Thursday, March 21, 2013

$5.35 Plus Tax: The Price of Honesty

Doing the Right Thing
Isn’t Always Right
Making a Conscious Choice to Steal

A camisole, but not the camisole

$5.35. That’s the cost (minus tax) of the camisole I decided to steal. No, I didn’t walk into ________ (retail establishment to remain unnamed) with a suitcase-sized purse and stash said camisole when nobody was looking. No, I didn’t go into the dressing room with a stack of clothing, remove the tags, and hide it beneath the clothes I was wearing. At first, I didn’t even decide to steal it. That came later. Of course, as the saying goes, “It’s complicated.”
Camisoles are the bulk of my summer wardrobe. Light, cotton, colorful, cooling, they’re perfect to ward off body heat on steamy Florida days. They don’t cover much, but it’s easy to top them with a blouse when I leave the house.
That ease is why I bought several of them when unnamed establishment advertised that they were on sale. Because I didn’t decide to steal one, I took five of them to the register, paid for them, and left. Later that evening, buyer’s remorse set in, even though the total cost was only a bit over $25 for the five. Guilty about my lapse in frugality, I checked my receipt to tally what I needed versus what I wanted. I counted one, two, three, four . . . only four. I checked the actual camisoles and counted one, two, three, four, five. Ugh! I had removed all the tags and thrown them away, so I didn’t know which one was unpaid.
“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll take them back to the store. Even without the tags, someone can check them and I’ll pay for the unpaid one.” Decision made, I felt honest, like a “good” person.
“And that’s when the problems began,” is a favorite line of mine from the children’s book, Elbert’s Bad Word. It applies here. The problem began because I know someone quite well who works for unnamed retail establishment. Other employees at unnamed retail establishment know that I know that someone. I imagined marching my honest self to the customer service desk, receipt in hand, and doing the right thing. But as I thought about it, the right thing started to not seem as right as it did at first.
That receipt will instantly track the cashier who made the mistake. Cashiers have one of the most difficult jobs in retail today. Although they have no responsibility for prices, merchandise in stock (or not in stock), damaged goods, and credit scores, and they don’t have psychology degrees to deal with the myriad, complex personalities and moods they encounter moment to moment in their jobs, many customers behave as if cashiers do have all of the above. It’s a stressful, largely unfulfilling job, which is why new faces show up behind retail counters on a regular basis.
I don’t know the cashier who missed scanning that one camisole. She could have two strikes on her work record. She could be a single mom. She could be stressed. She could . . . anything. I simply don’t know. All I know is that she made a mistake. I also know that she will have a strike on her work record if I take that receipt back and do what I think is the “right” thing. Also, by doing the right thing, I compromise the work relationships of the person I know who works at unnamed retail establishment.
If it were a stereo or a higher-priced item, I would do the right thing. I don’t feel good or righteous or even committed to the choice I have made in this situation. I don’t know what is right. However, I believe the negative repercussions would be too great for $5.35—plus tax.
Yet, on another level, I feel like I must make amends of some kind. I have decided to steal the camisole, but I haven’t yet decided what form my amends will take. Deciding to steal has been a difficult choice. I hope my choice of which amends to make is easier.

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