Two trips to Home Depot in Auburn in one week, twice finding piles of money laying on the floor, twice reporting it to the store to locate its rightful owners.

Gil Steward’s wife thinks somebody upstairs was testing her honest husband.

If so, “Honest Gil” passed with distinction. It seems the test is now for everyone who hears his story, and whether they, with an equal amount of honesty, could act the same? Given the state of things nowadays, it appears the opposite is the natural order of things.

Some investment genius nobody outside Wall Street ever heard about, Bernard Madoff, lost the savings of innumerable investors, large and small, and crippled charitable organizations by perpetuating the most egregious case of dishonesty in recent history.

He sold investors on his winning investment strategy and profit-making acumen, which held until more money started leaving than arriving. Once his smokescreen faded, his genius was revealed for what it really was: an old-fashioned Ponzi scheme, the epitome of scams.

If strolling through his local Home Depot, Madoff probably would have pocketed the wallet and moneybag, then hung around just in case somebody else dropped a quarter. (The villa in Cap D’Antibes and beachfront manse in the Hamptons can’t pay for themselves, after all.)

Then there are financial executives, who earned $1.6 billion in salary, bonuses and benefits despite their industry’s catastrophic meltdown, a $700 billion taxpayer salvation and layoffs of their rank-and-file workers.

As the banking mess further unravels, it’s become clear many in the industry were dishonest, by understating dangers and ignoring consequences, blinded by immediate rewards.

If a financial executive had found the money, they would have likely taken 60 percent as a bonus and sunk the rest into a credit-default swap against the wallet’s owner, who, as Honest Gil discovered, had his month’s mortgage payment tucked inside.

Then there’s Gil, who chose the path less traveled: the one to the service desk, just so he could do the right, honest thing. Even without the current unscrupulousness among America’s financiers, Gil’s moral unambiguity is more than refreshing.

And so, Gil has not only aced the cosmic test from the big proctor in the sky, but inspired a saying we hope can becomes commonplace. Nobody is immune to the pull of reward against doing right, but before acting, we urge remembering five little words:

What would Honest Gil do?


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