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There seems to be a small matter of conscience – that is missing conscience – afoot in social interactions today.

We are deluged with stories of people stealing gasoline and other people’s social security checks, pilfering company profits, looting retirement accounts, misstating their income, hiding relationships from primary partners, defrauding customers, selling bad loans, hiding defects in automobiles and houses… right down to pirating software and every new movie that somebody next door has a copy of.  It’s not hard to see why people in the fragile occupations are looking over their shoulders.


What would it be like if everyone just did the right thing?


It is not like there is a lot of room for error now.  Our transgressions seem to be catching up with us pretty quickly.   I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the world’s intention of going to “hell in a handbasket” seems to be picking up speed.   And we really can’t expect anything to change – if we don’t work on our own behaviour first.


Someone asked me to cut corners yesterday… because “nobody would know about it.”   It reminded me of this story.

hand and zucchini
hand and zucchini

Once there was a teacher of school children in a Buddhist country who was considered very practical.
Like all schoolteachers there, he was expected to give the children a complete education.  


One day he gathered all the children closely around him, and said in a quiet voice – “We are going to learn today a little bit about what is ‘o.k.’ stealing, and what is ‘not o.k.’ stealing.    And the children gathered even closer, and one of the girls asked… because she was certainly confused… “What is ‘o.k.’ stealing?”


And the schoolteacher replied, “That is stealing when nobody sees.”


So the next day, as they began to sit down for their lessons, the teacher said, “Before we begin our lessons, we are going to go back out into the village to see if we can put into practice what we talked about yesterday – about stealing.   Do you remember what I said about ‘o.k.’ stealing and ‘not o.k.’ stealing?”  And all the schoolchildren said, “Yes.”
“So,” the schoolteacher said, “We will walk to the village and stop in the market.  Do not take anything large.  Even a grain of rice is enough.  But be sure it is only ‘o.k.’ stealing… when no one sees.  So be sure of that, before you do it.  And then come back to me.”


The children went nervously out to the market, and eventually… after an hour had passed… all of them except one had returned to the schoolteacher. They showed him a little bit of rice, a pencil, a grain of corn, even one boy had a piece of fruit.  The schoolteacher said nothing one way or the other.  Still there was one boy who did not appear.
Finally the schoolteacher told the children to return to the classroom and went hunting for the missing boy.  He located him wandering among the stalls with a very sad expression on his face.
“You have a problem?” asked the schoolteacher.  “Yes,” said the boy.
“Well,” said the teacher, “Come back to the classroom and tell us about it.”


When they had returned, the schoolteacher asked the boy, “Did you find anything to steal at the market?”


“No,” said the boy.  “Why is that?” asked the teacher.


“Well,” the boy replied, “You said ‘o.k.’ stealing is when nobody can see, and everywhere I went, I could see.”
April 2021

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