This morning I was reminded of a time when I was 5-years-old and my brother was 4-years-old, and we went grocery shopping with our mom. Since our family was rather large, grocery shopping was always a two-cart trip, and check out took quite awhile or at least it felt that way to us as kids. As we were standing there, my brother pointed out a giant bin full of Juicy Fruit gum. As kids, we had no idea there was a fake bottom to the display, so it appeared to be full of double packs of gum from the floor up to our noses. He was brilliant, as I mentioned in an earlier post, so I usually believed what he said to be true. He said to me something like, “Gee, that’s a lot of gum. It will probably go bad before they even have a chance to sell it. We should help them and take a pack.”
I would like to say that I replied something like, “Well, that would be stealing, and it is wrong.” But I’m as weak as the next person, so I said, “Okay.” I promptly stole a pack of gum, unbeknownst to my mom. His argument had sounded reasonable to me in my Kindergarten thought process.
When we arrived home, the usual routine was that every child helped unload the station wagon full of groceries. As my mom headed inside to gather the rest of my siblings, my brilliant brother and I headed around back of the house to the backyard. We quickly unwrapped a piece of gum for each of us and started chewing. “If Mom catches us, we’ll be dead,” I think I said. So, we decided to open all the gum and chew it all at once. Now, remember, this is a double pack of Juicy Fruit. Our little mouths could barely hold one half of the gum. And here comes Mom around the corner, “What are you two doing?” With full mouths and silver wrappers blowing in the wind around our ankles, we try to answer. “Did you steal gum from the store?” she asked. Oh boy. This is going to be painful.
Once the groceries were inside, Mom plopped us back in the station wagon and headed to the grocery store. I know I was crying, but I cannot remember what my partner in crime was doing. She marched us in the store and asked for the Store Manager. We had to admit we stole the gum and apologize for what we had done. The Store Manager felt bad for us, and said he accepted our apology and appreciated our honesty. My mom paid for the gum, and we had to earn that money to pay her back by working around the house. Lesson learned!
Fast forward 30 years. My family is visiting a Shrine with a souvenir shop. My son asks if I will buy him a small trinket. I decline. He pockets the item, only to be discovered when we arrive home 2 hours later. Do you know what I did? That’s right. We headed back to the Shrine the first thing the next morning because it would be closed by the time we could have arrived on that same day. I marched him into the Shrine and asked for the Store Manager. He had to admit he had stolen the trinket and apologize for what he had done. I paid for the trinket and he had to earn that money by working around the house.
But wait, there’s a problem we encountered. The Store Manager actually said that it was okay that my son stole the trinket, and that my son could keep the trinket for free. What? Hello? I couldn’t believe it. Here was an adult telling my child that stealing was okay? At a religious shrine, no less? If he had said that he forgave my son, but that my son needed to pay for the trinket, that would have made sense. Or if he had accepted my son’s apology and appreciated his being honest, that would have made sense. But to say that my son was innocent was insane.
I spent the drive home discussing why the Ten Commandments are crystal clear about stealing, and how even if other people, including adults, would like to say it is otherwise, stealing is wrong. Through this experience, I saw even more clearly why our world today has problems. I sure hope my son learned the lesson I learned as a child, not the “tolerant” one that the Store Manager at the Shrine hoped to teach.