Accidental shoplifting

The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.
Socrates
470 B.C. – 399 B.C.

One of my Saturday morning rituals is to head to Target to do household shopping. Gallon jugs of bottled water are among the staples I buy every trip. Normally I have at least six gallons, so when I go through the checkout line, I put one jug as the first item to be scanned and tell the cashier how many bottles are still in the basket.

One recent Saturday, I’d finished making my purchases and was unloading the groceries into the car. As I picked up the last jug of water, I discovered two snack bars that had been hidden behind it. Apparently, when I was stacking things in the top section of the basket, the snack bars had slipped through the gap and fallen behind the water.

I instinctively looked around to see if anyone had noticed that I was an accidental shoplifter. But there were no guards or security personnel sizing me up or marching purposefully in my direction.

With no conscious thought, various conflicting ideas began to run through my mind. It’s only two snack bars. You didn’t pay for them. It’s only two dollars. No one saw you. You didn’t do it intentionally. There are perishable foods in the car. It’s starting to get warm. The food might spoil. If you go back, the lines might be long. You might have to wait 10 minutes to get checked out. Don’t worry about the bars. It’s no big deal.

I’m not sure what triggered all these rationalizations and justifications. I hadn’t intentionally considered what to do. But for a short time, my mind was conjuring up lots of conflicting messages.

I silenced the random thoughts and asked myself a question which has often served me well: what’s the right thing to do? When faced with a moral dilemma, either large or small, I suggest you stop and ask the same question.

By the way, I was lucky; the line wasn’t long.

It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.
Noel Coward
1899 – 1973

Copyright © 2019 John Chancellor


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