7-11 Dilemma 2.0

Where we answer the question: Why should I give the money back?

Sometimes the best school meetings happen on the fly.  The 7-11 Dilemma came rolling out of my head during one such meeting somewhere back there in the mid-80s.  I think we were talking about honesty and before long, one tangent led to another. It was not a planned lesson.

The 7-11 Dilemma has since been posed and dissected in countless school and Discovery Group meetings as well as in various publications.  It has even been presented to high school students in non-Hyde school settings. It is a featured lesson in the on-line Hyde Discovery Process program we are developing for public schools.

A couple years back, I did two 30th Anniversary posts.  One covers the facts and details:

7-11 Dilemma – A 30+ Year Hyde Tradition

The other one gets deeper into the issues:

Commentary on the 7-11 Dilemma

On one occasion, after I had delivered the dilemma a few times, I remember a student raising his hand and catching me off guard with: “OK, it’s fine for you to tell us what we should do. But maybe you should tell us what you would do.”

Fair enough, I thought. However, truth be told, I had not given that (reasonable) question much thought. My impromptu answer came out something like this:

I would give the money back, but not out of concern for the store clerk. Mostly for my own peace of mind.  I play a lot of basketball. And on those occasions when I end up at the foul line with critical free throws to make, I do not want Jiminy Cricket getting inside my head and teasing me with: “Hey, Malcolm, remember when you ripped off the 7-11 last week? Well, I’m going to mess with your head right now. You ready to throw up a brick?!?”

If I have to hear anything, I want to hear, “Malcolm, you’re a good, honest guy. You deserve to make this shot.” Now, does that mean I’ll make it? No, but I swear I make more of them when, in my heart, I feel I deserve to make them.

By this point, I was in some sort of stream-of-consciousness zone, my mouth out in front of my brain.  I started talking about a metaphor I called the brass ring. It went something like this:

What’s the brass ring? The brass ring is that thing waiting out there for each of us that matters more than anything else. (I could see the kids looking back at me with a collective “Huh?!?) It could be:

– that job we really want even though we may be a bit younger or less experienced than stipulated in the job announcement;
– the new idea we envisioned that we want the boss to bet the whole company on;
– that awesome, special person we want to marry;
– that challenging case we want to win in front of the jury
– that school that 38-year old Joe Gauld yearned to start in 1966 after the bank turned down his loan application a third time.

The brass ring waits and all you have to do is reach up and grab it.  However, on your first try, you find it just out of reach.  You realize that you’ve got to make the deepest, most sincere case for something that you have ever made. You realize that you have truly got to be real. You must exude honesty and sincerity.  People will read your eyes and face. They’ll see you for what you really are… and what you are not. So, just how real are you?  I mean, REALLY?!?

At this point, I like to throw in a quote of undetermined origin (the attribution is a toss-up involving the likes of Camus, Lincoln, Orwell and assorted others): “Every man over forty is responsible for his face.”

Gender specificity aside, the point is: After 40 it is hard to hide what you’ve been up to for the previous four decades.  Goodness and virtue pursued in earnest on the inside will show on the outside.  Lack of initiative or self-serving scheming on the inside will ultimately make you appear less than trustworthy on the outside.  The end result can be an observation that cuts both ways: “I can’t explain it, but there’s something about that guy/gal that I (fill in blank) ______________

a. trust
b. mistrust
c. can’t put my finger on.

(Note: Assume that only one answer — a. — will get you the: job, promotion, loan, etc.)

Thirty-five years later, my delivery hasn’t changed much.  Those “kids” who first heard the dilemma are now settling into middle age. Having watched them live their lives, one thing seems clear: In order to grab the brass ring, you must truly feel worthy.

(I digress: I love it when alums contact me with their own 7-11 stories. I recently received a phone message from an alumna that went like this: Damn, Hyde School!!! A few minutes ago I popped into a convenience store for some gas and a cold drink. After getting back on the freeway, I had passed 7-8 exits before realizing they had given me way too much change. My conscience managed one more exit before I pulled off at the next one, reversed direction, drove back to the store, and gave the money back. And the clerk didn’t really even thank me!  Thanks a lot, Hyde!!!)

On the one hand, I doubt one can feel genuinely worthy at 18. On the other, if, by 18, you have not made the commitment to get worthy, chances are that you will head down a path where your energies will be spent constructing a facade of making yourself appear worthy (e.g., academic pedigree, the “right” friends, material possessions, flawless social skills, life of the party, etc.).  Then, in that inevitable moment when facade meets up with brass ring, you’ll end up being like Wayne & Garth when they encounter Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World: “We’re not worthy!!!” (Note to self: These kids today neither understand nor appreciate Wayne, Garth, or Alice.  It may well be time to incorporate more current cultural references making the same point.)

How does one Get Worthy? No one knows for sure, but there’s a reason why 3 of our 10 Words & Principles deal with being an honest person. If you are not honest at the core, you will not feel worthy AND… You probably will not grab that brass ring. (However, if it’s any consolation, that carefully cultivated facade might enable you to verbalize a clever excuse that might sound convincing to some. Who knows?… You might even succeed in fooling yourself.)

But know that two things are true: 1) It’s out there.  2) It’s waiting for you.

Are you getting worthy?

Onward, Malcolm Gauld