when the subject of racial, sociodemographic or gender equality comes up, the first thing you hear some white guy say is, “I never owned slaves,” or something equally ridiculous. That would be something like responding to the cashier example with, “it isn’t my fault they gave me too much change.” Having been given too much change does not make you guilty of anything. Not giving back what is not rightfully yours makes you guilty of theft.
The fact that we are where we are in terms of racial, sociodemographic or gender equality does not necessarily make any particular person guilty of anything. Not doing something to fix the obvious problem does. As a white male in our current society I have been given a twenty when I should have gotten ten. I didn’t steal the twenty to begin with, but if I keep it I am guilty of theft after the fact. It really is that simple.
What is not simple (unlike the situation with the cashier) is how to go about giving it back. The fact that this is complex and difficult does not excuse us from the responsibility. Because there are emotions and pain involved, there will continue to be interactions that seek to blame and harm, but we must not use those as an excuse to keep the twenty. I may not be responsible for the past. I am, however, responsible for the future. What you and I do next is what will determine if we are guilty or not.
In some ways, Kimray parallels this situation. Each one of us has been given a legacy that we did not earn. We are not guilty for receiving it, but what we do with it matters. We have opportunity and possibility today because of the sacrifice of those who went before us. As just one example, Garman, my grandfather and our founder, did not take a salary from Kimray for the first 3 years from its inception. That was a necessary sacrifice in order to secure the future we now enjoy. We are not guilty for taking wages now, but we should be doing what is necessary to ensure the continuation of the legacy and to give others the opportunity to share in our rich heritage.
What this all comes down to is the difference between entitlement and gratitude. If we believe that what we have is owed to us or was gained solely by our own hand, we will tend towards selfish and brutish behaviors toward others. On the other hand, if we acknowledge that much of what we have we did not earn, and that others played a significant role in our current good fortunes, we are more likely to be generous and inclusive towards others.
The Kimray Way is to share what we have and find ways to lift others up. If we truly believe that everyone is valuable, we can do no less.