Reality Check: The Wrong Number

The voice mail that I’d received was not intended for me. The caller had simply dialled the wrong number.
But the message struck a chord: The voice of a frightened older woman, saying that Revenue Canada is “after” her and she doesn’t know what to do. She believed that her taxes were done but she’s been told that they aren’t and now she is in trouble. The message was a plea for help.
We have choices. Among my choices was the option to delete the message and forget about it. I could even justify that, as it was obvious that she didn’t know me and was trying to reach someone else.
But I was pretty sure that someone was attempting to run a scam on her. And my perspective is that it’s disgraceful to use manipulative behaviours to prey on the vulnerable.
So I returned her call and we had a good conversation. We talked through the situation and together figured out an effective step that she could take. She was able to identify a trustworthy person in her province; someone she knew who had the ability to look into her situation and put her mind at ease.
She thanked me, a complete stranger, for my concern.
Why am I telling you this? Not to show you how virtuous I am. If I’d wanted to do that, I would have left out the part about considering that I could just delete the message!
The story is about choices and how we make decisions. I like to think that I’m guided by rational arguments. I know how to make pro-con lists, weigh costs and benefits, and come up with a reasoned decision. On the other hand, I could just go with emotion. In this case, it was emotion—based on my values.
Values don’t mean much unless we act on them, do they? It’s our actions, rather than our words, that show what we truly value. Reflecting on this incident, the value of disrupting the manipulation of a vulnerable person was strong enough to motivate me to take action.
Everyone does not share my values, but then, I’m pretty sure that everyone doesn’t share your values, either. How do I know? If we look at actions through the lens of values, we can learn quite a lot—about others and about ourselves.
For example, consider the values of the person who had frightened my caller. It sounds like they had misrepresented themselves as a government authority so they could extract money from a defenceless stranger. Their values enabled that action.
Perhaps the people who do these things justify them in their own minds. For example, maybe they tell themselves, “The people I’m trying to scam are all rich anyway so they deserve to lose money.” A perspective like that makes it possible to justify all kinds of appalling behaviours.
Would your values justify that behaviour? I’m thinking not.
An interesting exercise is to reflect back over our actions and match them with the values they demonstrate. Playing with your kids, showing up early for work, phoning a friend, learning a skill, reading a book, planting a flower, smiling at a stranger; those are all actions that reflect our values.
What values do you see in your actions?

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