Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Just a minor crime

Last night I wrote my first post criticizing an advice column and the writers of the same.  Tonight, I write my second column along the same lines.  

I was going through my old newspapers and came across the following article in Parade Magazine.  It was published on September 25, 2005, page 17.  The writer of the column, if I remember correctly, claims to have the highest I.Q. in the United States (maybe in the world, I don’t know).  The following is the complete published question and the complete published answer.

“I saw a neighbor shoplift from a local store.  When I reminded her that she didn’t pay for the item, she said that the store overcharges, and she was just getting even.  Our family is friends with hers: If I had reported her behavior, the friendship would be lost.  But by ignoring the theft, I felt like a party to it.  As I respect your ethical sensibility, I’d like to know what you would have done.”
—V., Atlanta, Ga.

“I’d have done the same.  You didn’t ignore the theft: You pointed it out to the culprit.  That helped both her and the store.  Good for you!  She probably was embarrassed and—I hope—will be less likely to commit the act again.  

But if you had no effect on her, and she repeats the behavior, she’s going to be caught someday.  In the meantime, I would have a little chat with her over the kitchen table and ask if she has shoplifted before.  If she has, I would suggest that she go online, read about the subject and then seek professional help.”

Mind you, this response is from an individual who claims to have the highest I.Q. in the United States.  This is absolutely the wrong advice.  But, it is not unexpected.  It is situation ethics at its finest.  If the letter writer “respect(ed) your ethical sensibilities” before, she should not now.  The columnist’s ethics are in the sewer.

The shoplifter committed a crime.  The letter writer’s response does not help the store.  The store is out the item stolen.  No one can reasonably believe that mentioning to her that you saw the crime is going to stop it from happening in the future.  She was caught and nothing negative happened.  (Isn’t that the same as a positive reinforcement?)  It is also not guaranteed that she will some day in the future be caught.  But, even if she is, how far in the future will that be?  How much will be stolen before she is caught, if ever?  

Let’s kick up the crime to a higher magnitude and look at the same response by the columnist.  “I was walking with a friend, we walked past a tall male that I’d never seen before, my friend pulled out a gun from her purse and shot him dead on the street.

She said he once hit her a few years ago and she has been waiting to get even with him.  I felt bad but don’t want to lose the friendship we have cultivated.  I pointed out that she should not have shot the man.  Ethically, what should I have done?”

“Why, I would have done the same thing.  You let her know that what she did was wrong.  She is probably embarrassed that she killed him in front of you.  You did the man a favor also.  Now, he doesn’t have to go through a court trial and possibly end up in prison.  Good for you!  If she continues killing, she will eventually get caught.  You might want to talk to her about this compulsion to kill people in order to get revenge.  Hopefully, she will seek professional help and stop killing people.”  

Does the advice from the columnist seem ridiculous now?  It should.  

The woman by not reporting the crime she saw has also committed a crime.  It is called obstruction of justice.  “Obstruction of Justice, interfering with the enforcement of law, often by concealing (my underline) or destroying evidence of criminal actions.” (Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation.)  The evidence she is concealing is her eyewitness account of the crime as it was being committed.  Not only did the shoplifter commit a crime; so did the letter writer.

Friends don’t commit crimes in front of friends.  Friends don’t rationalize their crime to their friends.  Friends don’t let friends get away with committing crimes.

I know this to be a true account.  A young girl of about twelve shoplifted a bottle of liquor from a local grocery store.  When her father found out, which was rather soon because she had passed out on a nearby street, he gave her a choice.  She must either go back to the store with him and confess her actions to the store manager or he would take the liquor back, tell the manager who did the crime, and let nature take its course.  She chose to go back to the store and confess her crime.  

The shoplifter should have been given the same two choices.  Go back, return the merchandise, and confess that she took it without paying or the letter writer would report her crime to the proper authorities.  That’s true friendship.  

Friends don’t let friends commit crimes!!!  



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