My wife and I recently returned from dinner to our hotel room while on vacation. She soon realized that she couldn’t find her iPhone. Because she is a sane person, she doesn’t have it glued to her 24/7 like I do.
I called her phone, but we didn’t hear it ring. We listened more carefully: we didn’t hear it vibrate. Uh oh.
I used the “Find My iPhone” app to track her phone from mine. I could see her phone moving at a pretty good clip up and down nearby streets. That was actually good news because it all but confirmed her suspicion that she had left it in the taxi we had taken to the hotel. Having not gotten a receipt from the driver, I had no way of getting in touch with him through the cab company.
I called my wife’s phone again. I texted it. I used the “Find My iPhone” app to play a sound, which overrides even silent mode. No response. “$700 down the drain,” I thought (and maybe said aloud).
The Driver Responds
And then . . . I got a text. It was from the driver, who had found her phone. I offered to pay him a cab fare to bring it to our hotel, and he agreed. I never thought I’d be so happy to pay someone to drive my wife’s phone around!
I paid the driver the $10 cab fare and gave him a $20 tip to thank him for being a standup guy. He could easily have made off with my wife’s phone. Instead, he saved us $700 and a lot of time and hassle.
Why did the Driver Return the Phone?
Later that night, I wondered why he returned the phone when he could have kept it. He may very well just have been a good guy.
But then I remembered something that might have nudged him in the direction of helping us out. I had been kind to him during our cab ride, before my wife lost her phone. I recalled two moments in particular.
When we first got into the cab, he had asked me which of two routes I wanted him to take for the short drive to the hotel. I replied, “Oh, thanks. I trust your judgment. Whatever you think is best.”
Toward the end of the ride, he did a very good job threading past some backed-up cars. I remarked aloud what an impressive job he did navigating around the backup.
I made both comments without expecting somehow to “profit” from them. I was just being kind—not Mother Teresa kind, granted—but kind nonetheless. I expressed trust in him and complemented him on a job well done.
Was the driver’s decision to return my wife’s phone affected by how I had treated him during the cab ride? I can’t know for sure. But had I been a jerk to him on the ride, I could easily imagine a different outcome.
It Pays to be Kind
I believe that being kind is the right way to live, even if it doesn’t profit you—indeed, even if it costs you.
That said, I also believe that kindness often does, as a matter of fact, profit you here and now.
It is certainly gauche to try to estimate the monetary value of doing what’s right. But I want to do so here in an attempt to show that there may be a monetary value of kindness. [Quick note: The specific numbers for the following estimates are not as important as the commonsense principle informing them.]
- Scenario 1: Imagine I had acted like a jerk toward the driver during the ride. In that case, let’s estimate he would have returned the phone only 20% of the time. My expected value is the cost to me of replacing the phone—$700—times the 20% chance of not having to replace it because the driver returns it. My expected value for having acted like a jerk is thus $140 (20% * $700).
- Scenario 2: Imagine I had treated the driver neither poorly nor well. Here I guesstimate he returns the phone to me 85% of the time. The expected value is $595 (85% * $700).
- Scenario 3: I treat the driver with kindness. In this case, let’s estimate he returns the phone 95% of the time. The expected value of acting kindly is $665 (95% * $700).
If my estimates are anywhere close to correct, acting kindly may have saved me $70 ($655-$595) or even $525 ($665-$140).
As if being kind weren’t the best way to live anyway, it’s likely that kindness can financially benefit the one being kind in such a situation. Plus, the above considerations didn’t even take into account the significant amount of time saved by not having to replace a phone.
In other posts I’ve shown how saving time and money can help in one’s pursuit of what matters most. Here it’s neat to consider how living in accord with what matters most not only makes for a more fulfilling life but may save you time and money as well.