My father raised me and my siblings with a sense of honesty that echoed the stories about Abe Lincoln walking back to a store to return a penny. I remember Dad driving back to a store to return a dime when a cashier gave him that much too much change and he hadn't noticed until he got home.
Now, that was back in the day when a dime could buy you a loaf of good whole-wheat bread. (Or two loaves of white bread-substitute, as Dad put it.) And that was a whole loaf, not the third-loaf packs of partial whole wheat bread we usually buy for between 160 and 230 yen.
So when the decorative hammer loop on these ancient blue jeans I'm wearing today caught a pack of breaded squid rings and knocked it to the floor in the store, I was wanting to talk to a clerk, buy the whole pack but ask them to discard the one squid that ended up on the floor.
The store manager was in the checkout lane I was lined up in, but he did not want to talk about it. He had four lines of customers nearly filling his small store, and it was the time of day that the volume would make the day's quota of profits.
Now I see that I had two options that would have partially or wholly satisfied my conscience.
- Just close the pack back up with the dirty ring in it, buy it, and throw it all away when I got home. That would make the manager whole, and I would take the 189+tax yen loss. But he would not have approved.
- Or take the manager's offer and buy a fresh one and let him dump the spoiled one. That would allow me to split the loss with him, and I don't think he'd have disapproved.
Taking the dirty ring out so I and my kids could eat the clean ones was not an option. There was no room to perform that kind of operation, and walking around with the pack open so I could find a place to do so would have invited misconceptions about what I was trying to do, and would possibly have wasted store personnel time in tracking my actions.
Having the "personal faith" to put the ring back and taking them back home for the family to eat them was also not an option, of course. It's not just my faith at question there.
I'm not smart enough to live according to my conscience.
I left that store on my bicycle and went to another store. Had to walk through that store carrying a tied grocery bag containing what I had bought at the the first store. This is not just a bad example that might give others ideas about how to shoplift, it makes it harder for the people at that store to keep track of potential shoplifters.
Leaving the bag in the basket on my bike is not an option, of course, not even in Japan.
The thing I should do is get or make a big bicycle baggage carrier with a lock. Then I could safely leave stuff on the bike. Maybe not in the States, but it would be okay in Japan.
I don't have the money to do that.
I'm not making enough money to live according to my conscience.
Now I know that this is not my fault. It's the world we live in. Mass produced merchandise makes things available to relatively poor people that have not been available in the past, but those things don't really help poor people do the things that would enable them to quit being poor.
Jumping past the analysis of what rich people do to the world to make themselves rich, God allows this world to exist.
He doesn't ask us to do things we can't do. He just asks us to make the best choices we can from the options that are available to us.
So, I'll just have to try to think more quickly next time I break something at the store. And try to remember to arrange my path around the stores to allow me to carry the purchases in ways that don't set the bad example or require store personnel to try to guess whether my implicit assertion that the stuff in the tied bag is not from their store is legitimate.
And let the disturbances to my conscience keep me on my toes, rather than induce me to quit caring.