I used to supervise several primary schools in Mexico. My work took me often to the state of Veracruz on the gulf coast. It was a luxuriously beautiful place with cane fields, citrus groves, pineapple farms, coffee plantations, and mango trees. All of this was closely guarded by the mighty snow capped volcano, Pico de Orizaba, which loomed over the coastal plain.
One day while visiting a school in the little village of Tierra Blanca, I was given a large box of ripe, yellow Manila mangos. They were sweet and juicy and in their prime for ripeness. I knew that my family, even though we loved the sweet delicacy, would never be able to consume the delicious fruit before it spoiled. Upon my arrival back in Mexico City, I decided to take the box to work and make the fruit available to my colleagues at the office. Then a childhood experience came to mind.
When I was of elementary school age living in Utah, my home was within walking distance of church. One crisp fall morning while walking to church with my father, we passed a little table that had been set up in an elderly gentleman’s front yard next to the sidewalk. On the table was a box of bright red, home grown, delicious apples. On the box written in crayon was a little sign that said simply, “Apples. Five Cents.”
My young curiosity was aroused. “Why would the man do that?” I asked my father. “Won’t people just take the apples without paying?” His answer came in the form of a question. While seeming to search into my very soul he asked, “Would YOU take an apple without paying for it?” I quickly replied, “Of course not!” “Neither would other honest folks,” he said.
With that experience in my memory I decided to try a little experiment of my own. My office was located on the expansive campus of a private school by the name of Benemerito de las Americas, or “Benefactor of the Americas” which was the title given to Mexico’s beloved past president, Benito Juarez. I told my colleagues that I had brought a box of ripe, yellow mangos from Veracruz and that I was going to set it out in the commons near the high school with a sign that reads “Mangos, Un Peso” which was the equivalent then of about eight cents U.S.
My fellow educators told me I was crazy. “Do you think those high school kids are going to pay for those mangos? Why, they’ll have the box empty in minutes and you will have nothing to show for it.” I told them that if that were to happen I would have lost very little but that I had faith in the young people who attended our schools. All monies collected were to go to the campus activity fund.
My colleagues were correct in that the box of mangos was quickly emptied. But when the experiment was over, I had actually received five pesos more than the actual posted value of the fruit. My colleagues were pleasantly surprised and I was very gratified that my faith in the integrity of the young men and women of the school was justified.
I have noticed at least two places near Blanco that allow patrons to abide by the same kind of honor code. One is a little roadside stand near Fredericksburg that sells tomatoes each summer. The tomatoes are left unattended and a scales is provided so that patrons can weigh the produce and place the appropriate amount in the slot of the little wooden box provided for the purpose.
Another is a family nursery on the way to Wimberley that makes all kinds of plants available to the public. Each potted plant is labeled with its price and patrons can place their money in the container provided. Each of these “businesses” continues to operate year after year so I have to assume that they are doing O.K.
“Right decisions,” said Spencer W. Kimball, “are easiest to make when we make them well in advance… Develop discipline of self so that, more and more, you do not have to decide and redecide what you will do when you are confronted with the same temptation time and time again. You only need to decide some things once! How great a blessing it is to be free of agonizing over and over again regarding a temptation.” (New ERA Magazine, April 1981, p.50)
Would you take a mango without paying for it? Of course not!