Editor: Marita Littauer
Publisher: Kregel Publications
A Clear Conscience
by Kitty Chappell
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:22
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard! “Pardon me?” I asked.
“I said,” the department manager repeated slowly, “you could be terminated for your actions.”
Minutes earlier, my supervisor had told me that Mr. Brooks wanted to see me in his office-immediately. When I asked why, she had shrugged-yet every eye followed me as I left the room.
Mr. Brooks got right to the point. “Mrs. Chappell, we have reports that you have been observed leaving the hospital cafeteria, clocking in on the time clock, only to reenter the cafeteria and stay longer. Your actions are tantamount to stealing from this facility.”
Mr. Brooks’ accusation was correct. As a slow eater, I disliked having to rush through my evening meals at the community hospital where I worked the evening shift. We had only thirty minutes in which to get our tray, go through the food line, wait in line at the cash register, find a table, hurriedly eat, and then clock in before rushing back to our departments.
I had recently started clocking in, and instead of returning to my department, I returned to my table for an extra fifteen minutes. I then compensated for staying the extra time by taking only one of my two daily coffee breaks.
I considered myself a conscientious employee. I even gave time in ways not required. Once I accidentally broke a long tape before it was transcribed. Several unhappy doctors had to re-dictate their reports. That weekend, I drove to the hospital and worked undetected at my station for several hours without clocking in. No one knew, of course, but I did. It was my way of making up for the trouble I had caused.
My conscience is clear in every area, I thought. How can he sit there and call me a thief?
“Mr. Brooks, I would never steal from anyone,” I said, my face burning.
“Time is money,” he replied, without expression. “When you steal time from your employer, that is the same as stealing money.”
“I understand,” I stammered, “but I’ve not been stealing time.” I then explained how I skipped one of my breaks each day to extend my mealtime, making sure to always take only one break.
“By law we must provide two breaks a day-and you need those breaks,” he explained. “You’re not the only one who has just thirty minutes for meals. You will need to eat faster or talk less. Hereafter, you will take your breaks, and you will return to your department after clocking in. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Mr. Brooks.” I fumed as I walked toward my department. I wonder who the snitch is who started all of this?
I made a quick mental rundown of possible suspects. Probably that unfriendly woman from accounting-I’ve noticed her watching me. Or that grumpy guy from radiology. Whoever it is, they ought to get a life! Didn’t they have anything better to do than spy on fellow employees?
Mostly, I worried about what my coworkers would think. I’d tried hard to “walk my talk” as a Christian. And there I was-a Sunday school teacher-accused of thievery!
Detouring into the women’s lounge, I splashed cold water on my flushed face. Defensive thoughts popped into my mind as I reached for a paper towel. How can you just lie down and do nothing to save your reputation? Your friends believe in you. Let them know how insulted you feel-with a humble but martyred air, of course. Refer to your good work ethics and habits. Remind them how often you volunteer to transcribe difficult tapes that others don’t want to do. They’ll rally to support you. Especially since they do worse things than you do. It won’t change anything, but you owe it to them to fight for your reputation.
That made sense to me. After all, my conscience was clear. Suddenly, I recalled my mother’s voice from across the years. “Kitty, the issue is not who is right, but what is right. I don’t care who started it, I want it stopped right now!”
Just as I did back then, I argued.
Yes, but it isn’t right for me to be accused of something I didn’t do!
God’s spirit stepped in and nudged me. But you did do it. By not following the rules, I gave a wrong message to others. How could they know I wasn’t stealing time? They could only know what they saw. If they saw me do something that really shouldn’t be done, they could either question my integrity or be temped to do the same that I was doing. I knew I needed to set a good example at all times, in all areas.
I wrestled with each line of thinking as I returned to my department. Should I try to protect my image (and my pride), or would I humiliate myself by assuming responsibility for my actions?
“What happened?” everyone asked in unison as I entered. They waited for my answer, every eye upon me.
These were my friends, ready to take my side. Didn’t I owe them something? Yes, I decided.
“Mr. Brooks accused me of breaking hospital rules by reentering the cafeteria after clocking in at dinnertime and then staying longer.”
As expected, my coworkers voiced every objection and presented every justification for my actions that I had already thought of. Squaring my shoulders, I resisted the temptation to avoid my call to accountability and deflected their loyalty by telling them the truth.
“Mr. Brooks was right,” I said. “Oh, I didn’t think I was actually breaking any rules, just sort of twisting them. I felt justified since I didn’t take my second break, but I was wrong. I not only broke the rules, I gave the wrong impression and caused problems by trying to live above the rules.”
I heard myself conclude with the statement, “After all, the issue is not who is right but what is right.”
1. God’s Way and But Lord, I was Happy Shallow