Virtual Voices

Little integrity tests

Culture

My friend Jill works with high school kids. The schools let her in to talk about purity and chastity and saving yourself for marriage, all old-fashioned concepts.

Another old-fashioned concept is that of not taking what is not yours. I have phrased that awkwardly, but it needs to be put in a negative way because this is not even about the virtue of giving and generosity but about the far more basic social nicety of not stealing. Jill told me she asked the students: "If I walked out of the classroom and you noticed that I dropped a $20 bill, would you return it to me?" They replied that since they knew her they would, but if she were a stranger they would not.

This is a subtle---and seismic---change from when we fiftysomethings were kids. Not that every kid in those days would return a lost item (remember "finders keepers"?), but there was a strong social consensus that there is a definitive difference between what belongs to us and what belongs to another. The consensus in our present day is that the item belongs to the person who is fortunate to get his hands on it. Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book (1970) may not have been the kick-off of this modern Weltanschauung, but it is when it caught my attention.

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Here is a self-check test you can try at home (or at Kmart) to ascertain your own degree of modernity. Monitor your reaction when the cashier undercharges you for something. Do you immediately think to bring it to her attention? Or are there five seconds when you contemplate keeping your mouth shut? Or to you "count it all gain" and praise the Lord for his unexpected gift?

And speaking of Kmart and other too-big-to-care companies, do you justify not returning the toilet paper rolls that neither you nor the cashier noticed because they were on the bottom rack of your shopping cart, on the rationalization that it's not stealing when you take from a rich company, as opposed to when you take from a person?

Maybe someone out there can get a Ph.D. analyzing how the rising "entitlement" mentality of America is feeding into this creative new morality. (As someone has said, if you invite a guest to dinner who doesn't believe in traditional morality, be sure to count the silverware when he leaves.)

I have a friend in prison who walked half a mile to the prison store to return a $2 box of oatmeal that had been given to him in error. His cellies thought he was crazy. A month later, when he was overcharged by $40 for a $2 pack of batteries, the store lady believed him because she recognized the man who had been honest about the $2 box of oatmeal.

Paul Miller, in A Praying Life, tells about publishing doors that had opened for him---but that came with little integrity tests. Aren't those the hardest things of all? It seems like God is giving you green lights, but in order to sail through them, you have to do something just this side of moral.

To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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