Heavy subjects, huh? And I was trying to figure out how to express what I am thinking about those issues, without sounding unduly cranky. But I have been thinking about those subjects for several days.
As I mentioned to you recently, I discovered about a year and a half ago that I had been embezzled, which was a shocking and deeply upsetting experience for me. The person who did it said in court that she did it out of jealousy, and that it never seemed wrong to her, until she got caught. And only then did it occur to her that she was a thief. Those were her exact words in court.
Recently, I tried to buy a piece of art, and the person I was about to buy it from, misrepresented their status with the artist, and tried to charge me more than the going rate. I didn’t buy the piece from that person in the end, because my trust in them had been damaged.
Also recently, I met a person at a dinner party, whom I later learned had committed a financial scam and gotten away with it, without being prosecuted. It involved taking money that they weren’t entitled to. And yesterday, I heard about a young widow who was financially ‘cleaned out’ by her boyfriend.
I guess this stuff has always gone on, dishonesty is not new, nor are scams and crimes. And maybe I’m just sensitive to it because of the embezzlement I experienced, but it just seems like I’m hearing more and more about incidents like these. It really makes me wonder what’s going on, and why it feels like we’re hearing more and more about things like this these days. The young widow in question needed the money. I work incredibly hard for mine, which the embezzler knew well. I’m not a slacker, I work like a dog, and I supported a lot of kids while she was stealing from me. And stealing from an institution isn’t right either, although stealing from an individual seems worse and more personally destructive. And then there are the dishonesties on a massive world-impacting scale, like the BP oil spill, which has affected our environment, cost lives, destroyed wildlife, and will ultimately deprive fishermen of their ability to make a living. The enormity of that disaster is hard to conceive of, and yet we are told that they knew of safety failures and continued pumping oil anyway,even at high risk. Have massive numbers of people suddenly subscribed to the Bernie Madoff school of ethics? I personally know of 3 people who were personally impacted by Madoff’s scam, and were financially wiped out, 2 of them are in their 90’s and lost everything they had worked a lifetime for. The indecency and heartlessness of it is so enormous that it’s hard to wrap your mind around it. And it would appear that many of the people who have committed these crimes and offenses seem to feel no remorse.
The question running through my mind is whether these are individual shocking crimes, or is somehow the fabric and moral fiber of our society getting threadbare and wearing thin? Why are we hearing more about crimes like these?? Has the financial crisis frightened people so much that they suddenly give themselves a pass on ripping off someone else? (The crime against me was committed long before the economic crisis, and for many, many years, so there’s no excuse there). Are people reacting out of panic, in some sort of moral freefall from honesty and grace??? Have our standards changed? Do we need to redefine honesty? Have people lost their boundaries, or sense of right and wrong? Has our definition of honesty gotten fuzzy? Lying, cheating, and stealing have never been okay.
I would not steal a carton of milk from the grocery store, and neither would you, I assume. I wouldn’t help myself to what’s in someone else’s purse, because I like it, nor take someone else’s money. And yet, I keep hearing of situations where some kind of major dishonesty has occurred, and the person who did it finds some way of making it okay to themselves. One of my children was ripped off in a major way by her best friend of l8 years. Her friend stole from her and from several others in their group. She never sent an apology for what she’d done. No conscience? Bad manners? Compulsion? Pathological? Or some kind of new morality that makes taking what belongs to someone else okay? (Isn’t that a scary thought!!) And how far does it go? Is it okay to take someone else’s husband, or grab their purse, steal their wallet, their dog maybe, take something dear to them, or put them at financial risk? Is it okay now not to follow the rules of society, and our laws, as long as we get what we want out of it??
There have always been dishonest people in the world. But so many of them? So many scams? During the investigation of my embezzlement, the FBI told me that crime is up. Why? Panic? The economy? Less supervision at home as kids? Are people no longer sharing with their children the basic old fashioned rules? I recently ran into a situation where someone else’s actions, caused me to have to hire attorneys, and although it cost me a considerable amount of money, through no fault of mine, everyone thought that was okay. No one apologized, or offered to make it up to me in any way.
All added up, I find these incidents shocking. And I am wondering where it starts. I’ve heard people delighted that a waiter didn’t add up the check right, in their favor, and they were positively gloating when they left the restaurant, or if the waiter forgot to add in the wine.
I’m thinking that the answer rests with each of us, to be scrupulously honest in every instance, with money, with people, and about our mistakes. That even if we need the money, we HAVE to tell the waiter or the cashier or the salesperson that they gave us too much change, and give it back. There is no victory in stealing what we’re not meant to have. There will always be criminals and crooks in the world, it’s inevitable. But maybe the key is not to let them taint the way we view and treat the world. Taking anything not meant for us is wrong. Lying is wrong. And if our boundaries get blurred, and we get ‘soft’ on the concept of honesty and integrity—what happens to our society after that? How far does it go? Yesterday, someone reported on a whole conversation they never had with me. Lying isn’t okay either, even if it gets someone what they want.
I think we need to get crystal clear on what is honest and what isn’t, what is ours and what isn’t (even if we wish it was), and be scrupulously honest ourselves. Our integrity is one of our most precious gifts. If we damage it or give it up, the essence of our morality becomes damaged. I don’t think we can afford to sacrifice our integrity, or compromise it, neither on a personal level, nor on a broader scale. Integrity and honesty are not gray areas, they are black and white. None of these people I mentioned were Robin Hoods, stealing to give it to someone else. They all hung on to what they stole for their own benefit and use.
I think honesty and integrity begin with each one of us. It’s up to us to police ourselves, to correct a mistake, and to stay on track. And maybe if each of us does that, all added up, we will make this a better world. I don’t want to live in a society where I have to look over my shoulder constantly, to see who is ripping me off, or try to figure out the latest scam. And if as a society, we have gotten fuzzy on the concept of honesty and integrity, we need to clean that one up fast before it takes us all down. We need to be scrupulously honest and responsible for ourselves, and share that message with our children, so they are clear on what is okay and what isn’t, and what is just plain wrong. All those people doing scams and committing crimes were once someone’s children. What did their parents say to them, or failed to, and what behavior and level of honesty did they model for them at home?
You may have been the victim of a crime too. But even if you haven’t been, how many times have you been short changed, or been disappointed in the lack of honesty of someone you work with, or even a friend. I think this is something we really need to watch and keep our eye on. Just as BP has polluted the ocean with their oil spill, our daily world has become polluted by petty dishonesties, sometimes so subtly that it’s easy to close your eyes to it. But just like the BP oil spill, if we don’t get a grip on the small dishonesties, and refuse to tolerate the scams and lack of integrity we see around us, the decency and integrity of our world will be poisoned forever. It starts with us, on a small scale, and like ripples on a pond, it will spread out from there. Let’s try to be the pebble of integrity, sending out ripples of honesty in this troubled world. Even our own small efforts will ultimately make it a much better place.