Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thou shalt not steal.

Commandment number seven for Roman Catholics and number eight for Protestants, Mormons, and I don't know what number for Jews, commands us not to steal. This has been a subject of recent controversy in my family. A relative has found himself on the wrong side of the legal system after allegedly helping himself to a crate of disposable douches before they could be unloaded from a truck into a grocery store.

Stealing is obviously not a good thing. We all know this if only because, from our own egocentric perspectives, we know that we wouldn't like it if someone stole from us. Yet there is a breaking point -- a point at which one would resort to taking what was not rightfully his or hers --for almost everyone. For some, this breaking point is simply a situation in which the theft is not likely to be detected. For others, a bigger safety margin would ne necessary: if the chance of getting away with it were virtually guaranteed, some among us would then feel it was acceptable to steal. For others, only an exigent situation such as one's children going hungry without the unlawful procurement of food or money would render stealing an acceptable practice.

WhAt constitutes stealing isn't totally clear-cut, either. If a person sees a quarter on a sidewalk and no one who might bave dropped it is anywhere around, is it stealing to pick up the quarter, or must one leave it where it has fallen? What if it's a one-hundred-dollar bill and not a quarter that one spots? What if one discovers that a cashier has given him or her one dollar more in change than should have been given? Must it be returned? What if the amount is twenty dollars more than what should have been given? What if the discrepancy of change in one's favor occurs while one is traveling, and the error is not discovered until the recipient has traveled over one hundred miles from the site of the transaction?

Furthermore, where do things like borrowing a paper clip from one's place of employment, or making a few unauthorized personal copies on the office machine figure into the equation? Or what should one do if a vending machine coughs up a soda before the full price has been deposited? If one drops in the remaining quarter and walks away, the next person will get his or her soda before dropping in the correct coinage and will be faced with the same dilemma. What's really the point, other than honesty for the sheer sake of honesty?

Most of us have heard the story of Abraham Lincoln walking many miles to return some piddling sum like a penny to its rightful owner. With the value of a cent being what it is in today's world, I would not travel any great distance to return a penny that had erroneaouly fallen into my possession. I certainly hope I would make the effort if twenty dollars were involved, although I've never had my character tested in such a fashion. I suspect that the vast majority of us fall somewhere between the one-penny mark and the one-hundred-dollar mark when it comes to the point at which we feel we cannot hold on to something that does not belong to us. On the other hand, maybe for some, the greater the amount, the more likely it is that they would keep what was not rightfully theirs. Perhaps some who would make a public display of returning seventy-five cents to a tired or arithmetic-challenged cashier would remain silent were a larger error to be committed in their favor.

My uncle who was caught helping himself to the hefty package of feminine hygiene products was prone to Pharisee-like public displays of pointing out store clerks' one-cent errors and returning the penny in question, and seemed to actually believe the hype he was attempting to create for himself. Yet, at the same time, he liberally supplemented his earnings with goods and supplies from the public and private sectors on a regular basis for decades. Did he really not see the conflict between what he publicly professed and what he did when he thought no one was watching? Only he and God can answer the previous question.

All of this being said, I can state without equivocation that disposable douches are not an item I would care to steal. It is within the realm of possibility that my uncle had a compelling need for the disposable douches. It may have been that one or more of the females in the family were feeling particularly unfresh to the extent that my uncle was having a difficult time providing for his family in that regard. Or then, it may also have been that he had no idea what a douche, disposable or otherwise, really is and and just what is its use. One thing is almost certain: my uncle's wife and daughters are probably even more humiliated than he is right now.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an illness. Left untreated, sadly.