The idea that we can purchase a metal detector and find lost objects has a strong appeal, but most who have begun this course have found something, perhaps a ring or personal item and wondered what that they should do with it. Whether they should attempt to return it to the person who lost it or to put it in their pocket to add to their collection. If they defer judgement then there is always nagging guilt feelings that arise when they see it. We may have begun this hobby as a form of exercise, recreation, an outdoor activity, or a serious desire to find lost treasures. It is desirable to resolve this small ethical conflict for ourselves so that we may enjoy our hobby without emotional hang ups and guilt. In my small way I have attempted to explain how I came to resolve this issue for myself. Please do not consider this a challenge to your judgment but consider it for any value that it might be to you as everyone must decide for themselves these issues.
I enjoy the art of detecting and I do not wish that anyone would lose anything but quite the reverse. Someone once owned that old ring you found and it might have broke their heart to lose it, but loss is often the product of neglect and the neglect to protect something is the decision by the owner to hope for the best and neglect the proper course of action for the default. While I can sympathize with the loser I also can understand that it was his decision to inadequately protect it in the first place so my answer is that I wish losers would apply themselves to learning better practices because life is real and they should not think that they can ignore the rules without losses. So I think fairly lost, fairly won and mixing emotions over finds and returning them all(if we could) would only enforce the lazy persons decisions that it wasn’t worth him worrying about in the first place!
Reinforcing incorrect behavior is simply the wrong thing to do and is exactly not what I would have done to me therefore it is not what I do to others. I would not think it appropriate for someone to purchase very expensive equipment and train for years to spend time returning to me the items that I lost by my own default decision to not protect. For instance wearing a ring while you are swimming shows that you are one of those folks who are likely making bad decisions in your life because you do not wish to attend to little details but neglect them. A person no matter how old needs to learn that someone won’t follow them around and fix all the problems that they cause but take the responsibility for themselves and attend to that duty. Object lessons are important in life and soft, permissive parents that try to fix all their kids problems will do him or her a disservice and in later life the negative results will multiply with disastrous consequences.
While I place common objects lost in the object lesson category I think that there are other considerations aside from the object lesson argument like finding a lost wallet. Everyone places his wallet in his pocket and not all pockets have buttons so it is not the result of neglect but accident that a wallet is lost. If I were to lose a wallet with all my papers, credit cards, personal pictures, and money it would be a very serious thing to me and I think most people try to protect their wallet from being lost and if it is found by someone I would want them to return it to me intact without prying into the contents beyond my address. If I find one that is exactly what I will do if possible. We should always return lost wallets with all of the money whether or not there is a reward because it is the right thing to do if for no other reason than it presents a good image of all who metal detect and sets a good example for everyone to follow.
Some folks like to use situation ethics which is to say that in any given situation it is different and it depends on how you feel about something as to what your course of action is. This means that if I found a ring that fits me and looks nice on my finger that I should keep it even if it has some ones name in it. In other words feelings of guilt or greed govern that person and this is what I call Latex ethics and is the result of muddy thinking.
I would like to point out that when someone comes to me and asks me to help them find a lost object I will always answer yes if it is within my ability to do so and I have spent many hours looking for lost rings for friends and strangers. If I lost something and it meant a lot to me would I have the right to ask of another person that they commit time and equipment into returning it to me? Personally I would not accept it back without giving a sizable reward to the finder and also a reward for looking and not finding. When it comes to that even if an unethical selfish person asks me to look for their lost object I will attempt to find it and this is my personal decision even though I know it is not proper for them to ask me it is the correct image to present to everyone that we do extend our help and in circumstances that clearly do not deserve it. If I see someone who has lost something then I will approach them and ask for their name and phone number and make an attempt to recover it for them and I believe that this is the correct action that we can all do to improve the image of the detectorists. In these cases it is not something we do out of feelings but a commitment to the image of all detectorists.
Misplaced compassion is muddy thinking and true compassion is a stronger commitment to others than a token now and then to make our guilt go away for a while. Would you have compassion for your child by giving him or her all of the candy and ice cream that they wanted every day instead of feeding them a good meal that they don’t like. Mixed feelings will lead you astray in more areas than metal detecting and we should learn to act responsible at all times.
It is wonderful to discover that all the gray areas dissolve like the morning fog and a course of action is clear when you base your decisions on a standard and apply yourself to follow it. It means in essence that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” works perfectly in all situations and keeps us from falling into bad practices like several who metal detect in the cemetery, neglect to fill their holes, and hunt in restricted areas. Those people create a bad image for the rest of us folk who try to do the right thing.
It is my sincere desire to clarify this issue that I have seen when folks are not sure of the course of action, when they seem to never do the right thing. Almost everyone has a different idea about this and many will ignore this and continue their actions as they always have and I wish them well.