Opinion: Chattanooga man exhibits a pearl of honesty in an increasingly tormenting sea of dishonesty

We've never owned a small business, but we've been around those who do for many years.

It's not for the faint of heart.

The early years of the business may see little return, and even then the owner is usually the last to get paid. Often, profit margins have to be small to keep up with much larger competition. And if the business doesn't make it, a life savings may have been lost.

We think of all that today as we read of the Chattanooga man who was honest enough to tell the owner of an East Ridge gas station recently that his gas pump was registering a gallon of gas at around 45 cents.

We're not sure we ever bought a gallon of gas for a car for that amount, but we can remember gasoline that cheap. It was almost 50 years ago.

When the Chattanooga man, Henry DeHart, told the owner that 12 gallons of premium gas had only cost him $5.64, the owner first didn't understand because of a language barrier. When DeHart showed him the receipt, the owner checked his machine and realized the mistake. Customers had been pumping gasoline for 45 cents a gallon for the past five hours, and no one had said a word to him.

Back when gas was 30 or 35 cents a gallon, stations near each other occasionally would have "gas wars" to attract customers. They might reduce the price of a gallon a nickel or so to lure motorists to their business.

What happened with the East Ridge station was no gas war, and no driver today would think it was with the price of premium gasoline around $4.64 a gallon and the price of standard unleaded gas only slightly under $4.

(We could take a entire editorial to argue about why gasoline is as pricey as it is today, but that would miss the point.)

The point is that the price of a gallon of gasoline, as pointed out by a Tribune Content Agency article this newspaper printed Friday, keeps customers at convenience stores like the one in East Ridge from going in and buying something else. That something else might be a candy bar, a 64-ounce drink or a lottery ticket, but it's extra money for the owner whose profit margin on gasoline is said to be only 10 to 15 cents per gallon.

At that rate, our 17-gallon fill-up might net the owner a whopping $1.70. So it would take around 60 fill-ups like ours for the owner to make $100. And that doesn't count what he has to pay for electricity, internet access, heat, etc.

That's what inflation does throughout the country. Put simply: When you have to pay more for items, you buy less. And that hurts small and big businesses.

When the East Ridge owner realized what his pump had been registering, according to DeHart, he was "on the verge of tears."

After all, he'd paid a lot more per gallon to buy the gasoline than customers for the last five hours had been paying for it.

We might agree there are people who will insert their credit car in the pump, pump the gas, tear off the receipt and jam it in their pocket without looking at the price (we've done it), and we might accede that their are a few customers who might legitimately believe there is a "gas war" being staged.

But five hours?

Growing up in the milieu of a small business, we can remember a rival's dirty deeds that nixed a confirmed business deal and another customer refusing a special order that nevertheless had to be paid for. But people were generally honest.

Today, we've had a string of United States presidents who can't tell the truth. We've seen dishonesty raise its head in the local Hamilton County mayor's race this past week. We've seen local officials accused of theft. And we've seen the rise of intellectual dishonesty in trying to convince young children they're someone different than they are and in trying to convince the public that biological males in women's sports don't hurt women.

We've seen a rise in domestic violence, suicide and opioid drug use in many cases because people can't be honest with themselves. And to our thinking, the increase in drivers who run red lights, cut you off in traffic or weave in and out of lanes in order to gain 20 extra seconds in a commute is another type of intellectual dishonesty.

DeHart, whose Facebook page indicates he may own a type of small business himself, put himself in the shoes of the owner.

"What I find most frustrating about this is that this man ... with the guts to own a small business would get screwed over by people for half of [the] day ... ," he wrote on his Facebook page. "I get it, times are tough and gas is expensive, but nothing in this world is free. Someone is ultimately always footing the bill."

So, today, raise a glass of your favorite beverage to a man willing to be honest with the owner of one of the country's precious commodities (a small business), and if an opportunity comes along to act similarly, do likewise.