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Are We Over-Celebrating the Kid Who Returned a Lost Wedding Ring?

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Let’s be clear about this from the beginning: This story from the Houston Chronicle about a Waco teenager who found someone else’s wedding ring inside of a baseball glove he purchased at Academy Sports and Outdoors is a nice little story about a young person who exhibited a basic sort of human decency. Here are the details, from the Chronicle

Ryan Alexander and his mother, Holly Alexander, bought the glove on Feb. 15 at an Academy Sports + Outdoors store in Waco, near their home in Mart, Holly Alexander said.

Ryan, a 16-year-old sophomore at Riesel High School near Waco, was trying out his new glove the next afternoon and realized there was a ring inside it, his mother said.

The Alexanders told the store about the find, and Academy began trying to locate the original owner, said spokesman Eric Herrera, who works at the company’s headquarters in Katy.

Both Academy and Louisville Slugger, the glove manufacturer, put the search out on their Twitter accounts and contacted the Texas-based James Avery jewelry company, which made the ring, inscribed with “I (heart symbol) my Marine.”

Finding a ring that doesn’t belong to you—and that does very obviously belong to and carry value to someone else, based on the inscription—and subsequently telling the store in which you found it is certainly the right thing to do, that’s clear. But the extent to which Alexander is being celebrated for doing it is rather disproportionate to the good that he did, in ways that reveal some perhaps-disturbing low expectations for us as a society. 

According to the Chronicle

In recognition of Ryan’s doing the right thing, Academy provided a $500 gift card to his baseball team, and Louisville Slugger gave him two bats, Herrera said. James Avery donated $100 gift cards to Ryan and his mother, the spokesman said.

That’s roughly $800 worth of rewards (Louisville Slugger bats tend to start around $50) for doing something that, really, ought to be unexceptional. Or, to put it another way, if Alexander had found the ring and kept it, rather than telling the store, he would be a bad guy. Doing something basic and easy that you would be a bad person for not doing is kind of the entry-level of being a member of a functioning society. It’s not as if the Alexanders carried out an extensive campaign to track down the owner, printing out fliers and blanketing the city with them, or scraping off flecks of DNA to CSI the ring back to a hard-to-find owner. 

While we don’t begrudge Alexander for accepting the rewards he was offered, it does seem as if this story highlights the fact that we might expect too little of one another. In a more rational world, Alexander would receive a firm handshake from the ring’s owner, and perhaps a clasp on the shoulder from a proud adult who recognized that this was a young man who was raised to behave within society’s expectations of decency. But treating him like he’d rescued a  full of schoolchildren from a fiery crash is a bit bizarre. 

For their part, the Alexanders seem to recognize that the extent to which the fact that they told the store that they found a ring that didn’t belong to them is perhaps a little bit surprising. 

Holly Alexander said she couldn’t imagine not doing something to find the owner and that her son felt the same way.

“That’s how we raised our kids to be,” she said. “He’s very excited about last night and very surprised at what they did for him. He was glad we found the owner. He especially looks up to military people.”

Ryan Alexander sounds like a fine young man. But maybe we should expect that most of our young people are fine in the same way, and raise our standards for what deserves celebration. 

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