Thursday, May 31, 2007

Honest... To a Fault?

There's a discussion going on at another blog that I read about honesty. It seems that a mom found a duck in her stroller (worth $7) after she'd gotten her kids (3 years and 4 months) into the car at the mall. One of the kids was sleeping. She had not paid for the duck.

In the great scheme of things, when companies are stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from their employees, a $7 duck probably isn't that big a damn deal. On the other hand, it seems to me that my integrity is worth more than $7.

When I bought our Children's Museum membership last week, I was given the application to fill out, and there were about two dozen blanks for kids. Apparently grandparents who buy memberships can put all their grandkids on their membership, and take them for free. It occurred to me, briefly, that no one would know if I put down Lucy and Jane - our "nearly nieces," the children of BJ's best friend Brandon - as my kids, so I could bring them for free. After all, if grandparents can list all their grandkids, why couldn't I list my nearly nieces? I hesitated for a minute, then decided that I would rather spend the extra $20 ($100, instead of $80) to get the membership plus two guests package, than be dishonest. (Besides, then I can bring grandparents, or the neighbor kids, or whoever I want on that "plus two"! What a deal!)

So, the price of my integrity is greater than $7. Greater than $20. But is there a level at which things are so small that they don't matter? If something was $5, or $3, would I just take it?

Nope. I've gone back in the grocery store and paid for a case of pop that I accidentally stole. I've used the U-Scan at Walmart to pay for an item that I accidentally forgot to ring through the first time. I called the grocery store from their parking lot to return a package of batteries that MG stole (and ate) while she was in that cart that looks like a car thing (if they're going to put toddlers in the front of a cart, near the floor, where Mom can't see them, they have to expect batteries to get eaten once in a while!). I always count my change, and I always give it back when they make an error in my favor - even if it's a very small one.

I guess maybe it's because I believe in karma. I'm pretty sure that if I steal that package of batteries or take the extra change I'm going to get hit by a car on the way home. That's just the way my life works. Maybe I'm a little too much like (My Name is) Earl. Or maybe I have such a good life, that I feel like it's my responsibility to keep deserving it, so I try to maintain good karma in order to not feel like I'm a big phony.

We're government contractors (at work). I keep the books. Government auditors come regularly to make sure that I'm doing things properly. They like me honest to the penny. Tax-payers probably appreciate it, too.

I guess it makes me wonder when people started to feel so entitled. Is it because they look at Walmart and see a company, and not people? If the duck had been from a little Mom & Pop Boutique, where the blogger knew the owners, would she have felt differently about returning it? Why?

I wrote, in my comment, "Stealing is stealing, whether you get caught or not, whether you have kids or not, and whether you did it on purpose or not. Even if you didn't put the item there (or fail to ring it up) on purpose, as soon as you realize the mistake and keep the item anyway, you have stolen it! Whether it costs $0.01 or $100 or $100,000." In order to teach that truth to my kids, I need to live it. Every day. Kids do as you do, not as you say. If I say, "Don't steal!" a thousand times, but they catch me stealing once, I've just taught them two things 1) it's ok to steal, and 2) it's ok to ignore what Mom says. Yes, even though they're babies. MG already says "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me" at 21 months - without being prompted. She is learning by my example every single day. I truly believe that it begins at birth.

I'm not saying that I'm any sort of a paragon of virtue. I have done some things in my life of which I am not proud. I believe that I've apologized and made amends for most of those things, as well as I can. (If not, I'm sorry!) I also don't believe that mothers are (or should be) any more noble than anyone else. I guess it just makes me a little bit sad that we live in a world where the vast majority of the people commenting on that blog are saying, "I would've kept it, too," and "It doesn't matter." It DOES matter.

At least, it matters to me. And I hope that it will matter to my kids. And I hope that by addressing this issue here, maybe I can help someone look at it another way.


FENICLE said...

I totally see your point. I read over at Kristen's and then your comments and post.

I fess up to keeping things I somehow ended up with for free. Not because I originally intended to steal them, but ended up with them. But I admit not going back to correct it.

My only issue is that there will always be something that someone does - that they don't fess up to! Like banging someone's door with your car door in the parking happens....

jail diet said...

Let the iron burn my skin off until you be my friend.

Mommy said...

Ummm... Ok Yoda.

Erin said...

We discovered this past weekend that Katelynn has some sticky fingers. The first time she was being held by Grandpa Long and he realized before he left the store that Katelynn had picked up a magnet that said "Sheryl" on it. He promptly put it back. The second time, Katelynn grabbed a Garfield keychain at Cracker Barrel while being held by Grandpa Good. Grandpa went straight to the counter and paid for it before anyone forgot.

But I agree, if it's humanly possible, we try to correct the situation. Teaching starts at a way earlier age than we ever thought!

Name Changed to Protect the Guilty said...

I think an answer to the question of 'is theft ever ok?' has a lot to do with your economic status and the ease at which something is 'stolen".

If you can easily afford a $7 duck, then it's really no big deal; simply return it (since you probably already have an equivalent item) or buy it. But, if you can't afford it and then find yourself with one, well, then you may feel entitled or at least justified in not taking it back. Now, this is just a $7 duck but it can easily be something else.

I consider myself to be honest (to a fault) yet I was a broke college student for a while and I'll admit that I was easily able to justify to myself installing and using software that I never paid for. I couldn't really afford to dish out $200 for an operating system just to be able to run a computer I needed, let allow upgrade every few years. (Video games were a different story.) So it became easy to justify it, particularly knowing that a large company would be alright without my money. Today, with a full-time job, it's much easier to afford operating systems and so I do.

At the same time, it was very easy to do. (Way) Back then, all you needed was to copy the CD key along with the disc and you were set so opportunity plays a large role - I would have never shoplifted the software or broken in a place to get it.

But if you want to look at opportunity and people justifying theft, check out the Slashdot archives or the next time someone posts something about digital rights management of music and most of the posts will be in favor of 'freely' exchangeable files, like mg3s. Or recently the cracking of the next generation DVD protection algorithm. The 'net was a virtual buzz of protests when sites started removing the key to crack these protections. My guess is that most of these people wouldn't shoplift the CD or DVD off the store shelf either.

So, an unpaid for $7 duck winding up in your bags is perhaps too easy of an example of honesty. I think to know if you're really an honest person is to ask yourself if you are honest when no one is looking.

Anonymous said...

Is stealing from a store unacceptable but copying a cd for yourself or a friend is considered okay???? I think that behind every good person is someone that doesn't even realize that they are stealing. If I get the dog food for free (which was hanging out of the front of my cart and the woman still didn't see it) I don't think that it is my responsibility to correct her. However, I do take money back to a bank. But I copy cds and may try the cherries at the grocery store.....

Mommy said...

Anon -

I think that copying a CD for yourself (or making a mix CD, which is what I generally do, so I don`t hit someone when I`m trying to switch songs on the highway) or a friend falls under Fair Use, but if you copy CDs and sell them, then you are breaking the law...

I`m not a lawyer, though, so I don`t really know for sure.