A question has dangled in my mind for most of my life: Is it wise to assume others have the best intentions, and risk being considered naive and Pollyannaish? Or is it better to try to catch people making errors in judgment and behavior and hold them accountable for their actions?

It reminds me of my son Jeff (we’ll call him “Sherlock” for anonymity’s sake) and the great Canary-colored Canoe Caper. Sherlock was in his early teens, and working at a sporting goods store a few blocks from our home along the shores of Lake Monona. He was learning the ropes of a first job.

One evening, a stylish canary-yellow canoe was pilfered from the rear of the store. The manager had a hunch it was an inside job and asked me if I had any thoughts about the guilty party before he reported it to the authorities. As a young boy, Sherlock yearned to captain a sleek fishing vessel, and he painted his bike a bright yellow.

“Hmm,” I wondered. “Could my son be involved in a heist of this magnitude?”

That night, I told Sherlock about my conversation with the manager and related how appreciative the manager would be if someone found the canoe before 7 a.m. the next morning. “Perhaps you and Felix (Sherlock’s friend and fishing buddy) might want to search around tonight for that canoe.”

Off went Sherlock and Felix with flashlights in hand, and bingo. Within minutes they had discovered the stolen property on a grassy hill between our house and the sporting goods store.

Before the boys marched the canoe back to the store, Sherlock inquired if he should ask the manager for a finder’s reward. I told Sherlock that the joy and satisfaction of finding the canoe was reward enough. And I pointed out how nice it was that the manager didn’t have to go through all the paperwork of a felony theft report.

Many years later, Jeff (I mean “Sherlock”) is a successful manager in his own right. To my knowledge, he has no rap sheet, nor any canary-colored canoe.

Let’s hear it for “best intentions.”