By Christine Clark
Casualties of the ruptured housing bubble mark the landscape of several cities in Florida, as in the rest of the nation. One of those soon-to-be-foreclosed, vacant houses is across the street and two doors down from where I live. The house has been empty for about eight months, not that I’m channeling Bewitched’s Gladys Kravitz from my windows.
I walk my dogs past the house several times a day and have watched the lot’s progression from well kept to its now-neglected state. I have also noted several large terra cotta flowerpots on the front walkway and in the backyard through an opening in the fence, not that I’ve studied it or anything.
My thinking—rationalizing—is the following: I’m out of large terra cotta flowerpots. I need more terra cotta flowerpots. I want to go into my former neighbor’s yard—maybe after dark with a flashlight—and take (steal) those flowerpots. I mean, they aren’t being used except for some dead plants and trees. I hate to see them go to waste. I might even be able to rescue the plants in those pots. No one wants them. It’s possible that when the house is sold, the new owners will throw them away. But it isn’t even on the market yet. The former owners allowed the people living right next door to haul the other junk in the yard to the dump. Maybe I could ask them if the flowerpots are part of that junk and tell them I will be happy to take care of them. Those flowerpots would have a happy home at my house and be filled with flowers, shrubs, and trees.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. I know it’s wrong, so I will not steal those pots or anything else. If I did, I could begin a slide toward other unethical behaviors. Trees, shrubs, and flowers also remain in that yard. If I took the pots, maybe my next step would be to dig up whatever I choose. Then maybe I would try to get inside. Perhaps a window is not locked. Nobody is using the appliances and curtains and shades. Why not take them, too? If everything is locked, why not break in?
Ethics and morals begin with simple decisions. The first decision in this case would be simply to not trespass, and then all the other possibilities for illegal, unethical behavior diminish and disappear. I would not and will not take those flowerpots because it is wrong. To be honest, I have entertained the thought, but that’s as far as I have gone. I am embarrassed to admit to myself or anyone else that I have even considered taking the pots.
I am faced with small decisions every day and how I respond affects not only me, but everyone around me. When I make the right decisions, a cascade of positive reactions ensues. When I make the wrong decisions, the negative cascade of reactions hits me and everyone else.
Being honest and ethical in small things adds up to being ethical and honest in all things. How do you respond when tempted to do something that is maybe even a little bit wrong? What do you do to avoid that slippery slope… even if it is limited to your thoughts?