Ethical Dilemma: Would You Turn a Thief In Without a Thought?

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Thou shall not steal. – The 8th Commandment of God in the Old Testament 

Whether you follow Judaism, Christianity, Islam, any other religion, or no religion at all, the chances are that you abide by this commandment. You believe it to be the right thing. This is what is taught in society.

Then again, you’ve likely realized that not everything in life is black and white. While theft, in general, is a crime and theft laws vary from location to location, the situation surrounding the crime is not always the same. Additionally, Sometimes, we may feel sympathy – or even empathy – for the perpetrator.

Professional burglars who stake out empty houses to clean them out of valuable items is on thing. The same goes for people who rob convenience stores and hold up banks. These criminals are also often serial recidivists who go back to their shady lives even after doing time in jail.

But what about people who steal because of other, arguably justified, reasons?

The stories

Scenario 1

ethical dilemma theft

A single mother has no job with three young children to feed. She has tried to get back in the workforce to no avail. Her social benefits – if any – are not enough to keep the family alive. After days of having not eaten at all, she turns to stealing fruit from a fruit stand.

Classic story.

Scenario 2

You employ a housecleaner who is by no means well off. She is the breadwinner of the family, and while you pay her a decent wage, it is not always enough for her to get by. You catch her taking money from your wallet.

Scenario 3

You’re downtown doing some shopping. It’s generally considered to be a safe place and not the hunting ground of petty criminals like pickpockets, yet their presence is not unheard of. You catch a teenage boy trying to snatch your wallet from your pocket.

His background: abusive parents; left the home to live on the streets; no guidance; basically a misguided young soul.

The ethical dilemma

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe that stealing is stealing and it has to have its consequences.

But, let’s say you find  yourself in one of the situations above. You have the option to immediately call the police and turn the perps in or to deal with the situation in a different manner.

What different manner, you ask.

How about talking to the person – especially if it’s someone like your housekeeper – and finding a way to help them and make them realize there is no need to resort to crime?

There is also the option of seeking help from social workers or non-profit organizations, especially for minors, single moms, and abused individuals.

So there you have your choices. Would you turn them in, or would you find another way?

Another one to consider: Ethical Dilemma #5 – Would You Lie?

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