Morality of Theft

I went shopping today to pick up WIC items and a few other miscellaneous things.  I usually start with the general merchandise and then move over to the grocery section of Wal-Mart, starting at the back of the store and working my way up to the produce department before heading to the checkout stands.

It was in the produce section that I noticed a lady staring at Luna with a look of utter disgust on her face.  I had been busily selecting various fruits to fill the $10 and $6 vouchers that WIC provides us with.  It involves the Notes and Calculator applications on my phone and a lot of internal dialogue, but I do periodically look up to check on my progeny.  My initial thought upon seeing this strange person glaring at my child was, “Jeez lady! If you hate kids that much, you should seriously consider having your groceries delivered!”

Freya was buckled into her carseat on the top of cart and was obstructing my view of Luna and the groceries in the cart.  Since the creepy woman wouldn’t quit staring at my precious Luna, I began to really wonder what her problem was and if my kids were in some danger.  I decided to walk around the cart to stand between it and this odd person.

That’s when I noticed what the woman might have been staring so contentedly–albeit maliciously–at.  Luna had food on her face.  Now, that is not an out-of-the-ordinary thing to see on a toddler.  I sometimes don’t even bother to wash her face when she’s eaten right before we need to go somewhere, figuring toddlers are just going to get dirty.  But Luna hadn’t eaten anything prior to our shopping trip that would have stained her face.  Yet she had food on her face nonetheless, specifically mango juice and apple bits.

That’s when I realized, to my chagrin, that Luna had bitten into two mangoes and an apple.  This strange lady had been disgusted by my toddler’s theft and my apparent indifference.  I, however, am not indifferent to theft.  I slapped Luna’s hand and told her at eye level that she is not supposed to eat things we haven’t yet payed for.

This is not a new concept to Luna.  At the deli one day, I had ordered a cup of popcorn chicken for Luna while picking up various other things for a quick meal to take home to Robert.  Luna wanted to eat her chicken right away, but I told her we don’t eat things we haven’t yet paid for.  The lady behind the counter said that it was okay, that Luna could eat, that people do it all the time.  No, I don’t.

My parents used to get food for their four children when we would all go shopping together.  They would grab donuts or cookies or some other quick snack item and maybe a can of soda (when the stores sold them individually) and we would walk around the store consuming the merchandise.  When we arrived at the counter, the items were not paid for and weren’t mentioned.  This didn’t happen at every shopping trip, and my mother contends that she intended they be paid for, but my memory is that we were not chastised for tossing the trash and walking out of the store.  I also remember commandeering towels and pillows at hotels during family road trips.

The morality of theft is a conundrum of sorts for me.  I am not, for instance, averse to the concept of what I call Robin Hood theft, that is to say taking things because you do not have them and truly need them, like when a street person yanks an apple from an outdoor fruit stand because they are starving.  I am, however, averse to the concept of greedy theft, like when someone swipes a diamond necklace from a store just cause they want it.

When I was a Wal-Mart greeter, theft was something I dealt with daily.  I had to check receipts of customers, at the insistence of management.  While some were cordial and understanding, others would yell things at me, accusing me of accusing them of theft.  One woman told me I was a racist.  While most of the receipts belonged to upstanding citizens, I did occasionally come across a person who had been attempting to take merchandise.  I even helped the store catch thieves.

What I never understood was the honest accidental thief.  The type of person who absentmindedly walks out of the store with a small amount of merchandise after paying for other merchandise, only to walk right back in the store and pay for the item.  Once you’ve stolen the item and gotten away with it, why return to pay for it?  I suppose it was their conscious getting the better of them; once I went back into a store to pay for mints I’d accidentally walked out with, but it was because it was the store my husband works for and I didn’t want him to get into trouble if they somehow caught me on tape walking out with them.

I can honestly say that I have walked out of stores with merchandise accidentally in the past, only to keep the merchandise once I discovered my mistake.  It was usually something small, a tube of lipstick, a notebook, a pen.  With all the profit the conglomerations have made off of my necessary and impulse purchases over the years, are they really going to hurt all that much if a $0.50 notebook goes missing?

I can also honestly say that I have stolen merchandise on purpose before, but was Robin Hoodish, taking food when I couldn’t afford food.  It is not something I am altogether proud of, but it is something I felt I had to do at the time.

But I am trying to teach my children not to steal, if for no other reason than to keep them out of prison in the future.  So I tell Luna we do not use things we have not paid for, and I try to make sure I don’t accidentally walk out with items, and I check to make sure she doesn’t walk out with items either.

I had a customer when I was a greeter that would never notice her son taking a ball from the store until they’d reached the parking lot.  This happened at every shopping visit.  Every time she would return and purchase the ball.  This kid probably had a huge stockpile of them at home.  All he was learning was that mommy would always correct his mistakes for him.  Etiher tell your kid stealing is totally fine or tell your kid that it is not.  Don’t buy the thing they stole.

But I never told her my opinion.  I don’t think it’s right for me to actually tell someone how to raise their child, just like I didn’t think it was right for that deli employee to tell me how to raise my hcild, and just like I don’t appreciate the behaviour of that woman in the produce section.  It is my job to teach my own child the morality of theft, whatever that morality may be.

Robin Hood–Robin Hood and Little John runnin’ thru the forest, jumpin’ fences dodgin’ trees and tryin’ to get away.  Contemplatin’ nothin’ but escape and fin’ly makin’ it Oo-de-lally, Hoo-de-lally, golly what a day!

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