Climbing Moral Steps OR Finding a Sweet Deal?

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Recently we had a discussion at work regarding a moral dilemma wherein the question was asked: “If you found a coin in a yard sale for a dollar and you knew for a certainty that the coin was worth millions, would you tell the individual selling the coin, or would you buy it and say nothing?”  The key in this question is undeniably the fact that you KNOW without any question that the coin is extremely rare and valuable.

Many argued that the individual selling the coin received what they were asking for it, a mere dollar, and that they would not have any hesitation paying the asking price and scoring the big home run.  After all it was their knowledge of the coin that would enable them to realize the full value of the purchase and that the one selling it should have done their homework prior to selling.

Others argued that the moral thing to do would be tell the individual that the coin was rare and worth a considerable fortune, thus walking away from any personal gain in the transaction and allowing the one who is selling it to benefit.

I listened intently as both sides elaborated on the differing viewpoints and justifications behind each.  When asked my opinion I thought a moment and presented an option neither side had thought of.  In this scenario both parties bring something of value to the transaction.  The individual selling the coin is the one in possession of that which is most valuable yet unrealized,  while the individual desiring to purchase the coin  understands immediately the value of the coin not in his possession.  Neither of them benefit from this without the other.  One way to maintain honor and integrity in this situation would be to purchase the coin at the asking price, then sell it and take part of the sale back to the original owner.

While each of these scenarios prove legal and some would argue therefore there is not one better than the other.  From a moral perspective, I believe there are better solutions than others.  Keep in mind that declaring something legal does not in turn make it moral.  I believe that the moral compass which we live our lives by determine our personal characters and each decision we make takes us up the steps or down.  The best views are always found at the top of these moral steps, the higher our morals, the better the view.

I found this  scenario to be fascinating on many levels as this very situation can play out in different ways, often in reverse, throughout our lives.  Oftentimes we have knowledge of things yet fail to comprehend the true value of that knowledge and what it can  bring to others who may be seeking it and don’t know where to find it.

Please share your thoughts on what your opinion of  the best solution to this scenario would be.

6 thoughts on “Climbing Moral Steps OR Finding a Sweet Deal?

  1. I’m not sure what I would do, either. If the sellers appeared to be someone in shaky financial circumstances (are they selling stuff off to pay the mortgage or hospital bills or something?), I would like to think that I would advise the sellers of the coin’s worth and then perhaps offer to sell the coin to a reputable dealer on their behalf. Maybe they would offer a commission, maybe not. However, if the sellers are people who obviously don’t need any money (for instance, their yard sale couch is way nicer than the one I sit on in my own home), I’m not sure I could do the honorable thing, which would be to tell them of the mistake they are about to make. Of course, since I never shop yard sales, I can save myself the grief of having to make that decision at all, thereby allowing me to keep my perspective of myself as a good, moral person.


    • I think it is very difficult to handle any situation that has multiple right answers the way we would truly hope for without examining potential scenarios ahead of time. It is then by pondering these prior we are better equipped to respond when confronted. Thank you for your comments


  2. My wife and I think of this question every time we watch “Antiques Roadshow.” True, most of the people who bring items to be evaluated do NOT know the value of what they bought (at a yard sale,etc.), but time after time something purchased for a dollar or two is worth over $100,000. We keep wondering if the person who unwittingly sold the treasure is watching the show and saying “Oh, NO!”

    THANKS for subscribing to I hope I can bring you a smile (or at least a groan) every weekday.
    –John Robinson


    • I am sure that many people have indeed watched that show after selling something of value. I can only imagine the level of shock and frustration one would feel.

      Thank you for reading John and for your comments.


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