The Golden Rule, Slightly Tarnished

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Think for a moment about your cellphone.

How many phone numbers does it have?

How many photos?

If it were lost, how long would it take you to reconstruct your life?

If it were found, how much would you pay to get it back?

That's what the voice on the phone was asking Ashton Giese.

Giese, a Defense Department analyst, had dropped his phone on 16th Street NW while walking home. Frantic, he'd dialed the cell's number. Was it too late to make a phone call? What time was it? He couldn't say! His only timekeeper was his cellphone!

Ring. Ring. Ring.

"Yeah, I got your phone," said the voice that answered. "But what's it worth to you?"

"Twenty bucks," Giese blurted out. It was all the cash he had, but he couldn't stop thinking about the 350 numbers stored on that cell. "My phone is my life," Giese says. "If I'd needed to, I would have paid a lot more."

There is, for most of us, a very exquisite and specific pleasure to returning a lost object. It's white-collar heroism -- a way to save the day without dashing into a burning building. It prompts lavish levels of gratitude. The word "saint" might be used: Saint? Naw. Well, all right, if you must call me a saint . . . A reward might be offered: Reward? Naw. I'm offended you'd even offer. I just wanted to do the right thing.

This is the unspoken agreement between losers and finders, the Good Samaritan pact that provides a flicker of hope when we misplace the pocket-size items that we rely on to navigate our days.

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