There is an old folktale about a village that was planning a grand New Year’s Eve celebration. Every member of the village was asked to contribute a bottle of wine – and to make it easy, they would just pour it in one big barrel in the middle of town. People came from all parts of the city and emptied their personal bottle into the common barrel. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, everyone would share a drink to usher in the New Year.
At midnight on the special day, the town fathers opened the spigots and invited the people to share their good fortune and the celebration of starting a new year together. But unfortunately, when they raised their glasses, they found them filled with water. Everyone in town had the same idea – if all my neighbors bring great wine, no one will notice if I just slip in a bottle of water. The little bit of deception on my part won’t be enough to spoil everyone’s fun.
I see this played out in many work situations. People who believe that a little cheating or slacking surely won’t make a big difference. But what if that person was supposed to have installed a bolt in the steering mechanism of the new car you’re going to use to take your family on vacation? What if the accountant thinks everyone else is making the numbers work; surely it won’t really make any difference? What if the trucker does a turn-around trip hauling milk after having transported liquid fertilizer on the first leg of his trip?
Good people expect others to act as they do, whereas liars, cheaters and slackers hope that they are the only ones clever enough to get by with their schemes.
When I was a little boy, my Godly mother used to delight in singing this little poem: “What kind of world would this world be, if everyone in it were just like me?” I don’t know the original author but the thought has returned to me in many, many situations. Would you want everyone at your office to do what you did today? Would you want everyone in your house to act like you did today?